Julie Swanson is featured in this New Haven Register special education article. Here's yet another example of how empowerment (and knowing your rights) can improve your child's life. Special Education in Connecticut: Parents, schools face labyrinth without clear solution
According to Disability Scoop, the National Center for Learning Disabilities recently surveyed more than 1,000 parents of students with disabilities across the country. More than half said they have seen differences in their child’s special education services because of budget cuts in the last year. Class sizes have increased and services have decreased for many students.
“The level of services is changing not based on the nature of the services the child needs but based on budget availability,” said Lindsay Jones, the organization’s director of public policy and advocacy. “That is directly contrary to the law.”
In 2013, Federal special education funding was cut $579 million under sequestration. Further cuts are expected next year unless lawmakers act to avert them.
Tools for Parents ofChildren with Disabilities, including Video-Modeling and CommunitySupport, NowAvailable Online from YourSpecialEducationRights.Com.
Connecticut Special Education Advocate Julie Swanson and Attorney Jennifer Laviano, together with Mazzarella Media, announce the official launch of YourSpecialEducationRights.com, a free online resource that provides the first and only video-based special education resource for parents of children who have disabilities.
Sherman, CT (PRWEB) May 20, 2013 --Attorney Jennifer Laviano and Special Education Advocate Julie Swanson, having spent their professional careers securing appropriate special education services and protecting the Civil Rights of students, announce the launch of http://www.YourSpecialEducationRights.com (YSER), a free online resource for parents. Developed with Mazzarella Media, an Emmy-award winning educational content provider in Southington, CT, YSER is the first and only online social community to provide video-based training and an online social support network comprised exclusively of parents of children who have disabilities.
With a constantly-updated series of engaging videos, designed to help parents recognize and model appropriate responses to roadblocks put forth by public school administrators when special education services are requested, YSER gives parents powerful tools and guidance to effectively advocate for their child’s education. Parents who take advantage of YSER’s online membership are able to learn about their legal rights in a practical, user-friendly format.
What’s more, YSER features a robust online community, plus up-to-the-minute blogs by Jen and Julie and live WebShows featuring a variety of disability experts where members can engage with Jen, Julie and fellow YSER fans to learn even more about how to support their child’s educational needs. In just the last six weeks, almost 350 parents have joined, with new members added every day.
Given that May is Mental Health Awareness month, the timing for YSER's official online launch couldn't be better, and was kicked off with a WebShow on May 15th entitled "The Intersection of Special Education and Mental Health." The need for the site is clear and growing: the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that as many as 20% of American children have a mental disorder including autism. And in 2009, the U.S. Department of Education reported that about 5.8 million of the nation’s schoolchildren, ages 6 to 21, receive special education services through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). But for many of these children appropriate services are being routinely denied.
“So many parents tell me that nobody at the school is listening,” says Julie Swanson, Special Education Advocate and YSER co-founder. “It can be intimidating to attend an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting when you aren’t an expert in the laws. How can you advocate effectively for your child? We’re here with YSER to empower parents with the tools and information they need to feel prepared for that next IEP meeting.”
YSER co-founder and special education attorney Jennifer Laviano agrees: “One of the hardest things for me to hear from parents is that their lack of knowledge resulted in a lack of service for their child,” she explains. “Julie and I are absolutely convinced that the outcomes for kids whose parents know their rights—and whose parents can speak from a position of authority about their child’s rights and needs—are far better than for kids whose parents are uninformed.”
That explains Jen and Julie’s primary motivation to launch YSER. “Securing an appropriate education for your child—and getting your child the services he or she needs—shouldn’t be something reserved only for the wealthy," says Jen, "and parents shouldn’t have to risk financial ruin to fight for their children’s rights. We launched YSER so that parents of any income could access appropriate resources to help them do right by their child.”
To learn more about YSER, visit YourSpecialEducationRights.com, or call Barbara Distinti, the YSER media contact, at (203) 545-3465.
ABOUT JENNIFER LAVIANO Attorney Jennifer Laviano is in private practice in Connecticut. Ms. Laviano is the Chair of the Board of Directors of COPAA, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, the leading national voice for the Civil Rights of students who require special education. Her representation of children with special needs encompasses the full spectrum of advocacy under the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), from attendance at IEP Team meetings and Mediation, to zealous and experienced litigation in Due Process Hearings and Federal Court. Ms. Laviano is a regular presenter, both locally and nationally, on the subject of the special legal rights of children with disabilities and their entitlement to receive a Free and Appropriate Education, and writes the popular blog http://www.SpecialEdJustice.com.
ABOUT JULIE SWANSON Julie Swanson is in private practice as a special education advocate in Connecticut. After her son was diagnosed with autism, Ms. Swanson decided to change careers and returned to school to obtain an additional degree as a Disability Specialist. Her practice is exclusively dedicated to helping parents of children with disabilities obtain appropriate special education services. Ms. Swanson's website http://www.yourspecialchild.com is dedicated to the everyday needs of children who have autism spectrum disorders and other disabilities.
ABOUT MAZZARELLA MEDIA For nearly 30 years, Mazzarella Media has been at the cutting edge of high quality video production. This Emmy-award winning firm provides its clients complete production solutions, from story concept, production logistics and high end post-production to multiple format delivery options. Communicating complex ideas into clear, concise visual media is the hallmark of a Mazzarella Media video production. To find out more about Mazzarella Media, visit http://mazz.com/
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Published on June 16, 2013 by Jennifer Laviano
It’s been a fascinating several months here in Connecticut, as we have watched events unfold in the special education community in Darien. The coverage has been wide locally, but if you don’t want to read it all, here’s the upshot: the Special Education Director in this small, affluent town in lower Fairfield County (itself small and largely affluent), new to the position in the 2012-2013 school year, distributed “training materials” to educators in the community via memos and, yes, a Power Point presentation. So what’s wrong with that? Well, they included numerous misrepresentations on what an educator and a district’s obligations are under the law, and blatantly instructed the educators that they were not to disagree with administration during IEP meetings. Under the guise of asking educators to present a “united front” during IEP meetings, the Director effectively thwarted the legally-required open exchange of ideas which is supposed to be the heart of an IEP meeting.
“We must present a united front in IEP meetings” is code for “don’t disagree with the administration or make recommendations which might cost us money.”
Thanks to the courage of several parents who were rightly outraged by this directive (among the many, MANY other violations of the federal special education law included in these documents and countless examples of individual violations as well as systemic), and the steadfast representation of their rights by Mystic Attorney Andrew Feinstein, families joined forces and filed a Complaint with the Connecticut State Department of Education. The Complaint ultimately led to an investigation, which culminated last week in an open forum for parents to tell the State about their experiences in Darien. This EXCELLENT Editorial by the Darien Times, which has been remarkably committed to getting the truth of this situation despite some fairly strong local opposition (some of which has been truly vile via commentary online) summarizes how that meeting went.
When I read the Darien Times Editorial, I was stunned. I wish I could say it was because I was shocked by the stories the parents shared. That wasn’t it. What had stricken me was that the Editors got it! They GOT that this isn’t about a few disgruntled families. This is the “tip of an iceberg.” I particularly appreciated their reference to the disparity between Darien’s “internal charge” of providing a top notch education for its students, while defending its failures for students with disabilities as reasonable under the IDEA’s “appropriate” standard. For those of you who’ve been following my blog since the beginning, you know I’ve been disgusted by that hypocrisy in public schools throughout the State (and country) for years!
The Editorial suggests that the families who’ve spoken out in Darien represent a “tip of an iceberg” in Darien. But I’ve got news for them. It’s not just Darien.
The scary thing to most of us who have been following this is that this type of administrative pressure isn’t uncommon; we know it happens all of the time, all over the country. Teachers approach me after presentations I give, and on a few occasions have even followed me down a hallway after an IEP meeting to whisper “thank you” to me for getting the district to approve the support they needed, but couldn’t get without the pressure of the parents hiring a lawyer. Teachers email me or post comments to this blog all of the time, saying that they are conflicted because a student in their charge needs more than the school district will allow them to recommend, and they feel horrible about it. Sometimes they’re subtly being told “you know who pays your check.” Other times, it’s less subtle, and blatantly discriminatory. I usually remind them that they, too, have rights, and they include not being retaliated against for speaking up about what the IDEA requires for a student and whether they are receiving it.
Even if I didn’t have the direct evidence of how some educators feel the administrative pressure not to refer, evaluate, identify, or properly service students with disabilities under the IDEA, I see it on their faces. In hundreds and hundreds of meetings where I am expressing the Parents’ concerns about the inappropriate program their child is receiving, and some of the teachers can’t meet my eye, or the parents’. Or I get the nodded head, or a wink, or something is said by an educator in a way that tells me “please ask me this question right now because the answer to it will get the kid what he needs but I just can’t volunteer it!”
The thing that’s unusual about what happened in Darien is that the practice to violate the IDEA was written down, and parents got their hands on the proof.
So, perhaps what happened in Darien is what needs to happen everywhere. Parents need to organize, and tell their stories. It has to be made clear to the good-hearted people of so many communities, the people like the Editors at the Darien Times, that this isn’t the exception; in many towns, it’s often the rule. It’s time that administrators who look at special education as an expensive nuisance, rather than as an essential Civil Right designed to ensure that students with disabilities become adults with skills, are held accountable.