Last Updated on July 28, 2022 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
When should parents consider bringing an attorney into a student IEP (Individualized Education Program)? Is the student not thriving in their current school? Is the school not providing all services that the student needs to adequately advance year to year? Does the IEP team seem to deny or dismiss many parent requests?
If a parent has tried and failed to move the needle and the IEP team won’t budge on the student’s needs, sometimes bringing in an attorney can be necessary.
IEPs Can Be Very Confusing
IEP meetings can be confusing, tough, and yet, are important to a student’s education, life and future. A student’s life can change for better or worse depending on how well written their IEP is.
If the IEP is unclear, wimpy or does not address all areas of student need, the student may advance poorly and may be thrown to the wolves. Their entire future success can be at risk if their IEPs are not fruitful.
School IEP Team Members are Professionals
Let’s face it, parents are parents and have other professions usually. They are not trained in the IEP process, in student psychology, instruction or behavior. IEP team members, deny parents with credentials which give them leverage. Parents generally don’t have leverage.
Attorneys, who are licensed to interpret and enforce the law, give parents leverage, often the leverage that is needed to help the student and change their future.
Attorneys are equalizers- they help bring the IEP team more into balance, when the team is not acting fairly.
To Be HEARD
Parents know their children, but at IEP meetings, often parent opinion and input is discounted or pushed aside by the team, as if parents don’t know the student and what they need. Having an attorney at an IEP can ensure that the parent and their desires, and the students needs are heard by the IEP team.
Attorneys Can See Things Some Parents Don’t
Attorneys who practice special education tend to have a higher level of understanding and knowledge about IEPs, the special education process, parents rights, student laws, school requirements, and what schools should be doing that they are not. Often parents may not even be aware that a student IEP plan is missing important items, or that a school should have taken action (but didn’t). Attorneys are those extra eyeballs which may see the missing piece for the student.
If a parent does not know something, an attorney can compensate for this by seeing legal deficiencies. Calling these out to the IEP team can result in additional services for the student that mean all the difference for the student’s future.
Special Education is a War Over Dollars
Special education and student services are fundamentally a war over a limited pot of school funds. The school wants to spend less and not give student’s services.
The student wants the funds for needed services.
It is a war over limited funds, and if a school can, they will wiggle their way out of spending those millions on special needs students. Having an attorney can help get student money spent where it should be: for the special needs student.
IEP Teams Can Limit Services Improperly
Schools should not limit student services or supports based on money, yet this happens all the time. Most school IEP team members are not dumb enough to communicate out loud that the reason special education supports are being denied is money, but often this is the reason services are denied.
The IEP team focus needs to be on the student and their unique needs, and what the student needs to be successful, NOT what the school can’t provide as they “don’t have it,” or don’t have the money to provide it. Attorneys can help schools focus on the important stuff.
The Student is Worth It
How much does it cost if a student cannot get a high school degree or cannot read? The cost is far more than the cost of bringing a lawyer in now.
Schools and IEP meetings seem like fluffy nonthreatening places, but the truth is, they determine the fate of hundreds of thousands of students each year. Students should not just be numbers. For students in need, the odds of helping them succeed at school need to be increased. Bringing in legal help can increase the student’s chance at a successful educational future.
[This communication may be considered a communication/solicitation for services]
[Originally published February 24, 2014]
IEP lawyer Michelle Ball helps families with special education, 504, SSTs and many other school supports. With an office in Sacramento, California, Michelle assists students statewide in Roseville, Auburn, Lodi, Stockton, Yuba City, Marysville, the Bay Area, San Francisco, Berkeley, and many other locations.