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 Home >  News Special education rights are specialty of Deltaville firm, Southside Sentinel (November 27, 2002)


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Special education rights are specialty of Deltaville firm
by Tom Chillemi, Southside Sentinel

When Peter W. D. Wright was a sophomore in high school, a counselor told his parents that his learning difficulties made it “unrealistic for Peter to attend college.” They were wrong. Pete Wright went to college, became an attorney, and successfully argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. It is doubtful this Pete & Pam Wrightwould have happened had Wright not received treatment for his learning disabilities.

Today, Peter Wright and his wife Pam have developed Wrightslaw.com, an internationally recognized organization about advocacy for children with special education needs. Through their website and two books, the Wrights have reached hundreds of thousands of people and helped to turn many lives around. Pam Wright is a psychotherapist with two master’s degrees, one in clinical psychology and one in clinical social work.

Together, Pete and Pam Wright built a “dot-com” company in the heart of Deltaville that is ranked among the top 40,000 websites in the world. Last year 750,000 people downloaded 2.1 million files from their special education website, said Mrs. Wright. This year, website activity has nearly doubled. There is no charge for information or their electronic newsletter.

“Our goal is to reach as many people as possible,” said Mr. Wright.

Overcoming challenges

Pete Wright is one of the lucky ones. When he was growing up in Washington, DC, learning disabilities were not well understood. This is changing. Today, parents of children with special education needs can Sign in front of Wrightslaw buildingturn to www.wrightslaw.com.

“So many parents of kids with disabilities feel like the kids are going to turn out badly,” said Mr. Wright. “That’s what my parents worried about. I couldn’t read, write or do arithmetic. The teachers thought I was borderline retarded.”

Mr. Wright was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD, a hyperkinetic disorder. He still uses medication to manage these conditions. “Children’s disabilities are not related to intelligence or ability to learn. Because they learn differently, the children must be taught differently.”

Mr. Wright said that schools often “dummy down the curriculum and lower the expectations” for children with learning disabilities. “This is horrible."

"Several studies show that about half of parents won’t allow their children to be placed in special education,” added Mrs. Wright, a licensed clinical social worker.

Guiding parents

Mr. Wright gives all the credit to his wife for developing the website and publishing the books, which they Books by Pam and Pete Wrightboth authored.

One book is a legal reference for parents entitled Wrightslaw: Special Education Law. The second book, published in September 2001, is Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy: The Special Education Survival Guide.

“The books help parents get good services for their kids without litigation,” said Mr. Wright. “But, if you have to litigate, these books explain what you have to do to win.” The books have sold 50,000 copies since they were published.“Most of the time, disagreements between parents and schools can be worked out,” said Mrs. Wright. “Strong emotions make things more difficult.”

Mr. Wright, 56, has cut back on his law practice to give him more time for conferences on special education advocacy. His energy and quick thinking make him appear younger than he is. Last year the Wrights made presentations about special education law at more than a dozen conferences.

Mrs. Wright said the website can easily take 60-80 hours a week to service. The site contains hundreds of articles, all major US Supreme Court cases, statutes and regulations, and many court of appeals cases from all across the country. “We show parents how to advocate for their children without starting World War III,” she said. More than 45,000 people subscribe to their weekly newsletter, with more than 180 editions since 1998.

Debra Pratt is customer service manager and marketing director. “Because of her efforts, dozens of publications reviewed our books, which created a big jump in sales,” said Mr. Wright. Technology enables the business to appear much larger. “People visualize us as a huge organization,” said Mr. Wright.

New focus

No Child Left Behind, a federal law signed by President Bush in January, changes the educational landscape significantly.

“Parents can get information about a teacher’s credentials,” said Mr. Wright. “Parents whose children attend what are called ‘failing schools’ can move their children to a better school or get free tutoring or summer school to bring their children’s skills up,” he said.

“No Child Left Behind applies to all children and especially targets children in Title I schools," he added.

Mr. Wright said the focus of No Child Left Behind is broader than the special education law. “So many parents of kids who were in regular education didn’t have the rights that special education kids had. No Child Left Behind gives them some important rights too.”

Third book due

Pete speaking at a conferenceThe Wrights are working on their third book Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind, that will explain the new law to parents, educators, and advocates. “The new law is causing a lot of controversy,” said Mr. Wright. “Some educators are having to change teaching strategies that are not good for kids.”

Mrs. Wright added, “If we give teachers the training and support they need, they will do a fine job, but that’s not happening everywhere. “Research shows that small schools do a better job because they identify kids who are having problems quickly and stay on top of things,” she said.

The Wrights say they are impressed with the Middlesex County Public School System.

EXTRA!

The highlight of Pete Wright’s legal career came in 1993 when he successfully argued a special education case before the US Supreme Court, which rendered a 9-0 decision in favor of his client.

Pete Wright & Shannon Carter in front of U.S. Supreme CourtIn Florence County (S.C.) School District Four vs. Shannon Carter, the high court held that Shannon Carter’s parents could be reimbursed for expenses paid to have their learning-disabled child educated in a private school because the public school did not provide her with an appropriate education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. (New York Times article about Shannon Carter)

The Carter case also had an “incredible effect for children with autism in getting them into regular classrooms,” said Mr. Wright. Early intervention for young children with autism may require 40 hours a week of intensive one-on-one therapy, he noted.

Last July, Mr. Wright won a $106,000 award in the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on behalf of a Newport News family whose child was diagnosed with autism at age 2. (New York Times article about Stefan Jaynes)

Through the website www. wrightslaw.com, parents can learn how to advocate for their children without litigation. “The goal is to work things out,” said Mr. Wright.

Note:This article was published in The Southside Sentinel on November 27, 2002.

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