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This is Part I of a three-part series dealing with the role of special education attorneys in the IEP process. This first part outlines exactly when you should consider hiring a special ed lawyer.  The second part of the series looks at qualities you should seek in hiring an attorney.  Part III will tell you what you should expect and what your attorney can do for you.  If you’re having trouble with your child’s IEP, hiring a special ed attorney may be one of the smartest moves you can make as a parent…if you know when and how to do it!

Frustrating IEPs
Have you ever felt like your child isn’t the only person sitting at a team meeting who might benefit from an IEP? As a parent, I know that I have. Many parents are occasionally frustrated by the actions and decisions of our children’s IEP team. We sometimes leave the table feeling like we’ve compromised a bit too much, or haven’t quite been heard in the way we would like. As a parent of several kids with special needs, a former special educator and a practicing special education attorney, I can tell you that frustration is a common feeling both during and after IEP team meetings. It’s also a normal feeling. Any time you have a group of people with differing perspectives and agendas trying to reach a consensus, each individual will likely have to give something up. But if you are finding that your reasonable needs concerning the education of your child are never being met, or your child’s school isn’t following the law, you may need outside help. You may need to consult with an attorney who specializes in special education law.

Hiring an Attorney can be a Positive Step
Although hiring an attorney seems like a drastic or adversarial step, it shouldn’t necessarily be viewed that way. My practice, for instance, focuses on repairing the parent’s relationship with the school district and forming a collaborative effort to work on solutions. I do not believe in using my position to make the situation more adversarial. With a practice model like this, calling an attorney sooner, rather than later, will actually save you money and time because there will be less damage to undo.

Know When to Call an Attorney
Unfortunately, significant damage sometimes occurs before a parent is even aware that there is a problem or can take measures to stop it. In that case I would recommend calling a reputable special education attorney immediately. I would strongly recommend calling a special education attorney in situations such as the following:

  • The school district’s attorney shows up at your meeting. (At that point, you should stop the meeting and tell them that you would like to reschedule to include counsel.)
  • Your district has threatened due process.
  • You have threatened due process.
  • You want to transfer your child to a private school and may wish to seek reimbursement.
  • One of you requests a Mediation hearing.
  • A settlement has been offered on a previous issue.
  • You are having chronic contact with your child’s school over behavioral issues.
  • Your child is threatened with expulsion, or has been suspended several times in one school year.
  • Your child is being moved into a program that you feel is inappropriate.
  • You want an Independent Educational Evaluation.
  • Your school is making you feel powerless and is consistently not acting in what you would consider to be the best interest of your child.
  • You or your child is being threatened with legal action, including arrests or child protective services, or one of those has occurred.

Calling an attorney is a big step for most people. It’s not something I would advise as long as you’re making progress and you feel that your child is in good hands at school. But, when you get that feeling in your gut that something is wrong, and you’re not being listened to, you may want to get a consultation with a special education attorney. It can be the first step in getting your child the education they deserve and getting you the relationship with the school you desire.

Next up:  What should you be looking for in a special education attorney?