Advocates and attorneys play an important role to help ensure that your child receives an appropriate education. Although a special education advocate and a special education attorney have different roles, they often complement one another.
The Advocate’s Role
Advocates often have a background in education, social work, or even as a parent of a disabled child. An advocate can help fine tune the Individual Education Program (“IEP”), find solutions, and take part in the decision making process before significant conflicts arise. Advocates can make requests for records and assessments and help keep educational records. Advocates generally charge a lower hourly rate than attorneys.
The Attorney’s Role
A Special Education Attorney provides comprehensive knowledge of the law, the legal system, and dispute resolution. When a dispute requires a due process hearing, for example, an attorney is an essential team member because the legal process is complicated and involves extensive procedural and substantive rules. Additionally, many disputes touch on collateral issues that an attorney is trained to recognize.
Although advocates generally charge a lower hourly rate than an attorney, under special education laws, a parent is entitled to reimbursement of their attorney's fees from the school district if they are the prevailing party in a dispute.
The Use of an Advocate-Attorney
In order to ensure that your child receives an appropriate education, you may want to employ both an advocate and an attorney. Also, consider utilizing the advocate-attorney. These attorneys provide advocacy services at discounted advocacy rates, but possess the skill, knowledge and expertise to address the more complicated legal issues should a dispute arise.
For example, an advocate-attorney may attend an IEP meeting as an advocate and stress that the child needs more services. If the district refuses to provide the services, the advocate-attorney can step in the role of an attorney and file for due process to resolve the dispute. Additionally, when the advocate-attorney is used, the school district may be more likely to provide the services necessary to meet your child’s needs as they know the advocate-attorney is capable of initiating a due process complaint.