10 Instances When It’s Necessary to Reach Out to a Special Education Attorney [IEP 010]
When should a parent reach out to a special education attorney as opposed to an IEP advocate? In this episode, Amanda and I, along with IEP advocate and law student, Victoria Lucero, cover the top 10 instances when a special education attorney is the appropriate person to help you and your child.
Full show transcript located at the bottom of this post.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode:
- We chat with our guest, IEP advocate Victoria Lucero and hear about her background and what led her to going to law school.
- Our intern Victoria offers her insight from an IEP advocate perspective while Amanda and I offer ours from a lawyer’s perspective on the following instances:
- If the child is struggling in school
- If the child is being bullied
- When a parent asks for intervention, but the school is non-responsive
- When a district refuses services during an IEP meeting
- If the parent leaves IEP meetings more confused than they were before
- When the parent feels alone during meetings even when there several people on the IEP team
- When a parent isn’t a native English-speaker
- During disciplinary actions like suspension or expulsion
- When a parent unilaterally places their child in a private school, non-public school, or private agency for tutoring
Thank you for listening!
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Full Show Transcript
Vickie Brett: Welcome to the Inclusive Education Project. I’m Vickie Brett.
Amanda Selogie: I’m Amanda Selogie. We’re two civil rights lawyers on a mission to change the conversation about education, civil rights, and modern activism.
Vickie Brett: Each week, we’re gonna explore new topics, which are going to educate and empower others.
Amanda Selogie: And give them a platform to enact change in education, and level the playing field. Hey guys, welcome back. This is Amanda Selogie.
Vickie Brett: This is Vickie Brett, and I realize that we have the little thing that goes in the front that introduces us. We don’t have to keep introducing ourselves.
Amanda Selogie: Well, that’s true. In case you guys forget our voices.
Vickie Brett: From the two seconds before. When our little intro played. I’m Vickie Brett.
Amanda Selogie: All right, all right, all right. Well, at least Vickie didn’t say projectors this time. Yet. Well, today, we are going to be talking about the instances when you should be considering possibly hiring an attorney. So, we’re gonna go over the top 10 instances you may want to consult an attorney or a lawyer, and today, we have someone in the office with us. We’ve mentioned that we have a legal clinic, where we have law students that work with us to advocate for families. So, we have one of our in-house advocates, Victoria [Lucero 00:01:35] here, so thanks for coming on today.
Victoria Lucero: Thanks for having me.
Amanda Selogie: So, you want to talk a little bit about how you got into being a legal advocate, and why you’re functioning as an advocate for us?
Victoria Lucero: Okay. Well, I kind of, I guess, fell into being a legal advocate for this firm a little bit on accident. I interviewed for the firm for a law clerk position when I was in my first year of law school. And I knew that your firm did special education law, but I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of work I would be doing since I hadn’t had a legal job before. And, luckily, I got placed at this amazing firm that allows me to do some advocate work, which is semi-independent from what you do, the attorneys. So, that’s kind of how I got started.
Vickie Brett: How did you get started with law school? I know that you had mentioned you worked at a law library in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Victoria Lucero: Right. So, I am originally from the northern part of New Mexico. I attended University of New Mexico as a undergraduate and for my master’s. When I was an undergrad, I happened to get a job as a library assistant at the Center for Development and Disability, which is connected with UNM. It’s actually the only hospital in New Mexico that can diagnose [inaudible 00:02:59] mental disabilities, which is insane.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah, that’s crazy. You’d think there’d be more.
Victoria Lucero: Yeah. You would think. It’s really terrible, but it is the only hospital where the only library in New Mexico that has those types of resources. And then, when I … I had another experience working with refugees in Albuquerque that originally inspired me to go to law school. And then, when I was doing my master’s degree, I became a LEND Fellow. LEND stands for Leadership and Education in Neurodevelopmental and Other Related Disabilities. And, while I was in LEND, I learned about some of the legal issues that were going on with Albuquerque public schools, specifically in their special education department.
That’s what brought me to deciding to go to law school. I came out to California because New Mexico, it’s not very diverse, and so I really wanted the experience of learning about a lot of different cultures, opening up my perspective, and taking them home with me.
Amanda Selogie: That’s awesome. And of course, we got the benefit of having Victoria. We’ve had her since the summer, and we’re just so thankful that you stuck around, ’cause honestly, Victoria’s a rockstar for us. We couldn’t do what we do without all of our law students, especially ones like Victoria. Today, when we talk about our topic, we’re gonna be kinda discussing … As we always say, there’s a lot that parents can do on their own to advocate for their child. And sometimes, we get families that come to us, either on the law firm side or the nonprofit side, of just kind of asking about scenarios and what can they do. And, sometimes it’s as simple as, you need to ask for assessments. Or, here’s just … there’s nothing wrong with asking for things, but at times, it comes to the level of just a parent asking for something is not gonna go far enough. You need someone that’s going to put a little bit more pressure on the school district, or sometimes it’s a matter of saying the right things, or asking in the right way.
Vickie Brett: Oftentimes, I think that it’s easier for somebody beside the parent to be the bad guy. And so, that could be the attorney coming in being the bad guy asking for things, or the advocate coming in and being the bad guy that’s asking for a lot of things that the student would require, or just certain evaluations. And that explanation to parents kind of eases their mind, because it’s … oh yeah, I’m not asking for it. Which, the attorney or the advocate’s technically asking on behalf of the parent, but it kind of alleviates any pressure if the parent wants to go and talk to the teacher after school. Oh, it’s your advocate that’s asking for this, and parent being like, well yeah, but I think it is something that we need. It’s really helpful to have it in that perspective.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah. And so, we’re gonna go over 10 different issues that a parent might have. And what we’d like to do is kind of give the perspective on what an advocate might be able to help with or give the advice to the family versus what attorney might do in that circumstance.
So, number one, the first reason you might want to decide about getting help is if your child is just struggling in school. So, what might that be? We say, you have a third-grader who’s getting D’s, or C’s. We say this all the time, there’s no such thing as a lazy elementary school student or a third-grader. Oftentimes, if an elementary school student, a student who is from the age of five to ten, is not getting A’s or B’s, or not completing their work, there’s probably something going on. So, Victoria, if you had a parent come to you and say, you know, I just feel like my kid’s really struggling, and they say they’re just not getting good grades, or they’re not completing their homework, what would be something that you might give them as far as advice, or something that you could help with as an advocate.
Victoria Lucero: Well, if that was something that a parent asked me right off the bat, I think, being here and my experience working here, I would automatically ask if their child has an IEP. So, that’s just the go-to. Because, then, you can kind of decide, okay, well you need to look at the IEPs and see if the services are not really fitting what your child’s struggling with. Or, if they don’t have an IEP, maybe the parent needs to consider asking for assessments and putting them on one.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah. And so, an advocate can definitely help with facilitating, requesting assessments, and going to an IEP meeting, and in some instances, that might be all that needs to be done. Because, once you get the IEP, we’re able to put in supports and services, and the issue is kind of over. And when, as an attorney, we look at that situation, we’re often going to start the same way of looking at, okay, we definitely need to get an IEP if there’s not one. And if there is one, maybe we need to modify it, so we can go to an IEP meeting.
But, let’s say we have a student that’s been struggling for, say, two years. And the parent’s finally saying, okay, it’s not something that’s gonna go away. It’s been happening for a while. We asked for that IEP, and let’s say the team gives an IEP to that family, and offers some services, [inaudible 00:07:44] construction, maybe some speech therapy, whatever might be necessary for that kid, but where an attorney might be able to step in a little bit more is say, well okay, that’s great moving forward. But, we’ve left some stuff on the table. Of, this kid has been struggling for two years, and what’s the implication of that. So, is the child going to get services now, and we’re making some progress, but we have some regression, because maybe they’ve been getting C’s for a long time, and with math, maybe they’re now in fractions, but they struggled with multiplication. So, how are we expecting them to make appropriate progress moving forward?
So, an attorney might look at it and say, well maybe we need to request compensatory education. So, that’s basically making up for the district not offering an IEP sooner, and maybe they should have, and is there additional intervention that can be provided to kind of make up for that lost time?
So, our second big category that we see a lot is a parent saying, my child is being bullied. And there’s a real issue here. So, when a parent comes to an advocate, there might be some ways of approaching it versus an attorney, so how would you approach it, Victoria?
Victoria Lucero: Well, I think, in my experience, I’ve encountered this a couple of times. And sometimes, it’s the same, well does your child have an IEP? And start there, as I normally would. But sometimes, especially with clients from different cultures, they don’t really want to … I don’t want to say admit that their child needs an IEP, but they don’t even want to approach the subject. So, it’s kind of a sticky area with bullying in that the parent thinks people are just being mean to my child, and they don’t think that maybe there’s something else. Maybe it’s something a little deeper going on.
So, if a parent came to me with that situation, that’s kind of the first area I want to poke at, is see where the parent is mentally, and their beliefs on what their child needs. Because, a lot of times, they think it is just a bullying incident, so maybe a civil rights? I don’t know if that would be the right area of law, where a [tore 00:09:45], if they’re being hit or something. But, I think it’s a little stickier with bullying in my experience, so far.
Vickie Brett: And I think, as attorneys and people that have worked with children in an out-of-the school setting, it’s important to get to the root of the problem. Has the parent reached out to the other parent? Has the parent gone to the principal? Has the parent talked to the teacher? Is this the first instance of bullying? Oftentimes, it’ll raise to the level where we ourselves, as attorneys, have to refer the matter out to a personal injury attorney, because there is some type of injury or repeated injuries that the child has sustained. And the district knew about it, and then didn’t do anything about it.
So, we always are telling parents, start from the perspective of, okay, maybe this was an isolated incident. You know, you’re talking to your child, and if your child isn’t able to effectively communicate, that’s when your best friend is the teacher. Because, one of two things is gonna happen. They’re either gonna know it’s happening and say, we’re already on it. We’re doing something. Or, they don’t know about it, and now you’re bring it to their attention, so that if it’s a consistent pattern, at least you can pinpoint back, I told you this two weeks ago, and now there’s a second incident. ‘Cause oftentimes, parents just kind of let things linger, and you got to act. And so, then that’s something that, just as general advice, we give to parents. That’s not really legally based in anything other than common sense.
Amanda Selogie: And sometimes, we have to look at the district as a whole. School districts are required to have some type of district policy on how they address bullying. And what we find a lot is that some districts have policies that are so bleak and minimal, that it’s … oh, we’re gonna have a assembly to talk about bullying. Or, I’ll go into an elementary school and I see a poster that is like, if you hear something, say something. And that’s great on the surface level, but how is it actually addressing … sometimes it’s more of a systemic problem. So, looking at … I’ve had cases before where I’ve asked for public records of all the complaints that have been issued against the school district regarding bullying, and I get so many responses of all these emails and these reports, and so it’s something that, if it’s happening all the time, it’s really a big problem, and we’re going past the IDEA, or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act protections that kids with disabilities have. We’re going now into, well, section 504, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, has more protections about discrimination and harassment, and when we look at how a student is treated, not only with the bullying, but if the district fails to act and address the bullying appropriately, we are dealing with that. And it’s kind of a bigger violation.
And so, sometimes we talk to parents about, well, is this something … The smallest thing is, well let’s remove the child from the situation. Maybe if there’s a specific other child that is doing the bullying, we separate them. But sometimes, we have parents ask, why should my child have to move schools, or move classes? Or not be allowed to participate in this extracurricular just because that other kid was bullied. And it always becomes very tough, because the school districts have certain requirements to … We can never ask … If we’re advocating for one child, we can never ask that something else happen to another child. So, we have to kind of go to the root of, why is there an issue? Do we have a principal that’s not admitting that there is a bullying problem at their school? Or are they not just addressing it? So, in some cases, we do have to take more legal matters when there is bullying, if it’s a severe enough issue. But, other times, we can address it, like Victoria and Vickie said, talking to the principal or talking to the teacher.
So, number three, one of the biggest issues that we sometimes have is, a parent will come to us saying, they’ve asked for intervention and nobody responds. So, we go to the situation where the parent comes to us, says their child is struggling, we say, oh, have you asked them? And they say, well, I asked the teacher for assessments, or intervention, or tutoring. And they say, but nobody responded. And what’s the typical thing that we ask? Well, did you put it in writing? And so, how do we get them to listen if the school isn’t answering? Yeah, so if a parent has come to a school, and said, I’m asking for some kind of intervention, whether it’s an IEP meeting, or assessments in the first place, and they come to us and they say, well I asked for it already, but they didn’t do anything.
Victoria Lucero: Okay. I run into that situation a lot, and it’s usually that they do ask, but they’re asking orally. They’re talking to someone over the phone, or they go pick up their child and they just ask them, and then it kind of just falls through the cracks. So, what I usually do here is send a request for the records for the child. It’s usually the first step. And then, if there is no IEP, also request … send a letter requesting assessments.
Vickie Brett: I think it’s important as an advocate or as an attorney to look at the child’s records. ‘Cause I’ve had plenty of clients in the past say, they’ve not done anything. They don’t do anything. And I request the records, and there’s multiple meetings, there’s multiple IEP meetings, there’s multiple discussions, and it’s just … parents want what they want, and they’re not seeing that the district is actually responding. So, this is an instance where you might need an advocate or an attorney to actually explain to you that they’ve actually done what they’re supposed to in this situation.
I get that it’s not necessarily what you want, but let’s think of some other ways that we can get to where you want, or at least get the district to understand where you’re coming from. And that’s, I think, a root of a lot of miscommunication with some of our clients that want to be able to … like Amanda was saying, a specific consequence for the child, and it’s … we can’t advocate for the child that was doing the bullying. We can’t say, that child needs to be expelled. We can enforce their district’s own policies of doing X, Y, or Z. You know, having a meeting with that child, with the parents, disciplining them according to the school rules. But, we need to be mindful of what it is the child that’s being bullied needs, and I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen districts appropriately respond, but for whatever reason, it’s not enough for that parent, or they’re not even understanding that that was an appropriate response.
Amanda Selogie: Or sometimes, we see something is sent home. A letter is sent home in the kid’s backpack. And so, the parent actually didn’t get it, because putting it in Johnny’s backpack, and then it gets squished to the bottom, and maybe a parent is saying, hey, go clean out your backpack, there’s all these papers. And it gets lost in the shuffle. So, it’s important to figure out, why is there someone not responding? And more often than not, we find if the district is not responding to a request, it’s because it didn’t go to the right people. Because, the law says that if a parent talks to a teacher about, well we need to do assessments, I think that there’s an issue, the teacher is supposed to find either someone that can help, or help the parent understand how to put it in writing.
Because, it’s the district that needs to be handling these requests, not necessarily the teacher. And so, it needs to go to the right people. So, if a parent is facing a situation where no one’s responding, them continuing to ask in the same way is usually not gonna do anything. So, sometimes it takes coming to an advocate or an attorney, so then we can request in the proper way. And sometimes, we just tell parents, look, send a letter to the school and the district. And then, if you have email addresses for people in the district, send it to them too. Send it to multiple people and put it in writing, and you’re more often to get a response.
Victoria Lucero: Can I just say one more thing about that?
Amanda Selogie: Yeah.
Victoria Lucero: I think, too, it’s really hard when you have clients who are not English-speaking.
Amanda Selogie: Absolutely.
Victoria Lucero: Because sometimes, it is only the teacher that speaks Spanish, or a staff personnel. And they’re asking someone who can actually speak to them, and they just don’t know how to communicate with the district. And, in my personal opinion, sometimes I feel like the district doesn’t want to deal with someone who doesn’t speak English, and so it’s easy to put those types of people off.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we don’t always have members of a district, or even a school, that is able to communicate with the parents. And so, that adds that extra barrier. And of course, a lot of these parents are dealing with so much, whether or not they have an IEP already, and they’re dealing with services outside of school, and their kids, and maybe they have multiple kids, and it’s … Maybe they asked two months ago, and they realize, oh, oh man, I need to ask again. And they realize it’s been two months, but it’s … they are so overwhelmed that they can’t get to it. So, sometimes having the assistance of an attorney or an advocate can help kind of streamline the process of, it’s not in the parents hands anymore. Someone is able to make sure, okay … And we’ve talked about this before, in California, we have timelines. So, if the parent makes a request, the school has to respond in 15 days. So, if we make a request on behalf of a parent, we’re keeping track. If in 15 days, we haven’t heard, we’re sending another letter.
Vickie Brett: And that takes care of the next two questions, where it’s … Has the IEP team refused to acknowledge your request? Or has the team refused necessary services? Or are they trying to recommend a change in placement that you don’t agree with? So, as Amanda was saying with those timelines, you have an attorney or an advocate that’s able to keep track of that, and when you’re a parent and you have two other kids, and they’re in soccer and all these other after-school functions, it’s hard to keep track of the one kid.
But, going back to what Victoria was saying with our Spanish speakers in particular, ’cause that’s the majority of the clients that I’m handling, and Victoria is helping me with, because she speaks Spanish, one other thing that is interesting is when the interpreter … It could be the staff member at the front office, is inserting their own opinions about a matter, and being … oh, it’s not a big deal. You’re making this a bigger deal. And the parent is having a conversation with that person, who has no knowledge about the child, or the IEP, or the law. And, parents get really disheartened, and they get discouraged in communicating the wants and needs of their child, especially if the child is struggling, or being bullied, or some other thing is happening to the child.
Amanda Selogie: So, with those, when we’re looking at … If an IEP team is refusing anything, it kind of goes to what I had said about the 15 days, they’re required to do what’s called a prior-written notice. The district is. To provide information on whether or not they’re going to agree or refuse a request, but then they’re required to say why, so give information why. So the parent can understand, okay, is it because that service that’s being requested, the team doesn’t feel is necessary? Or is it that it’s something that they feel … the district just doesn’t have that. [inaudible 00:20:21] you have some small school districts that maybe they don’t even have an occupational therapist on staff. We’ve had school districts that have only a couple schools, and it’s kind of required to go to the Special Education Local Plan Area, or the SELPA, to provide additional services.
So, we might have a situation where the team is refusing something, not because they don’t feel it’s necessary, but just because they don’t have the ability to handle it. And now, the school districts are legally required to still provide it if it’s necessary for that child, but they might need more help. I’ve had IEP teams before say, we can’t offer this, but if the parent feels it’s still appropriate, you need to file for due process. I’ve been told that by IEP teams. Because, they recognize it’s something that the district has to handle. That they haven’t been given the authority to say yes or no. So, as an advocate, if you’re in an IEP meeting, and a team refuses something, what advice would you give to a parent on what’s the next step?
Victoria Lucero: In an IEP, a district refuses necessary services. Well, first of all, I would strongly encourage a parent not to get really upset, because I think that easily happens in IEPs. And then, it kind of just tumbles downhill from there. And then, when we’re out of the IEP, and I can talk to them alone, just tell them, this isn’t the end. This doesn’t mean this isn’t gonna happen. And to kind reassure them, because they need to know that they can still have that service, and then probably look at filing a due process request with the assistance, of course.
Amanda Selogie: So, just because an IEP team makes a recommendation or doesn’t make a recommendation for something doesn’t mean the parent can’t still request it. And so, that’s where we get into … I know that in prior episodes, we’ve talked briefly about due process, but when an attorney gets involved, they’re able to file a complaint against the school district saying that a certain service is necessary. And so, sometimes what we need to do is, we need to make sure that it’s necessary, either from getting additional assessments, or if we have … maybe the parent is getting private therapy outside and it’s being recommended, or we know that a student’s not making progress, and the team is recommending a decrease in services, but they’re not making progress, then we know it’s definitely necessary. So, we want to make sure that it’s appropriate what the parent’s asking for. And then, we can file for due process and look at, how can we get the child the necessary services? So, that might be … that’s a really big difference, and I know we’ve covered it before between the advocates and the attorneys on how we’d handle certain instances.
Okay. So, number six. The sixth … top six reason why you might want to talk to an attorney is, if you walked out of an IEP more confused than when you walked in. This often happens. And why does this happen? It happens because we have a team of maybe 20 people who are using terminologies that are either legal terminology, or psychological medical terminology, and they’re providing a lot of information. We have assessment reports that are 60 pages sometimes, 40 pages, and it’s a lot of information for a parent to digest, and so if a parent walks out of an IEP meeting just very confused, having no idea what’s even being said … Victoria, obviously this is a big issue when the parent doesn’t even speak English. So, of course it’s going to be even more challenging that way, but even if parent speaks English.
Victoria Lucero: Right. Even if parent speaks English, even as an advocate having some training in this area, sometimes you walk in, and then you come out and you still need a moment to digest it. So, if a parent walked out of a meeting feeling more confused than when they walked in, honestly, the first thing I would probably tell someone is just … probably, don’t rush it. And take your time to really digest the information, because that’s when you can make the best decision. And as an advocate, I think we also need time to just take it in, understand it, and then decide what’s best moving forward.
Vickie Brett: And then, they can digest it. And then, if they have additional questions, another IEP meeting can always be requested. And especially if the parent doesn’t sign anything, we, as attorneys, sometimes tell parents, just take it home over the weekend. Talk to your spouse about it. If you have additional questions, let’s tell the IEP team and let’s get them back together. Because it is a document similar to a contract, where the district is saying, okay, we’re gonna provide these goals and services for your child for this next year, and you’re signing it saying, I agree. And, that’s their promise, their commitment to do that. And of course, they can’t implement new services until the IEP is signed. But, if nothing’s really changed other than the goals, the parents are allotted at least a few days.
There’s nothing in the law that says, they have a week to sign, they have two weeks to sign. But, the law does say, no new services can be implemented, and the new IEP really can’t be implemented until it is signed. But, however, if the services are still the same and we’re just really changing goals, sometimes parents just consent to goals, and then … But, the majority of the time, they need time to look over those goals and reflect on whether or not they’re appropriate. And then, that might change how the services come out. Maybe we need more speech and language services if we have five speech and language goals, and they’re all going to be accomplished, but they’re really complicated. So, 30 minutes a week isn’t gonna be enough. And that’s how parent can kind of talk to an attorney, or talk to an advocate about what that would look like.
Amanda Selogie: And I would say, this instance happens most of the time when it’s the initial IEP, or maybe only the second-annual IEP, or something along those lines, because the IEP process of developing the IEP from the present levels of performance to how you get to the goals, why goals are selected a certain way, and then what services can be provided from that. It’s a process and it’s a lot of information. So, when parents are looking at just starting this process, it’s their first time, or maybe it’s only their second, to understand why things happen a certain way, sometimes it’s helpful to have that other person to kind of walk you through the process.
So, that’s one of the big reasons why Vickie and I started the Inclusive Education Project’s legal clinic, was to give parents the ability to have someone walk them through that process, because if the first time you go to an IEP meeting, you have someone that’s explaining to you why it happens in the way that it does, and that why certain things are said and not said, I think it gives parents a little bit better of a perspective moving forward, because remember, if you get an IEP when your child is three, and you’re gonna have that IEP until they’re 18 or 22, that’s a lot of years. So, we don’t want you to be confused.
So, sometimes even just having someone go to one IEP meeting can help you guide … I mean, I’ve had parents before that come into my office, and I sit down, and I go through section by section, page by page, and explain to them what is in each section. And I think it’s really important, and we often have IEP meetings where the team doesn’t even give them the documents ahead of time, or even at the meeting. So, parents are hearing things verbally. And so, it’s really important for you to understand the process. Because then, it’s easier when you make requests to understand why maybe a request is granted or not granted. So, oftentimes having that attorney to walk you through that process, or an advocate, can really be helpful.
And we have the ability to not just ask for additional tools, like for instance, having those documents ahead of time, or in the IEP meeting. Sometimes parents say, oh, I’ve asked for the documents ahead of time, and they never give it. Sometimes, with us, they listen. Sometimes they don’t. It doesn’t always happen that way.
So, kind of going along the same lines, number seven we often find is, the parent feels alone in this team of 20. We even have teams that will do a long, rectangular table, and the whole … the school team is on one side, and the parent is all alone on the other side. That can be so intimidating. And really feeling like, well, who’s there to support? So, what are some tips that parents can do to help not feel so alone in IEP meetings?
Victoria Lucero: I think, like you said, sometimes just the seating arrangement. Insert yourself into the team. If district personnel are talking amongst themselves, make sure they know, or as an advocate, I want them to make sure they know that parent is here, and parent is part of the team. It’s a group effort. This is not you against us, and vice versa. And specifically with the Spanish-speaking clients, if we have a translator that’s from the district, I think it’s important to let parent know that they are from the district, and maybe you need to explain something to parent privately in a different way, because then it … sometimes it just seems like the translator is putting their own bias into what they’re telling a parent, and that’s not fair to them either.
But mostly, I think it’s mostly about reassuring the client that they are a part of the time, and they have the right to make decisions with the team, to let the team know their input, and as an advocate, make sure that they know, too, that maybe you’re saying something that … They think you’re not saying what’s for them. You actually are on their side, even if it’s not exactly what they want, like we’ve talked about before.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah. Well, and we find oftentimes, if a parent is going to these IEP meetings, and they’re getting frustrated, and the district’s getting frustrated, and the communication is … there’s a breakdown, and we get to the point where it becomes an adversarial relationship, having the parent continue to go to those IEP meetings by themselves is just gonna keep that frustration. The adversarial relationship is gonna continue, it’s not really gonna help. So, even if sometimes us as an advocate or an attorney can help diffuse and help be … I always say, sometimes I’m translating, even though I don’t speak Spanish. I’m not necessarily translating for a Spanish-speaking or a multilingual family, but even for our English speakers, sometimes the words and the phrases that the districts use, or the parents use, are not being heard in the same way that they are being meant.
So, even just understanding the meaning of a word. For instance, the word program. What does that mean to a teacher versus what does that mean to a parent? And sometimes, we just need to have that communication. So, we tell parents, if you’re feeling like you go to these IEP meetings time after time and nothing gets accomplished, having the support of an advocate or an attorney at those meetings can often help. Even if it’s just to get that communication better, so then that way, you feel like you’re getting your voice heard.
And then, I guess along the same lines, number eight looking at … Are you even receiving those documents in your native language? So, parents are entitled to every piece of documentation that they receive to be in their native language. And the school districts often, we find … Vickie, you request records for our Spanish-speaking clients, and how many documents are actually in Spanish when we receive those records?
Vickie Brett: Not a lot. This one is a violation that happens all the time, and now I’m getting the explanation that there was a translator at the IEP meeting, so it was translated. But, many of the parents may have their own type of learning disabilities, or maybe don’t have learning disabilities, they are more visual learners and auditory learners, so having someone actually translate at an IEP meeting orally things that are in front of them that’s written in English, it doesn’t work, and oftentimes, when you have somebody translating, they’re inserting their own opinions and/or they don’t even know … Like, me saying occupational therapy to an English-speaking parent, I have to say, oh, it’s about fine motor skills, or it’s about writing, or the buttoning up of things, and if you say [Spanish 00:31:58] to a parent, and I’m literally translating occupational therapy to a Spanish-speaking parent, they don’t know what the heck that means. You have to be able to break it down. So, there’s a difference between actually transcribing things from English to Spanish, translating them from English to Spanish, and the comprehension, and the understanding of what is actually being said to them, or literally going from English to Spanish.
I had a Spanish-speaking parent tell me the other day that they had read an article where books from, like, Italian to English lose like 50 percent of their meaning. And, that’s completely accurate, because it’s one of those situations where there’s just different ways to say things, like Italians have different sayings, and that’s why people say, oh, there’s a saying in Italian that’s … and then they say it, and you’re … oh, that sounds really weird. We would never say that in English. It’s the same thing for our Spanish speakers, or our Vietnamese speakers, or our Cantonese speakers. You’re literally translating something for them, but if a parent is supposed to be an equal participant in the IEP meeting, and they are supposed to have informed consent, and they don’t sign it that day, and they’ve just sat through three hours of somebody translating an IEP and they still don’t understand, but they’re expected to just sign, that’s not okay.
So, I’ve been getting that excuse a lot lately. Well, there was a translator at the IEP, so they were an equal participant because they participate. And, it’s just … I’ve had people tell me that the translators would tell them, I’m not asking any questions on your behalf. I’m just here translating things. I’ve had parents who know enough English to know that they’re not translating everything appropriately. I’ve had instances where parent will ask a question, and then the interpreter says it in a completely different way, or puts their spin on it as a district person, or is talking mess about the parent in front of the parent to the IEP team.
So, the importance of having bilingual attorneys in this area and advocates is, I can’t even tell you how important it is, and I’m saying all this in English, so for anyone that would be a potential client in Spanish, they may not necessarily even be knowing this. And that’s what’s the struggle with this one in particular, as a concern that these parents have is, I’m not able to accurately even present this podcast to them because they’re not understanding anything. It’s a struggle, so that’s why with our nonprofit and our firm, we’re doing presentations, and I’m doing them in Spanish so that these parents … Because, they have just as much a right to try and advocate for their students, but they’re at a complete disadvantage and it’s sad. But, that’s an instance where an attorney or an advocate would be super helpful to them.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah. So, number nine is disciplinary action. So, is your child facing suspensions, or even facing possible expulsion? This is something that happens a lot, and parents think that there’s nothing they can do about it. There is, on the one side, maybe a student is receiving disciplinary action and they don’t have an IEP. Maybe they should. And then, there’s the other side of, maybe they have an IEP, but it’s not being followed. So, we have, under the law, certain protections regarding discipline for students who are living with disabilities. We’re not supposed to be disciplining them in the same way.
For the biggest reason, for the fact that, when a child has a behavioral issue or something that leads to requiring discipline, oftentimes, and most of the time, it happens … it’s something outside of their control. And so, if a student has a behavior that’s outside of their control, it’s absolutely inappropriate for them to be disciplined for it. Because, we have a typical child that does something they’re not supposed to do. We discipline them. So then, we prevent them from doing it again, or so is the idea. But, if they have no way of controlling that, that’s not appropriate, and it’s not gonna prevent them from doing that. So, if you have a parent coming to you as an advocate, what might you recommend if they’re facing suspensions or expulsions?
Victoria Lucero: If the child has an IEP? If the child has an IEP in the parent is coming, we definitely need to see whether it was something that was appropriate for their child or was not. And, more often than not, it’s probably not gonna be appropriate, and it’s just district people don’t want to deal with the child. If the child doesn’t have an IEP, the first thing we’d probably want to do is the … see records, and again, request that the child be assessed. Because we don’t know what’s going on.
Amanda Selogie: Right. And so, before a student is facing expulsion, a school district is required to do what’s called a manifestation determination meeting to determine whether or not … if they have an IEP, determine whether or not they have … that the behaviors that resulted in the discipline, or the need for discipline, is a manifestation of their disability. So, meaning that they don’t have control over it. It’s something that the IEP team … the IEP should be addressing.
So, oftentimes if parent goes to a manifestation determination meeting by themselves, the district might not even do an appropriate assessment to determine if it’s a manifestation. And they might be facing an expulsion when they shouldn’t be, so this is a very pertinent situation where we oftentimes have to get involved. Because there’s a lot more at stake here, and it’s very fast-moving. So, we definitely do recommend seeking out [inaudible 00:37:19] attorney.
And especially if the student doesn’t have an IEP, there’s still things that can be done. We can look at, should they have been assessing? So, that needs to come into play. Because if the school district knew that the student had some kind of disabling condition that they are aware of, and they maybe it’s a [inaudible 00:37:34] violation, they should have been assessing, then that’s problematic if they’re being disciplined.
And so, real quick. The last, number 10 reason, is when we have parents who unilaterally place their child in a private school, non-public school, or say, a private agency for maybe tutoring. So, when a student has an IEP, they are entitled to, as we’ve mentioned before, a free and appropriate public education. And if the IEP is not providing them a FAPE, parents do have the right to unilaterally place their child into a private setting, whether it be a tutoring after school, or it’s an actual private school. And they are allowed to seek reimbursement of the funds that they use for this private placement. Because, essentially, the school is supposed to providing appropriate services, but not. And so, this is one instance where you would have to file for due process in order to get the reimbursement. So, you would absolutely need to go to an attorney.
So, we have times, parents are fed up with the situation. Maybe this whole list of the other nine have happened, and they’re like, well, I’m done. I’m frustrated. I’m not gonna deal with this anymore. I’m just gonna privately place them. Well, in that instance, if you go to an attorney, we can help with getting reimbursement, or … not just reimbursement, but maybe having the student in a private school for the next three, four, five years is not gonna be an appropriate situation for them. Maybe we still want to have them in a public school, but we need to get the IEP team to listen and provide appropriate services.
So, there’s definitely a lot that a parent can do in advocating for their families, and when we have them come to our advocates, sometimes advocates are able to give them advice of what they can do on their own. But, like we’ve listed today, there are situations where it might be time for you to seek an attorney. And it doesn’t necessarily you would need the attorney forever, but maybe we fix a situation and can help build it forward, and move the relationship between the school district and the parent forward, so then, that way, you can avoid these situations in the future.
Vickie Brett: So, we want to thank our advocate for coming in. Thanks, Victoria.
Victoria Lucero: Thank you, guys.
Vickie Brett: I hope you had fun on the pod.
Victoria Lucero: It was lots of fun. It’s always fun in this office.
Vickie Brett: Oh, well that’s good. We’re not grading you, so you don’t have to keep saying nice things about us. You’re fine. So, you guys, if you enjoyed today’s episode and you haven’t subscribed, please do so. You can find us on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play. Of course, this is all informational, educational purposes. If you have any questions, you will want to contact an attorney or an advocate to discuss any of the concerns that you have with your child, or any of the situations you feel like you’ve encountered in this list of 10 that we’ve given you, so thanks so much for listening.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah, and if you want to reach out to us, like Vickie said, you can find us on social media. IEP California is our [handa 00:40:20], or www.iepcalifornia.org to find out more information, and thanks for listening in, and we’ll see you next week.
Vickie Brett: Bye.
Amanda Selogie: Bye.