Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Jun 10
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by Jess

In my long-time role of parent volunteer (nationally and locally), people know and seem to like me. They certainly aren’t afraid of me – as I’ve discovered as a classroom volunteer at my kids’ schools…“no classroom presence” is the verdict.

In the courtroom – as opposed to the classroom - I command more attention, of course. Being a lawyer does that. Ditto in the IEP meeting room. People sit up and take notice. As they should. Things get done. Again, as they should. 

But despite what people seem to think, I don’t spend all my time in a courtroom or in a school IEP conference room. To the contrary, I hardly EVER have to frequent these venues. Why is that?

It’s because I view myself as a family’s legal coach, and the coach does not go out and play football. The coach is critical to the team’s success – in the locker room, at the practices, and on the sidelines ready to jump in and give advice if needed – but the coach is not out there on the field. He/she doesn’t have to be – if he/she has done a good job, his/her players are ready to play as soon as they hit the field.

Parents are the quarterbacks. They make the tough decisions, and much of their family/team’s success rides on their shoulders. Then there are the supporting players, important in their own right – the therapists, doctors, etc. – but the leader of the team is the parents, and their coach is the lawyer.

At least, this is true in my playbook. Some lawyers (and lay advocates) may take a different approach, and that’s fine. But what I’ve found through years of being a special ed mom (to three out of my four kids over the past 15 years and counting) – and through years of being a community volunteer – is that most families instinctively know that their goal is to have a smooth relationship with their child’s school; as famed special education attorney, Pete Wright, has said: think of your school relationship as a marriage without the possibility of divorce. So, unless you are prepared to pull your child from public school (which, obviously, does happen sometimes), you need to keep the relationship between school and parents civil and professional.

I have found that viewing myself as the family’s coach has allowed me to keep the costs – financial and emotional – as low as possible for the family and to preserve as much as possible a good working relationship between the family and the school.

As a special ed lawyer/mom/community volunteer, I’m here to help. I’ve been where you are and I know what’s at stake. It’s your child’s future. Nothing matters more. I know how to keep my eye on the prize – and as your child’s parents, I know you do too! I’m not here to bully or intimidate; nor am I here to passively accept whatever the school offers. I’m simply here to help.

Sandy Strassman-Alperstein is a lawyer, community volunteer, and mom of four (three who have received special education services). Sandy fights for kids’ rights nationally as part of the parent-volunteer group, Our Children Left Behind, and locally through support groups and her own law office. You can contact Sandy at sandy@spedlaw4kids.com and visit her website at www.spedlaw4kids.com. You can also find plenty of information for families on her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/spedlaw4kids.

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