Special Education Advocates can play many roles. One of our most important jobs is to help parents understand their rights, known as “procedural safeguards.” Like any legal field, Special Education law has specialized terminology. Combined with the acronyms of Education, the terminology can be challenging to interpret! Advocates help parents and self-advocates understand what the legalese means.
Advocates cannot give legal advice, but can help families understand what options are available. Let’s say you suspect your child has a reading disability. An advocate can help you request the necessary evaluations. Let’s say the school evaluates your child but you don’t agree with the assessment. An advocate can help you secure an independent evaluation (IEE). Let’s say the school and independent evaluator disagree about what the results mean. An advocate can help you make sense of the competing data and negotiate for the best services and placement for your child. And what if the school agrees to services but doesn’t actually deliver them? An advocate can help you navigate legal action options.
Advocates typically examine school records and evaluation data; attend IEP, 504, and other school meetings; help parents file state complaints or Office of Civil Rights complaints when necessary; and represent parents in mediations with school districts. In Texas, Special Education Advocates can also represent parents in due process.
Why choose an advocate instead of an attorney?
- Advocates specialize in collaboration. We spend whatever time is necessary working with families and schools to produce the best outcomes for kids.
- Advocates are far less expensive than attorneys.
- Advocates are more widely available. Many states–including Texas–simply don’t have enough Special Education attorneys to help all families in need. Many attorneys therefore take very few new cases; some will only take cases once they reach district court level.
- Advocates want you–parents and self-advocates–to gain sufficient advocacy skills so that you no longer need us. We help you solve immediate problems, but we also help you become better advocates for your child(ren) or yourself.
What training do Advocates have?
- There is no standardized training for Advocates, although more and more of us go through specialized training through organizations such as COPAA or Wrightslaw. If you are considering hiring an advocate, ask about their training. Remember that “training” can mean years of experience rather than educational training; both are valuable!
- Advocates come to their work through a variety of fields, such social work, special education / K-12 teaching, school administration, or law (to name a few). Some have litigation experience. Others have legal research experience. Still others work on legislative advocacy.
- Many of us are parents of kids who need or have needed special education services. We know what the process is like from multiple perspectives.
When do people engage an Advocate’s services?
- Parents most often bring an advocate in when there is a crisis, such as: when a school refuses to evaluate a child or refuses to offer services; when a school is not following an IEP; or when good faith negotiation efforts have reached a stalemate and the parents need help initiating mediation.
- When possible, parents should also bring advocates in when there isn’t a crisis. Advocates can help parents establish a good working relationship with schools; teach parents how to find the resources they might need in the future; and help craft strong initial IEPs and 504 plans. Think of our work as both urgent care and preventative care. Both are valuable.