Our Law Student’s Success Story

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In January, Pete and I became adjunct professors at the William & Mary Law School. We teach a Special Education Law and Advocacy class and assist the Law School with the new PELE Special Education Advocacy Clinic.

Jack is a student in our Special Ed Law class. Jack and his wife have concerns about their daughter’s school problems. They believe Kate may have a learning disability and/or ADHD. This spring, their concerns increased dramatically when the school proposed to retain Kate.

Jack and his wife requested a meeting to discuss Kate’s problems. During this meeting, the school refused to evaluate Kate. But that wasn’t the end of the story . . .

We provided Jack with information about retention, including links to Position Papers from the National Association of School Psychologists and the American Federation of Teachers that are opposed to retention because it is ineffective and damages children.

A short time later, Jack wrote “A few weeks ago, the school denied our request to evaluate our daughter. Due to a procedural error, they held a second meeting this morning. I was prepared the Wrightslaw way!”

1. Understanding the Bell Curve Won the Day.

In class, we studied statistics and the bell curve. Kate scored just 68 on a reading evaluation. Her teacher listed her score as “68%.” At the meeting, I asked whether this was the 68th percentile as compared to other students. She answered “Yes.” I asked again if this score was a percentile rank or a standard score. Kate’s teacher was honestly confused. A special ed teacher said Kate received a standard score of 68.

I asked, “With a standard deviation of 15, doesn’t a standard score of 68 put Kate lower than the 2nd percentile?”

The child study group was shocked to learn that the answer was “Yes.” Several people repeated this question again and again as the meeting went on. Many cited “less than the 2nd percentile” when they ruled in our favor.

2. Our Daughter is Unique – She is Unlike Any Other Child.

Several times, Professor Wright said in class that he always makes his clients very unique.Native American Girl in green grass

Kate is Native American. She has allergies, eczema, and mild asthma.

I made a full page handout of every medication and lotion she uses or has used. I verbally described how the “chemical haze” affects her ability to concentrate and learn.

This gave the school nurse and others reasons to comment on how these conditions affect her learning (and their own).

3. My Letter to the Stranger

When I finally got to speak, I provided a mini Letter to the Stranger. In preparing the letter, I was shocked to find a record that Kate’s birth mom did drink in early pregnancy. (We were constantly told that she had not.)

This received a lot of knowing sighs.

MoccasinsIn the shortened Letter to the Stranger,” I included the fact that our daughter is Native American. The special ed coordinator, who was very tough during the first meeting, shared that she is part Native American and is doing research on the historical governmental abuses of Native Americans.

We brought out a couple 8 X 10s of Kate and her Native American birth mom and the day was won!

Other factors helped. From class, I knew about the Commentary to the Code of Federal Regulations showing that Response to Intervention (RTI) and evaluations for special ed are not mutually exclusive. The teachers commented during the first meeting about how much they appreciated the articles on retention, and handouts about evaluations and IEPs in Section 1414 of the IDEA.

But amazingly, the things I learned in class from the Wrights really worked!!!

I even received positive comments on my special ed file , a 3-ring binder of Kate’s history. (In applying for business loans, bankers said that sometimes the thickness of our submitted materials make a bigger difference than the quality of these materials – maybe this is true in special ed law too.)

Thank you for the course and the practical training. This is just Round One, but there is no doubt in my mind that we would have never won without your help.

I signed up to take the Special Ed Advocacy Clinic in the Fall!

  1. I just loved reading this! It reminded me so much of when my son was first being evaluated in school and was not making progress in reading. I was so lucky to find the Wrightslaw site “way back then”.

    I too learned about standard scores, objective testing, presenting your child as an individual, writing letters, all the wonderful and effective things Pete and Pam taught us, then and now.

    Kevin is under consideration for membership in National Honor Society. The essay he wrote to go with his application speaks of his desire to take part because he has autism, not in spite of it. He wants the other members and the school community at large to understand that autism means different, not less than. He wants people to understand that he has gifts to bring to groups, classes, to life, just as other bright students do.

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