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VTLA joins William & Mary Law School to Aid Families with Special Education Needs

VA Trial Lawyers Association
Law Letter Online


December 19, 2008

VTLA is collaborating with William & Mary Law School to assist families with special needs children in special education matters through a new Special Education Advocacy Clinic, and we need your help!

The new PELE (Parents Engaged for Learning Equality) Special Education Advocacy Clinic will assist families of children with special needs through education and advocacy efforts before and during the eligibility and IEP processes.  It will be a multi-disciplinary clinic that will team law students with graduate education students in an effort to allow future professionals to learn across disciplines, and to provide more holistic assistance to the families.

As an official Clinic kick-off, and as a fundraiser for PELE, special education law experts Pam and Pete Wright will be holding a one-day Wrightslaw Conference on January 30th, 2009, at the Sadler Center on William & Mary's main campus. Click here for a brochure. The seminar lunch is being sponsored by VTLA.

"At present I can only identify five lawyers in Virginia to help out these families." said VTLA member and past president Jeffrey Breit who has been instrumental in getting this program off the ground. "The idea for the clinic is to train law students so that they can be child advocates to help the families with the process. This is where VTLA members come in."

Breit is looking for lawyers willing to supervise law students in representing these families. The work for the lawyers can be done primarily by phone or by email because the students are going to be taking an active role as the advocates, but like any young lawyer, they may need counsel on the preparation and presentation for each individual family. "I need as many lawyers who are willing to give me a little, a bit more than a little, or as much help as possible to help make the clinic a success," he said.

Attending the seminar on January 30th is a start.

With more than 170,000 identified special education students in the Commonwealth (includes students ages 2-22 as of December 1, 2006), constituting about 14% of Virginia's students, and those as yet unidentified as having special needs, there is an incredible population of families who need advocacy assistance.  The parents of these children need education and outreach regarding this complex legal field and individual advocacy as they pursue services for their children. The earlier the intervention of special education services, the increased chance that these students can finish their education and have the quality of life that they deserve. The lawyers and law students of Virginia are needed to provide pro bono services to these families and their children.  William & Mary is committed to training a new generation of lawyers in this field, students who will assist families through our clinic while in law school, and who will, once they are in practice, have the experience and passion to continue this critical pro bono work.  We welcome the suggestions and assistance of VTLA's members, financially and through pro bono services, to enable us to help as many Virginia families as we can.

Please consider attending the Conference to receive training so that you have the requisite knowledge in this area of the law to help PELE assist families of children with special needs obtain the services to which they are entitled.  While attendance at the conference is certainly not required, volunteers will likely to find it very useful (it is anticipated that CLE credits will be approved, and it's a bargain at $150 for the full-day conference). 

If you are unable to attend the training but still wish to volunteer, PELE recommends you purchase at least two of the Wrights' books: Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Ed. and Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2d. Ed., both of which may be found at www.harborhouselaw.com, in order to give you a substantial foundation into this area of the law. 

Financial contributions would be more than welcomed as well.

Please pass information regarding this conference on to your colleagues, friends and clients who may be interested in attending.  If you are interested in volunteering for PELE, you may contact Jeffrey Breit at jbreit@bdbmail.com or Patty Roberts at William & Mary at perobe@wm.edu.

More about the PELE Clinic

"We have the advantage of having Pete and Pam Wright, who are two of the leading experts in the country in this area of law who happen to live in Virginia." Breit said. "They have become Adjunct Professors at William & Mary and have agreed to help guide the clinic."

Peter Wright and Jeffrey Breit have been meeting with special education advocacy clinics at other law schools to find the best features to emulate in our clinic, which we hope will affect legislation and state regulations and address policy issues, in addition to providing assistance to individual families. Another VTLA former President, Brent Brown, has put us in touch with the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy (VOPA), an organization for which he serves as Chairman of the Board, and we are exploring ways that VOPA and PELE can partner to positively impact as many families in the Commonwealth as possible.

The Children's Advocacy Law Society at the law school is helping to support the initiative, and the Peninsula Autism Society has pledged a financial contribution and use of their training materials. Breit made the first financial contribution to the program, with his firm matching that amount.

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