Pete Wright is an attorney who represents children with disabilities. His practice is devoted exclusively to helping children with special education needs.
Pam Wright is a psychotherapist specializing in special needs children.
David is the HealthyPlace.com moderator.
The people in blue are audience members.
David: Good Evening. I'm David Roberts. I'm the moderator for tonight's conference. I want to welcome everyone to HealthyPlace.com. We have only been open for 2 weeks. This is our third online conference. Our conference tonight is on "Special Education Law: What Every Parent Needs to Know". We are fortunate because we have two excellent guests on the subject. Attorney Pete Wright and his wife, psychotherapist, Pam Wright. Their site is: Wright's Law.
Pete Wright is an attorney who has represented children with disabilities for more than 20 years. His practice is devoted exclusively to helping children with special education needs. Pam Wright is a psychotherapist. Her training in clinical psychology and clinical social work give her a unique perspective on parent- child - -school dynamics, problems and solutions.
Good evening Pete and Pam, welcome to the HealthyPlace.com site. Pete, I want to start off touching on some legal issues. Why is it so difficult for so many parents of special needs children to get what the law says their child deserves when it comes to the education system?
Pete Wright: Wow, what a question to open with.
It goes back decades, to issues of school culture and power within the system, like medical insurance and HMO's. Schools are like production lines and when something disrupts the flow, all hell breaks loose, and the slowdown in production is blamed on the part and the worker, i.e., the student and the teacher. Appropriate is a word defined by the courts and has resulted in extensive litigation, it started with the Rowley case where Amy was doing better on grades and educational achievement tests than her peers, and some courts said the program needed to maximize, others said not that much, and U.S. Supreme Court said all of the lower courts were basically wrong, that the program had to be individually designed to meet the child's unique needs in a program from which the child would benefit. A basic floor of opportunity, but not the best or optimize or maximizes. Those words are fatal in a report or being used by a parent. The best way to lose your fight for your children in the education is to say "that I want what is best," or to have that written in the report.
Pam Wright: David, there is little agreement about what children are entitled to. The law says children are entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education or FAPE. Parents must never ask for what is BEST for their children, only what is "appropriate." So we say "BEST" is a four letter word that parents must avoid.
Pete Wright: Additional response to your opening question is that it all goes back to dollars and costs, short term.
David From letters I've received this afternoon, prior to the conference, I think a lot of parents, Pam, are afraid to go into the school and ask for what their "child is entitled to". Maybe they feel intimated by that. What suggestions do you have for handling that?
Pam Wright: Many parents feel intimidated by schools, period. So its hard to go to an IEP (Indivdualized Education Plan) meeting and deal with all the "experts" on the other side of the table. It helps to have someone go to the IEP meeting with you, and parents should dress up for the meetings like they would to go to church! Because "image' is important, especially in schools which are often pretty old fashioned.
Pete Wright: What is the child entitled to? Entitlement is in the eyes of the beholder. The best education?, a minimal education?, there is no easy answer to that. School staff may say that the entitlement is one hour a week, but a private expert says an hour a day of whatever. We always seek what is best, however though, we clearly are not entitled to that in the eyes of the law.
Pam Wright Parents need to prepare for meetings - this will help keep their nervousness down.
Pete Wright: Image and first impressions have tremendous weight toward helping your child get better services. Too many parents blow it by sending sloppy letters, appearing disorganized. Look and act professional.
Pam Wright: In special education, and in so many things, the key to success lies in preparation.
Pete Wright: A top of the line meal on a mediocre plate vs. a mediocre meal served with all of the fancy trappings, is initially presumed to taste better, even if it does not.
David: Here are some audience questions:
codecan: Hi, my son is in a severe behavior classroom he has adhd and add. The problem is I am fighting the school to give my son either a gym time or recess! They have every excuse going right now. Aren't they in violation of his rights?
Pam Wright: Codecan: Your son is in a behavior class. Is this all the time?
Pete Wright: codecan, do other children get gym time or recess? If yes, why doesn't your son? What is the reason given?
codecan: all day long and even eat lunch in the room.
Pam Wright: Most kids who have behavior problems have other problems which cause the behavior problems - you mentioned ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), but most kids with ADHD also have learning disabilities and frustration. So the question is: is this placement appropriate?
Pete Wright: Have you brought this up in an IEP meeting?