It's been a couple of years now that I've been blogging about special education legal issues. Unfortunately, the realities of juggling a busy law practice, a family, and other professional commitments don't allow me to do it enough, and I continue to yearn to bring information about parents' rights to a wider audience.
When I started this blog, I had been practicing special education law for well over a decade. I thought I understood that parents of kids with disabilities were often unaware of their rights under the IDEA.
I didn't have the first clue.
What I failed to account for was that my experiences and impressions as a special education attorney were, by definition, limited to those families who have the ability to contact a lawyer! I'm not just talking about financial means, although that is a HUGE part of it. I am talking about parents who are willing and able to question authority.
Suddenly I started getting tons of emails, phone calls, questions and comments from my blog readers across the country about their experiences. These parents weren't trying to hire a lawyer.
These parents wanted information.
Many were just beginning to understand that their child wasn't getting what they needed from their school districts, and that maybe they had a right to do something about it. Many more had become informed about their rights, but felt completely powerless to enforce them.
As the scope of the problem became more clear to me, I started working in earnest with a friend and colleague, Julie Swanson, who is a non-attorney advocate here in Connecticut. Julie and I met 15 years ago when my late father represented her son in one of the first cases involving the appropriateness of autism programming in our State. Since that case was (successfully) resolved all those years ago, Julie became more and more passionate about advocating for children's rights under the IDEA.
One night, over dinner, Julie planted an idea. She was convinced that the reason so many children with disabilities receive sub-standard programs is not just that parents are largely uninformed about their rights, but that there is no easy, mainstream opportunity for them to learn about them. She was pretty much preaching to the choir at that point, but over time we started coming up with various models.
How could we "spread the word" about special education advocacy to parents?
We decided that the answer was to simplify the special education process as much as possible. As our ideas started to gel, we had the fortune of meeting up with a wonderful group of producers of educational videos who believed in our mission. It has taken nearly two years to develop, but I am proud to announce the birth of www.YourSpecialEducationRights.com.
Our concept is simple.
Julie and I have filmed dozens and dozens of short, easy to understand video clips on numerous topics relevant to special education rights. Parents (or grandparents, or students for that matter) subscribe to the website at a reasonable annual rate. They can watch the video segments whenever they want, as often as they want, at any time of the day. Watch when the kids are asleep or while getting ready for an IEP meeting. We like to think of it as a cross between a webinar and a talk show! New series are added continuously.
As the video library grows, so too grows knowledge, and a feeling of empowerment.
We have several series on IDEA basics and terminology. We have a series called "Crisis Corner" for urgent matters. We have a series focusing on the bullying of kids with disabilities. We have a multi-part series called "My Child Is In a Psychiatric Hospital. Now What?" with step-by-step suggestions depending on whether or not your child has an IEP, 504 Plan, or is not yet identified for services. We have "Jen and Julie's Booklist," where we share what's in our advoacy libraries and why.
Perhaps my favorite series is called "They Say, You Say," where we take comments that parents often hear from school districts, and provide suggested responses.
Already filmed and in the editing room is a series on Transition to adulthood; another series is on issues related to infants and toddlers; and yet another on home-schooling of kids with special education needs. We are working on a series for gifted and talented students with disabilities, as we know these "twice exceptional" students' needs are often overlooked by our public schools. Future series on independent evaluations, and how to understand testing in general, are in the works.
The list of possibilities is really endless!
It is Julie and my greatest wish that, by making the laws surrounding special education more understandable --by simplifying them--parents will learn how to EFFECTIVELY advocate for their children.
Check out the site, watch the previews, and hopefully, join our community. Just imagine what a difference can be made. What if MOST parents knew what to do and say in meetings with their child's special education team? What if MOST parents understood how to get their children appropriate services and accommodations? What if, instead of a few parents understanding the special education system, MOST did?