Often, parents come talk to us about their special education matter and end up deciding that it costs too much to hire an attorney. Often, we talk to parents in situations where a child's education has been wrecked for years, often beyond repair. We wish we could have helped them sooner. This raises questions. When do you need an attorney or parent advocate? When would an attorney add value to your child's life that outweighs the cost?
If you as a parent are up to speed on the legal issues surrounding your child's education, you are comfortable that the school has identified your child's disabilities correctly, and your school is providing all the services the child needs for the range of disabilities, you probably do not need either an attorney or parent advocate.
If you have some issues that will probably be resolved, but you believe you would do better with someone by your side, a parent advocate might be the right choice for you, especially one with good strengths in negotiation and bringing peace. As you choose a parent advocate, consider this. Even though a parent advocate is not an attorney, and will not be practicing law, he or she should at least understand the legal issues involved, as well as how to have the child evaluated correctly. I have seen cases where the child lost years of educational support because the advocate did not understand the legal rights involved. You may want to choose a parent advocate who works with a law firm.
When would you need an attorney? If you have complex legal issues, you probably need an attorney. How do you know if the legal issues are complex? If what the school is saying does not really make sense, or the school appears bewildered by the situation, or what you hear does not match what you are reading, you may need legal help. The value the attorney adds is to make sure that you are fighting for the right thing in the right way.
If you have developed a serious dispute with the school district, or you believe your child has been misdiagnosed, you probably need an attorney. If your child receives the incorrect misdiagnosis or services, it can permanently impact the child's life and opportunities. Can you handle this on your own? Perhaps so, if you are a calm person, with good writing ability, who has spent a lot of time studying special education law.
Even so, consider this. Only when you have an attorney will the school district consult with its attorney. Only then is the school district likely to take you seriously. Until then, you are a nuisance and not a threat.
But the attorney will cost so much for ________ !! (Fill in the blank: (a) consultation; (b) meeting with the school; (c) filing due process; (d) other).
Yes, it will cost so much. What are you paying for? You are not paying for the consultation or meeting or proceeding. You are paying to change the negative direction of your child's life into a positive direction. You are paying to set a new trajectory.
If you don't need a new trajectory, you don't need an attorney. Handle it yourself or get a parent advocate. But if you have a situation that will cause long-term damage to your child, having an attorney may add far more value to your child's life than it costs.
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