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June 18, 2007

Blawg Review #113 - Special Education Law and the Parents Who Need Guidance and Support

Blawg Review #113 , written by solo Charles Fox, is a primer as well as emotional support for those parents of children with autism, cerebral palsy and other special needs.  The wealth of knowledge presented will benefit any parent who must advocate for their child on a daily basis. I had personal (professional) experience with how mandatory providers will manipulate parents, label them to distract from their obligations to the parent and child in a way which can devastate a devoted family unit.

When I first was practicing, I had the good fortune of meeting a Russian immigrant who was a parent to a nine year old boy with autism.  She was absolutely brilliant in her research and devotion to determining how best to serve his needs including macrobiotics diets, exercise and more which increased the the quality of joy in her son's life.  However, she also knew she was entitled to qualified teachers from the public school system and that was the catalyst for her nightmare over the next year. The Board of Education saw her as a nuisance, one heavily-accented woman from Russia.  They could dispatch with her quickly as this was an affluent community and they had other things to do besides listenening to this woman demanding her rights for her son at every Board of Education meeting.

The school provided untrained teachers to come to her home who were critical of the way she tried to explain her son's behaviors, how she fed him and the BOE refused to hire someone qualified.  So, they hired a well-known professional to review the mother/parent relationship and to assess the child. (The child had several picas including eating wood.  Also, like any normal boy if he was outside and had to urinate he would do so on a tree.)

Finally, the BOE, tired of this mother did what any respectable BOE with mandatory reporting powers would do, they fed her to the DCF system to get rid of her.  That's when she called me to represent her interests with DCF.  BOE claimed she was a terrible mother, abusing her child, feeding him a strange diet, he ate wood, etc.  This got to the point of ridiculousness when DCF started getting involved in the child's diet claiming she was abusing him because it was gluten and whey-free and he took certain vitamins.  Fortunately the well-seasoned judge slapped DCF stating, "I don't care if he eats nothing but lettuce leaves and peanut butter if he's healthy. (This was judge Brenneman...mother of Amy Brenneman, star of Judging Amy and role model for the Judge she played on the show.)

Upon getting involved in the case, and this is the most important part, the school sent to DCF, as support for their referral, the report given to them by the paid professional.  DCF never examined it thoroughly.  There were numerous heavily blacked out sentences and words.  When I questioned DCF why they never asked for the unredacted report they said it wasn't their policy, privacy issues.

I suspected the professional would not be happy that a report he submitted was being used redacted so I contacted him and got a copy of the original report.  Well, surprise.  The sentences blacked out were those talking about what a wonderful mother my client was, her devotion to her son, said the picas were normal and the specialized diet was highly recommended and progressive.  The professional was not happy his report was being misused.

This did not end up in a lawsuit.  The professional came with my client and I to the next BOE meeting to request her son be sent to the school qualified to educate him ($50,000 per year). When it was my client's turn the BOE was ready to dismiss her, again.  We asked they shut off the recording as we thought it was in their best interest.  The professional asked why the school sent a redacted report to DCF in order to position my client as a negligent mother when the report stated the opposite?  The BOE turned on the recording and immediately approved the school's obligation to pay for my client's private school.  (The client did not want to sue the BOE.  She got what she wanted and had to deal with them in the future for her son's education.)

This was ten years ago.  I never took on another case like this and I applaud those who concentrate in this area.  Parent as advocate is extraordinarily hard and when you are faced with political, financial agendas like the one described above, horrific.  The field of special education law is rightly expanding and taking center stage in the legal arena.  This is a great area for solos, too.

Read Charles Fox's Blawg Review.  It is a treasure trove of valuable information.

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