Nine Ways a Special Education Attorney Can Help



How do you support your child with disabilities? In what ways is the school district required to help? Navigating the maze of IDEA and Section 504 can be intimidating. Some of the work you can do on your own (see the blog series “Access to Justice for My Child with Disabilities”) but there are also ways an attorney can help.

1. Provide a consultation and analysis of the interaction between the school district and student with disabilities. This could be a brief, free consultation such as we provide to potential clients, or a paid consultation for an overall analysis of your child’s rights and the legal issues with the school district. Expect to pay by the hour for an indepth consultation or for ongoing discussions or advice.

2. Attend an IEP meeting, Section 504, or other resolution meeting with you, to advocate with the school district. Either an education attorney or an advocate can take this role. It is more expensive to hire an attorney, but a special education attorney usually understands the law better than an advocate, and it demonstrates to the school that you are serious about resolving the dispute. 

3. File a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, alleging disability discrimination (or sometimes, other forms of discrimination). This involves analyzing the legal issues, drafting the complaint and supporting documents, and providing ongoing representation through the investigation.

4. Request mediation from the Colorado Department of Education. An attorney can request a mediation, prepare with you to review your file and know what result you can reasonably seek, draft a compelling mediation statement for the mediator, attend the mediation, and help negotiate the settlement, if any.

5. File a state level complaint alleging violations of IDEA or ECEA within the last year. A complaint that CDE accepts will trigger an investigation. Filing a state level complaint involves analyzing the legal issues, making sure that you have tried to resolve the problem at the local level, drafting the complaint and supporting documents, and providing ongoing representation through the investigation.

6. File a due process complaint, alleging violations of IDEA or ECEA within the last two years, concerning the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of your child or provision of FAPE. A due process complaint may settle through mediation or a resolution meeting. If it does not, it goes forward to a due process hearing, which is a type of trial. A due process hearing is nearly impossible without attorney help.

7. Handle a “manifestation determination” hearing for school discipline. If your child with disabilities is being disciplined, the school must determine whether the misconduct is related to the child’s disability in particular ways. If it is, the type of discipline the school can impose is limited. Even if it is not, services under IDEA must continue to be provided. This area is very technical, and attorney help is advised.

8. Handle issues such as bullying, harassment, inappropriate discipline (zero tolerance may result in suspension or expulsion when it should not), truancy or improper restraint or seclusion. Unfortunately, children with disabilities experience these issues much more than other children.

9. File Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) requests, or Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requests.


About the Author

Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations