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If you have used an IEP advocate


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DS16's IEP annual review is approaching, and we're giving thought to having an advocate there. I have a few specific questions, but feel free to chime in with any thoughts.

If you have used an advocate, what did they do for you and the case that went beyond what you could do yourself? I've got five years of experience with IEP team meetings now, and I contribute a lot to our IEP meetings, so I'm wanting to get a handle on what an advocate will add to the process.

Also, what was it like to work with one? Did they meet with you beforehand or just review files? Did they give you input about what they think about the current IEP and what should be changed, or did they just answer your questions? Did they speak a lot at the meeting or just listen in? How did you go about finding one?

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Paid or provided by the school? I've used an advocate provided by the school system. The person was funded by grants and supposedly independent but basically worthless. When you have a complicated situation, what you really need is a lawyer. There are *paid* advocates that know some about the law. I can't speak to them. I used a pro bono lawyer two years and got a little done. The paid lawyer was able to cut through all the haze, do a file review, tell us what we were missing, and she never even had to show up.

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3 hours ago, PeterPan said:

Paid or provided by the school? I've used an advocate provided by the school system. The person was funded by grants and supposedly independent but basically worthless. When you have a complicated situation, what you really need is a lawyer. There are *paid* advocates that know some about the law. I can't speak to them. I used a pro bono lawyer two years and got a little done. The paid lawyer was able to cut through all the haze, do a file review, tell us what we were missing, and she never even had to show up.

So an attorney reviewed the file for you and gave you advice. And then the IEP team listened to you explain the attorney's advice? Or did the attorney somehow communicate to the school, even though she was not at the meeting?

In other words, how did YOU talking to an attorney help things go differently at the IEP meeting, if the attorney was not present?
 

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In our case, the school is willing to listen to everything that I have to say. And they do make minor revisions to the IEP that I suggest. And they will include in the IEP any opinions that I state, in the parent comment sections. And they are nice, generally.

But twice now, when I have brought outside evaluations, they have minimized them. Once by saying that the suggestions in the report were boilerplate and didn't really mean much for my individual child. 😡And once by saying that it's known that my child doesn't cooperate well with evaluations, so there was not a way to know if the new data was correct. 😡

One of the suggestions in that first report that I brought to them was to update speech evaluations. So the school's response to my request was to write into the IEP a justification for why they didn't think they needed to run more speech testing.

Now I will have a new report to bring to them -- because we are paying for private speech evaluations, since we couldn't make the school do them -- and I want them to have to pay attention to it and not shunt it aside. I know that legally the school has to consider outside reports but does not have to do what they say. But I hope to be able to get them to seriously consider the report and not be dismissive of it. The SLP recommended that I take an advocate, and I'm trying to envision how the advocate might make progress in this, when I have not been able to.

I have not actually seen the report yet, but the SLP told me that I need to be ready to "advocate hard." I feel that I am very good at representing DS's needs in the meetings and that I don't need help with that part. I'm wondering if an advocate can help get the school to respond better. I don't really need someone to just be there for me for support (DH does that), but I need someone who can provoke some action.

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Okay — sometimes people are like — here we are, escalating, eventually we are going to sue you or something.  Take it higher to the superintendent or something.  Something.  Not just “agree and go home.”

I think to some extent that can be “the message.”

 

 

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Or they know how to proceed up one level if they say “let’s do this” and it seems like all you can do is agree because they just don’t say anything else.  
 

There is probably some process where you are talking to the principal or district administrator or something.  Who might be able to do something different. 

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I have attended IEP meetings (as a teacher) with advocates present, but it sounds like what you need or want is a lawyer.

In Texas, the advocates don’t get a vote in the meetings. I have only ever seen them provide. support to the parent, not state things directly to the IEP committee. More like helping the parent remember what she wanted to say, ot encouraging the parent to ask questions about a specific part of the IEP. The administration thought they were a pain to have in the meetings, but I never thought they were bad or difficult to work with. I have attended IEP meetings with a friend just to give the same kind of support. I see it kind of the same as taking another person with you to a doctor’s appointment.

Having an advocate present isn’t likely to cause the district to do anything different, but it might give you what you need to disagree with the IEP.

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3 hours ago, Storygirl said:

So an attorney reviewed the file for you and gave you advice. And then the IEP team listened to you explain the attorney's advice? Or did the attorney somehow communicate to the school, even though she was not at the meeting?

In other words, how did YOU talking to an attorney help things go differently at the IEP meeting, if the attorney was not present?
 

nt

Edited by PeterPan
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IME, the advocate was helpful and knew the law and the school just didn't care. He met with us before the meeting and went to the meeting with us. He provided us with an agenda with references and a packet of info to pass to the team. He didn't make the situation worse, but he lacked power. 

If I ever have another issue, we'll bring an attorney. Would I bring one to a regular IEP meeting? No. But if there's something contentious and you've been getting the sense that they are going to do what they want, an advocate can't help with that. The reason you need an attorney for something serious is that it forces the school to bring their attorney and you finally have someone at the table who may care a little about following the law. We were absolutely not going to sue (who has the time and money?) but I regret not having the attorney come. FWIW, the one we consulted said our case was so obvious and so open and shut and that they were blatantly over the line that he didn't think we needed to waste our money. It's a power issue.

Edited by Paige
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And also, we tried to be so nice. We didn't want to make things worse or have them think we were out to get them and we tried to give them the benefit of the doubt at every step. Maybe it's not true everywhere, but in hindsight that was such the wrong move in our county. They aren't our friends and they certainly aren't there to get your kid more help. They have relationships among themselves that are more important to them and will last longer than their relationships with you and your child. We should have been the a-holes. We should have jumped straight to the superintendent and brought our attorney.

Edited by Paige
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Paige. I've been looking at a few websites of advocates, and they all emphasize that they don't give legal advice. They aren't lawyers, so I understand that statement. On the other hand, if they don't push on the legal issues, I'm not sure what use one would be, in our case.

I think the real legal issue in our case is whether the school is allowed to limit speech therapy to 30 minutes a week, when there is a documented pile of needs that cannot be covered in 30 minutes. The independent speech therapists say that the school cannot legally limit the time like that. However, as far as I am aware, all IEPs assign speech therapy by minutes in that way, and schools don't budge on it. I think you are right that it would take a lawyer, and not an advocate, to have a chance of changing the amount of speech allotted.

I'm just contemplating things. I don't even have the new speech report yet. DS is having his last testing session today, and then the SLP still needs to write it up (we are getting private speech evaluations, because the school wouldn't run them, in case I didn't mention that before).

I'm not up for a legal battle. I'd like DS to get more speech through the school, but whatever the school does will not be enough, so he really needs supplemental private speech therapy, regardless. It wouldn't be worth a legal battle to me to get a little more speech from the school, when a little more would not be enough.

The speech therapist recommended that I take an advocate to the IEP meeting, which is why I've been pondering what one would do for me that would be worthwhile.

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My impression is they kind-of assign students to a level and say “for this level this is how much they need.”  
 

Like — that it kind-of goes with placement.  Maybe almost all the kids in one placement get 3x/week. And then another placement gets 1x/week.  
 

Because maybe they are doing push-in group speech in some placements.  
 

But then they also will say, “well we don’t want to pull them out of other classes for speech is they don’t need it,” because they are supposed to do a risk/benefit analysis for the risk of kids missing other things they are pulled from.

Anyway — I think this does not work out when kids are at variable levels!!!!!!!!

 

And also — no, it’s not supposed to be how it is done, it is very clear!  It is not right!

Something you maybe could do is ask if some kind of speech goal could be added into other classes if he is any smaller classes or classes with push-in support or anything.  This can be a way to have things covered without actually going into speech therapy.  Which — has a benefit too of being more generalized?  But who knows if they would do that if they “don’t do it.”  
 

It’s something I have heard of with pragmatically goals trying to be addressed through group work that happens to be going on anyway.  
 

I don’t know if anyone is saying/thinking this, but it’s a thing for people to think kids are not necessarily making as much progress in speech therapy when they are older.  And then also they might be more mature and working on goals where it’s like “I’m going to self-monitor on this,” and it’s also like — well they expect more from a teen than a little kid. I know those seem opposite but it’s like — somehow both are true.  
 

Maybe point out — he didn’t get services earlier so he hasn’t had the years of services other kids have had, I think it might make a difference for them not to have an attitude like “this kid has been getting speech for ten years.”  
 

Just some random thoughts!!!!!!!

For pragmatics I do think, especially if you can do private speech anyway, you could be better off to try to bargain/compromise for generalization goals that might be easier for them to implement and help be more effective.  You could ask for them as supports?  Not sure.  I know it is one of those things that is “possible in theory”!!!!!!!  And generalization goals can be really good for speech therapy.  

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I don’t know if things like that would fit his goals.  It’s the kind of thing I hear about sometimes.

Another thing to ask for is an observation report that is easy to fill out, about some group work or language (whatever) that a teacher could fill out — that kind of thing can be helpful/useful and also easier for them to agree to if it’s like — once a week with a relevant teacher (a teacher who has more group work or speaking time or whatever).  

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21 hours ago, Storygirl said:

But twice now, when I have brought outside evaluations, they have minimized them. Once by saying that the suggestions in the report were boilerplate and didn't really mean much for my individual child. 😡And once by saying that it's known that my child doesn't cooperate well with evaluations, so there was not a way to know if the new data was correct. 😡

If he was cooperative, including grudgingly cooperative, with the SLP, make sure she notes it in her report. It's always noted in my kids' reports that they cooperated. If they didn't, I think the psych would note how much she felt it hindered getting a good test result vs. just leaving it at "he didn't cooperate." Context is important.

I agree with what a PP said about it being a power thing. Also the hints here and there that they are not going to give you the magic words, but objecting and asking to bring in a higher up might bring action. I think there probably is some kind of magic word situation here, and I think it probably needs to be stated by an attorney even if the attorney is not present but has consulted with a records review of some sort. 

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We had some trouble last year with communication with an intervention specialist, and after a good deal of frustrating back-and-forth emails, I emailed the principal and said I just wanted to keep him in the loop. His answer was that he had already been aware, because his staff does a good job of sharing with him. And that he had full confidence in the special ed coordinator (who was in on the crazy email chain) to do a great job.

So he didn't step in. But a couple of weeks after that, when we had DS's annual IEP meeting, a vice principal sat in on part of the meeting. That had not happened before, so I wondered if it was in response to me reaching out to administration.

I can ask if the vice principal will attend the meeting again. I'm not sure it made a difference last time. She just sat there quietly. I think she answered a question about graduation requirements, and that was her total input.

Anyway, when I tried to pull in the administration before, they seemed to close ranks.

The idea of consulting with an attorney for a records review is interesting.

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26 minutes ago, Storygirl said:

We had some trouble last year with communication with an intervention specialist, and after a good deal of frustrating back-and-forth emails, I emailed the principal and said I just wanted to keep him in the loop. His answer was that he had already been aware, because his staff does a good job of sharing with him. And that he had full confidence in the special ed coordinator (who was in on the crazy email chain) to do a great job.

So he didn't step in. But a couple of weeks after that, when we had DS's annual IEP meeting, a vice principal sat in on part of the meeting. That had not happened before, so I wondered if it was in response to me reaching out to administration.

I can ask if the vice principal will attend the meeting again. I'm not sure it made a difference last time. She just sat there quietly. I think she answered a question about graduation requirements, and that was her total input.

Anyway, when I tried to pull in the administration before, they seemed to close ranks.

The idea of consulting with an attorney for a records review is interesting.

The bolded is where your problem is. They are going to back each other up. Who is the decider here? If you can't get that person to concede you are SOL because that person is who the team is supporting. 

I'm probably super jaded because of a terrible situation, so maybe I'm seeing things that aren't there, but it's what I see. If you have resources, and you want to keep your child in the school, it may be worth just moving on to private therapy. That VP was probably there to support the special ed person.

Edited by Paige
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4 hours ago, Storygirl said:

The idea of consulting with an attorney for a records review is interesting.

The advice from the SLP sounds to me like she's frustrated. To her it's glaringly obvious the kid should have had more happening and she's saying PUSH it. I wouldn't take that as advice on lawyer vs. advocate. And yes, a file review by the lawyer will answer for you in an independent way what *can* be done. You're asking a legal question, so you need the legal answer.

 

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