So Julie, in the arena of special education advocacy, we’ve talked about special education attorneys. Well, everyone knows whether or not you’re an attorney. You can check it out. Are they licensed to practice law is pretty much the question.
Whether or not they’re a special education attorney is a different issue. But what is a special education advocate? I only wish that there was a criteria that I had to meet in order to rise to the level of being a certified special education advocate. Me too.
Unfortunately, Jennifer, there is not. So the way that I describe a special education advocate and what I tell people when they ask me, is I am very familiar with the IDEA– the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act– like you are. You don’t certainly have to be an attorney to understand the law and be able to read about it and know how to use it and help parents use it. And so I have a real understanding of not only the laws that drive special education. I’m also very, very familiar with how the school systems operate.
And I’m very familiar with helping parents how use that law in order to help them get the services that are appropriate for their child. So what kind of meanings do you attend on behalf of parents? Well, I will go to IEP team meetings for parents. But generally, the way that I begin the process is I have to do a file review. I have to understand what the issues are.
And if your child hasn’t been in special education yet, certainly I help you start that process. But I will attend IEP team meetings. I will help parents with correspondence, with just anything and everything that has to do with getting their child to the end goal of a free and appropriate public education. But unlike you– and I need to stress this– I am not an attorney.
I’m not certified to do anything. I only wish that there were that criteria. But I always say to parents, you really need to choose a special education advocate who has a lot of experience. And who has a reputation. And who can vouch and other people can vouch that they’re very good at what they do.
Because, unlike attorneys, special education advocates, there is no criteria, as I’ve said. So you can be a special education advocate who maybe isn’t very effective at their job. Right.
And you can be a special education advocate who’s incredibly effective. So you have to do a lot of homework. You have to talk to a lot of people and really understand what that person’s reputation is. I would say, any time you think you’re going to engage the services of a special education attorney or advocate you need to do your research. Talk to other parents.
Make sure this is someone who really knows what they’re doing, who’s effective, who’s been doing it for a while and isn’t just some fly by night organization who’s saying that they’re an advocate or an attorney– especially an attorney who really doesn’t now. But when you’re dealing with advocates, as you said, because there’s no standardization, at least with attorneys, attorneys are bound by ethical requirements that do not allow them to take on cases that they don’t have experience in. And they cannot hold themselves out to do certain things. There are ethical prohibitions against that.
That is not the case for advocates. There’s no standardization. So I would say I would want parents to be cautious regardless, whether you’re hiring a special education attorney or a special education advocate. Because in some ways, while attorneys do have ethical obligations which gives you some assurance that you’re dealing with some level of expertise, the damage that a lawyer who doesn’t know what they’re doing can do is greater than the damage that an advocate who doesn’t know what they’re doing can create. That said, I would say you’re going to have to be a little bit more cautious when you investigate a special education advocate. And also, at the end of the day, the way that I see my role is that I have an area of expertise that a parent may not.
And so, hopefully, my role is to help the parent get from point A to point Z where a parent may not have that knowledge base, that experience. And so I’m the person who can navigate you through the process. That’s great.