COPAA Round-up from Paradise

We’ve just returned from Paradise, as in Paradise Point Island, San Diego, where we attended the 17th annual COPAA (Council of Parent Attorneys & Advocates) conference.  We can’t say we missed the snow!

COPAA’s conference is an annual source of inspiration to us, as we join our colleagues in protecting the Civil Rights of students who have disabilities. At, we constantly strive to empower parents, and COPAA is an organization committed to this cause we hold so dear. Read more

Lessons from Darien’s Special Education Audit: Don’t Assume Anything is as it Seems

It’s a sad fact that many parents have to question if their school districts are actually providing the services laid out in their child’s IEP (Individualized Education Program).  We see it often in our special education advocacy.  It’s not uncommon for a parent to report to us that their child told them they haven’t been receiving their special education and related services.   It usually happens something like this:  “So, Tommy, have you been enjoying working with Mrs. Jones in the speech room?”  “Oh, I haven’t seen Mrs. Jones since Halloween.  I think she might have had a baby or something.  I’m not going to the speech room anymore.”  Yikes!

Even worse, for many children who, due to the nature and severity of their disability, can’t tell their parents what is happening in school, parents suspect services aren’t being delivered, but have a hard time knowing for certain.

So we were not surprised to learn that a financial audit, which was part of an on-going probe of Darien, Connecticut’s special education department, revealed fraudulent practices that are downright sickening. The Darien special education department received over $200,000 for special education services that never happened! You can read the details here.  Before the audit of their special education books, a deep probe into the school district’s overall special education practices and procedures revealed serious violations of the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).  Now we have learned that, not only was Darien removing necessary services from children’s IEPs, but they were charging the State for those services anyway!

While your school district may not be puffing their special education books to receive extra funds (and we certainly hope they aren’t!), you may believe or suspect your child isn’t receiving their prescribed services.

So how do you prove it?

In our experience, questioning the integrity of teachers and school staff can lead to serious ill-feelings.  No parent really ever wants bad blood with the very people who are working with their child.  But let’s face it, this is serious.  You’re entitled to know if your child is actually receiving what is in their special education plan, and your child is entitled to be receiving those services.

So how do you ask for documentation that doesn’t put everyone on the defensive and, from a practical standpoint, get you the information you need to help your child?  And there it is, “the information that you need to help your child.”  As parents, we want to know what our child is working on so we can reinforce or generalize the skill at home or in the community, depending on the skill.  We also want to know whether the services the school is recommending in the IEP are working!  Here are a few easy ways to get the information you need:

  1. Ask that a home/school communication log be developed.   This can take many forms:  email, notebook, or a specially-designed form that can capture what was worked on at school.  If your child is missing services, it should be fairly easy to notice if that provider isn’t filling out their portion.
  1. Ask for regular “team meetings” that include you as a parent.  These can be monthly, bi monthly, or quarterly.  We suggest that you have those meetings put into the IEP as required to happen.  When you meet with the team, you should be able to have a better sense of whether services are being delivered regularly.
  1. You can ask to observe a particular session in school.  This will require advance scheduling and notice, but this is a good way to get a sense of what is happening.
  1. Ask your child.  We realize there are some children who are non-verbal, but if your child can communicate, and is a fairly reliable reporter, this is often the best way to find out if a service is happening.

As with all things related to special education disagreements, make sure you are documenting any services you feel have been missed.  If it’s happening a lot, put an email or letter together to the district asking why your child is missing these services.  If it becomes an issue, your district may have to make up those sessions at a later date through what is called “compensatory education,” so it’s important to keep records.

Lastly, we want to say that we know that there are wonderfully dedicated teachers and school staff where these suspicions do not apply.  We also know that educators have the same life challenges we all have; they get sick, they have family members who pass away, etc.  But we need to take a page from the Darien, Connecticut probe, and not assume that everything is as it seems.


YSER Featured in Autism Asperger’s Digest
April 22, 2014


Autism Asperger’s Digest — a premiere publication that regularly feature columns by disability experts such as Temple Grandin, Ellen Notbohm and James Ball! We are proud to be mentioned (and quoted) in the “What’s New” section of their March 2014 edition! Click here to access the issue.

Proud Working
December 3, 2013

spec-ed-deptIn Jen Laviano’s guest blog on, she explains what to do if you suspect your child might have a disability. Read more here: Something’s Not Right: A Mother’s Intuition

Special Education in Connecticut: Parents, schools face labyrinth without clear solution
December 3, 2013

inclusionJulie 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

Your Special Education Rights Press Release
June 28, 2013

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, 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 (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). womens health. 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, 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

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 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

If you have any questions regarding information in these press releases please contact the company listed in the press release. Our complete disclaimer appears here -PRWeb ebooks -Another online visibility tool from PRWeb

Contact Information: Barbara Distinti

(203) 545-3465

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