Education Law Advocates, P.C.

September 2008

Education Law Advocates, P.C.
Education Attorneys

Back to School Checklist. Are you and your child ready for school ?

School starts soon. Are you ready? It's not too late! There'splenty you can do to help your child get better results at school this year. Will you do everything perfectly? No way! Nobody's perfect. Will you get everything in place in a week?No way! It takes time. And there'salways more you can do to become an effective advocate for your child at school.

So think of the checklist below as a way to "take stock" of where you are and where you need to gowith your special needs childthis year. Then - pick one or two things you need to do - and get started!

1. Get organized. Are your child's records organized and up to date? Can you find them when you need them? If not, take some time to get organized. It will help you learn what you need to learn and you will look like you mean business. Both are important. And the more organized and prepared you are, the more confidence you will have. For more information on getting organized, click here: http://www.educationlawadvocates.com/OrganizingFile.shtml.

2. Review your child's current evaluation. When did you last review your child's comprehensive school evaluation? Is your child achieving at grade level in reading? In math? What does the evaluation say are your child's biggest challenges? Do you agree? Is each major need identified in the evaluation addressed in the IEP? You need to know what the evaluation says because your child's IEP is based on it. You can read and understand the important parts of it. These sources can help: www.wrightslaw.com(search "evaluations"); From Emotions to Advocacy by Pete and Pam Wright (a wonderful guide for parents of special needs children with two easy-to-read chapters on evaluations); http://www.educationlawadvocates.com/May-2008.shtml, and (http://www.educationlawadvocates.com/December-2007.shtml. (See "Understanding the Numbers").

3. Review the IEPs. Take a look at this year's and last year's IEPs. How have they changed? Does the current IEP accurately describe your child's present levels of performance in all areas of need? Are the goals measurable? How often will the school report on his progress? How will you know if your child is making progress? (Grades are not enough!). Does the IEP provide the services your child needs? An IEP can be a plan for "success" or a plan for "failure." So which is it? Here's more information to help you learn about IEPs:http://www.educationlawadvocates.com/May-2008.shtml. (See "Get Real with the IEP").

4. Learn the "basics." You're never going to learn "everything" about your child's condition, special education plans and services, and the law. But you don't have to! Focus on the basics. What don't you know that you think you should know? Answers are out there - on the web, at parentmeetings, in books and videos at the library, in many places. Join a parents group! If your child has ADHD, for example, order a book on it from Amazon or get one from the library. The more you know, the more you can help. We think the Internet is a great way to get started and to learn more. For some great web resources for parents of special needs children, click here: http://www.educationlawadvocates.com/WhatsNew.shtml.

5. Set goals and monitor the results. If you don't know where you intend to go, how will you know when you get there? What do you expect your child to be doing in three years? Five years? Ten years? Will she be attending college? Will he be living independently? Will she be working full-time in a job she enjoys? We encourage parents to think about their goals for their child and write them down. Nothing fancy. Just write down some goals and when you expect to achieve them on a 3 x 5 card. Then keep it with you to help keep it "top of mind." You might be surprised by how it can help. Do you need a little help with it? Try "Googling" "goal setting" to get more information.It's easy!

6. Document important contacts and meetings. Any attorney will tell you:If it wasn't written down, it was never said." So get in the habit of emailing the school whenever something important occurs. Did you have an important conversation with the principal or a teacher? Did you have an important meeting at school? Follow up with an email. It gives you a chance to thank them. But, most important, just list out in plain and brief language what was said that was important and what follow-up is needed. Helps keep everybody on their toes - including you!

7. Plan and prepare for school meetings. We always advise parents to go into an IEP meeting with "solutions," not "problems." Discussion of the "problems" is necessary only to give context to the "solutions." Of course, you can't know everything. But think ahead to the meeting. What needs must be addressed? What solutions are you seeking for your child? New services? Better monitoring? More information? How will this help your child move ahead? We love the meeting preparation advice in the Wrights' book, From Emotions to Advocacy (Chapters 25 and 26). And, of course, there's information on the Web. But remember:Preparation is the key to a successful outcome for your child at school.

8. Develop an attitude and an approach that works. We advise parents to use the "5 P's": Be proactive, positive, persistent, prepared and polite. Okay, that's a mouthful. But here's the point. In our view, in most cases, good things come out of good relationships; bad things come out of bad relationships. Don't you find that to be true in your own family? At work? In other areas of your life? So we think it applies to schools, too. Focus on what you need to achieve for your child and how to get there. Keep after it. Press for what you need. Be clear and direct. But be polite! Most people at the school will respect you for it. Some won't, but we can't change that. In the long run, we think this will help you get what your child needs. Will this guarantee results? Of course not! Might you still have to get a lawyer involved despite your best efforts to get what your child needs on your own? Of course. But we think this approach will get the best results in most cases.


Spotlight on . . .
Estate Planning for your Special Needs Child

Parents of children with serious disabilities frequently ask us about how to provide for their child through a trust or estate plan. Many have heard of so-called "special needs trusts" or "supplemental needs trusts," but lack information about how they work.

Estate planning allows you to determine in writing how your assets will be distributed both during your lifetime and after your death. Estate plans must be written very carefully to ensure that they comply with governing laws. A trust is a legal document that grants a third party, often a bank or trusted individual, the responsibility for managing designated assets for the benefit of your child. It is simply one of many options that you should carefully consider in developing an estate plan.

The need for careful estate planning may be especially critical when you are attempting to provide for a special needs child. Otherwise, your assets may not be distributed in the ways you direct in your estate planning documents. In addition, government benefits that your child might otherwise receive could be lost or compromised.

While some government benefit programs are available regardless of assets or unearned income, others are not. Social Security Disability payments and Medicare, for example, are currently available regardless of your child's assets or unearned income. Other government benefits, such as Social Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid are available to otherwise qualified persons only if their assets and income fall below a set level. Still other government benefits, such as certain Mental Health and Mental Retardation Services, and Vocational Rehabilitation services, may impose a charge on the otherwise eligible recipient based on their assessed ability to pay.

A carefully drafted estate plan will preserve the government benefits, such as Social Security Disability payments, for which a seriously disabled child or adult may otherwise qualify and reduce or eliminate the costs imposed by still other government programs that take "ability to pay" into account. The ultimate goal is to help ensure that your child's long-term needs will besatisfied through a combination of personal assets and any government benefits for which your child may qualify.

Unfortunately,the use of the wrong word, phrase or reference in your estate planning documents could result in a loss or reduction of government benefits for your special needs child or could otherwise interfere with your desire to meet your child's long-term needs after you can no longer provide for your child yourself. As they say, the "Devil is in the details." So great care is required!

Finding a Qualified Estate Planning Attorney

For a helpful overview of estate planning for a special needs child, we like this article at the Disability Rights Network website: http://drnpa.org/File/publications/estate-planning-for-families-of-persons-with-disabilities.pdf.

Are you concerned about planning for your disabled child's future care? As you know, we are strong supporters of parents advocating for their child on their own, whenever possible - without having to incur attorneys' fees. But estate planning is not something you should try to do on your own, in our opinion, especially where a parent seeks to provide for a seriously disabled child. Because this estate planning area of the law is so specialized, we do not prepare these documents either. However, we can recommend qualified attorneys with experience and knowledge in estate planning for a disabled child. So feel free to call or email us if you would like to discuss it further. There is no charge.


Quick Tips: "Extended School Year" (ESY)

We know what you may be thinking. "ESY is a summer program. Summer's over. Why are you talking about it now?" Good question!

We are raising it now because we think there are some things you should know about it now. Later this fall, we plan to come back to it again, in a little more detail. But here are three "quick tips" on ESY that we hope you will keep in mind:

1. Did your child lose ground this summer ? Eligibility for ESY is primarily based on whether your child loses so much ground when she's not in school that she cannot easily make it up when school begins again after a break, especially the summer break. They refer to it as "regression and recoupment." So did your child lose ground over the summer? Did he master a basic skill in reading, for example, that he has lost over the summer? Will it take too long for him to regain that skill this fall? Be vigilant. Observe your child. Ask her questions. If you suspect a problem, check with the teachers. Make notes that you can use at an IEP meeting later to argue for services next summer that can keep your child on track.

2. Changes in ESY regulations.Remember that the team is required to determine at each IEP meeting whether your child is eligible for ESY services, which includes a consideration based on "reliable sources of information," according to the new Pennsylvania special education regulations, including progress on IEP goals, "reports by parents of negative changes in adaptive behaviors or in other skill areas," and other observations by parents and others. See http://www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/cwp/view.asp?A=3&Q=127165.

3. Deadlines for ESY decisions . For students with a severe disability, including autism, severe emotional disturbance, mental retardation, and others, the IEP meeting must be held by February 28 of each year, and the Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (NOREP) for that child must be issued by March 31. For all other disabled children, the IEP and NOREP must be completed in a timely way. A parent who disagrees with the team's decision on ESYis entitled to an expedited Due Process hearing.


From the Legal Desk: Our "Top 7" Changes to the New Pennsylvania Special Education Regulations

Will the new Pennsylvania special education regulations affect you or your child? The only way to know for sure is to read the regulations or check with an attorney or other trusted advisor. The regulations include big changes in the law, beginning July 1, 2008. You can read them here:

http://www.pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol38/38-26/38_26_p2.pdf.

Here are the "top 7" changes to the regulations that we think are important. But remember, these aren't the only changes, so we suggest you read through the regulations on your own. (Note that charter school students are subject to a different set of regulations).

1. Abolishes the special education appeals panels .The appeals panels heard appeals from the decision of a hearing officer in a due process case. That "layer" of review now has been abolished. If a parent (or school district) is dissatisfied with the hearing officer's decision, their next step under the new regulations is to appealdirectly to a state or federal court.

2. 60 "calendar days" to complete a school evaluation or reevaluation . Under the old regulations, the school district had 60 "school" days from the time the parent submitted a written Permission to Evaluate form in order to conduct the evaluation, complete the report, and provide it to the parent. The change to "calendar" days means the school district will have less time to complete the evaluation. But remember that the summer break doesn't count in computing the "calendar" days. So if you submit a signed Permission to Evaluate form in early May, for example, you might still have to wait until September to receive a copy of the evaluation. The same change applies to school reevaluations of your child.

3. Parent access to the classroom . The new regulations state that "[p]arents shall have reasonable access to their child's classrooms, within the parameters of local educational agency policy."

4. Stay-put during mediation . The new regulations make clear that, in general, if a parent seeks mediation to try to resolve a dispute with the district over the child's program and services, the child must remain in the current program (the child must "stay put"), unless the parent and district agree otherwise. [14.162(s)].

5.Abolishes "prehearing conferences." So you shouldn't see that checkbox on the second page of the Notice of Recommended Educational Assignment ("NOREP") that the district asks you to sign when the IEP is developed or revised. Of course, you can still seek further meetings with the school to try to resolve differences regarding the IEP.

6. Quality services and protection of legal rights . The new regulations reaffirm state's intent to provide "quality special education services and programs,... including helping to ensure that "children with disabilities have access to the general curriculum ... [and they] are educated, to the maximum extent appropriate, with their nondisabled peers and are provided with supplementary aids and services ... [and to] protect the rights of children with disabilities and their parents.

7. Changes affecting "Instructional paraprofessionals" (Teachers' Aides) and "Personal Care Attendants" ("PCAs") . Teachers' aides and PCAs must participate in 20 hours of staff development each year. A PCA may provide support to more than one student, but not at the same time. A teacher's aide must possess an associate degree or higher. See the regulation for other requirements.


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Education Law Advocates, P.C. skillfully represents parents and their special needs children in southeastern and central Pennsylvania, including West Chester, Lower Merion, Coatesville, Paoli, Downingtown and Upper Darby, and throughout the Philadelphia metro area, including Chester County, Montgomery County, Delaware County, Bucks County, Philadelphia, Lancaster County and Berks County.

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