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Special Education Advocacy

Intro Articles l Strategies l From Emotions to Advocacy
Success Stories l CasesGet Help l Free Resources

Good special education services are individualized, intensive and expensive. Schools often balk at providing intensive services. Parents are often dealing with personal obstacles - lack of information, isolation, and emotions. What can you do?

You can use tactics and strategies to anticipate problems, manage conflict, and avoid crises. If you have a disagreement or dispute with the school, tactics and strategy will help you control the outcome. This page has links to dozens of articles, free books and newsletters and other resources.

Introductory Articles

Ask the Advocates. Got questions about negotiating with the school for special education services? This is a good place to start.

Advocating for Your Child - Getting Started. Good special education services are intensive and expensive. Resources are limited. If you have a child with special needs, you may wind up battling the school district for the services your child needs. To prevail, you need information, skills, and tools.

Asking the Right Questions. How does the school perceive you? Good article about how to ask questions and get better services.

Advocating Through Letter Writing (PDF). A booklet containing information and tips for parents on advocating for your child through letter writing. Other publications from Parent to Parent of New York State.

Assertiveness and Effective Parent Advocacy. This short article by advocate Marie Sherrett describes joys and challenges of parent advocacy. What categories do you fall into?

From Emotions  to Advocacy - The Parents Journey.
Strong emotions cause parents to react, often with damaging results. Don't shoot yourself in the foot. If you are having problems with the school, use your head.

Game Plan for New Parents. Introductory article; focuses on importance of planning and preparation.

Parents Leading the Way. Susan, a fierce advocate for students, has trained over 5000 parents, attorneys and advocates on virtually any topic that has to do with special education and civil rights law.

Parent Advocates: Decoding Dyslexia. Let's Take it Viral! Decoding Dyslexia, launched  in 2011 by New Jersey parents, is an excellent and inspirational story about how a small group of parents banded together to change education in their home state and in other states..

Advocacy Rule #1: Write Things Down When They Happen. You can’t wait until the last minute to prepare documentation. Documenting events and conversations later is never as effective or accurate as writing things down, in detail, at the time they occur. Here are some tips for parents, teachers, and paraprofessionals.

Get Wrightslaw Best Sellers, Improve Your Local Library & Help Others. A Vermont mom provides a simple strategy to accomplish several missions.  

Help! How to Find an Educational Consultant, Advocate, Attorney Strategies to find an educational consultant, advocate or attorney who represents children with disabilities.

My Child's Test Scores Dropping, School Doesn't Care - What Can I Do Sue Whitney advises this parent, "You need a game plan. Before you can devise a game plan, you need to gather information, manage your emotions, and do your homework."

9 Ways to Boost Your Child's Attitude Before the Bus Arrives - What can you do before your children leave for school to help them feel they can conquer anything? These no-nonsense pointers from Jackie Igafo-Te'o will help you eliminate a large portion of last-minute stress that comes with every weekday morning.

Parent Advocacy: What You Should Do - and Not Do. Good advice from attorney Leslie Margolis about steps parents can take to get quality educational services for their children with disabilities.

When Parents & Schools Disagree. Educational consultant Ruth Heitin describes common areas of disagreement between parents and schools and offers suggestions about how to handle these disagreements.

Understanding the Playing Field. Indiana advocate Pat Howey talks to parents about trust, expectations, power struggles between parents and schools and how to avoid them, the parental role, and the need to understand different perspectives.

Parent Advocacy at its Best. If you have the answers to these questions, you will also need an effective way to demonstrate the answers. A picture (or graph) can be worth a thousand words. You will find an effective way to get your message to the decision makers and change perception. Watch the the video

Fighting the Good Fight: How to Advocate for Your Students without Losing Your Job by Rick Lavoie. One of the greatest blessings of my professional life is the opportunity I have to talk with hundreds and hundreds of my Special Education colleagues. These conversations confirm my long-held belief that some of the finest people on the planet are toiling daily in America's classrooms…and particularly in our Special Education programs! LDonline (2008)

The Power of Parent Advocacy. If you don’t have it, get some advocacy power. Find out what other parents have done.

Advocacy Power - More Parents Leading the Way. Parents are paying it forward by providing advice and information to others, developing advocacy study groups, or training parents, service providers, and educators in special education advocacy. Meet special education advocate Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, her husband and Milagro.

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Advocacy Tactics & Strategies

Walk in the School's Shoes: Help Them WANT to Help Your Child. The most important ability to use in resolving problems with the school is to put yourself in the shoes of the people on the other side and answer these questions...

A Parent's Nasty Email: Cry for Help or Reality Check? We emphasize the importance of keeping your emotions under control and treating others politely, regardless how nasty someone may be acting. Learn the Rules of Adverse Assumptions and the Ms. Manners-Peter Colombo strategy.

Why "No" May Not Really Mean "No". Most parents seem to believe that “no” means “no” forever. They give up. Other parents view a “no” from the school in the same light as the denial of a health insurance claim. They don’t give up. They persevere.

10 Strategies to Fight Mandatory Retention & Other Damaging Policies by Sue Heath. Learn how you can find answers to questions in the law and strategies you can use to fight mandatory retention and other damaging policies.

Advice About the 10-Day Notice Letter to the School. Pete Wright answers questions about what should be included in a 10-day notice letter; includes links to "Letters to the Stranger" used in his cases.

Advocacy Training: Partners in Policymaking. Participants in Partners in Policymaking learn about the history of disability advocacy, political issues, and how to become effective, involved community activists in civil rights and disability matters. Learn more.

Effective Advocacy: Documents, Records and Paper Trails. Good records are essential to effective advocacy. Keep a record of your contacts with the school. Use low-tech tools: calendars, logs, journals. Keep a log of telephone calls and meetings, conversations, and correspondence between you and the school.

Starting a New IEP Advocacy Year: Back to School Tips. For parents of children with special needs, “back to school” means the start of a new IEP advocacy year. Here are some tips to help you monitor, evaluate, and document your child’s year at school from attorney Lisa Krizman.

Advocating for a Child with Communication Problems. In our experience, many or most school people don’t know how to educate a child who can’t communicate. Some believe that if a child cannot communicate, the child is unable to think or learn.

Exit Exams Can Be Optional - If You Plan Ahead. Research editor Sue Heath describes a strategy to eliminate the state exit exam as an obstacle, and allow otherwise qualified kids to graduate with high school diplomas.

How to Deal with a Hostile Environment at School
. School told child's aid that she may not tell parents about things that happen in the classroom. Can the school order the aid to keep silent? What rights do parents and aid have? How should parents deal with these situations?

How to Disagree with the IEP Team. Pete answers questions about IEPs and teaches you how to disagree with the IEP team without starting World War III. Learn about the Rules of Adverse Assumptions, how to use tape recording and thank you letters to clarify issues, and how to deal with an IEP team bully.

How to Handle Disagreements at IEP Meetings (or Playing 20 Questions with the Devil). Frustrated at IEP meetings? The IEP team refuses to answer your questions? Parent attorney Sonja Kerr devised an approach to deal with IEP meeting quagmires.

How Can an IEP Team Work Together if the Key Players Won't Play? Have you attended an IEP meeting that began well, but suddenly turned to complete chaos? This article will help you decide what to do.

How to Put on a Special Education Case. Parent attorney Sonja Kerr has good advice for the attorney who is preparing for a due process hearing. Learn why you should not fly solo. Remember whose job it is to educate. Article includes tips about building the "perfect case."

How to Start a FETA Study Group. Do you want to learn about effective advocacy? The best way to learn is to teach others. This article is about the nuts and bolts of starting a FETA group, how to get free publicity, how to manage emotions and stay on task.

Get the Word Out Advocacy Campaign. A simple strategy to help others, get the word out about special education advocacy - and combat feelings of powerlessness.

Independent Educational Evaluations: What? How? Why? Who Pays? Parent attorney Wayne Steedman describes IEEs, the value of IEEs for parents and school personnel, what the law requires, and who is financially responsible.

Learning to Negotiate is Part of the Advocacy Process. Vermont advocate Brice Palmer describes negotiating in advocacy; explains important rules, offers an excellent overview of useful strategies.

Play Hearts, Not Poker. Jennifer Bollero, attorney and mother of a child with autism, describes differences between advocacy and parenting, explains why you need to learn the rules and strategies . When you learn the rules, you reduce the risks when you negotiate for your child. This terrific article includes "Eight Steps to Better IEP Meetings."

Preparing for a Due Process Hearing. Vermont advocate Brice Palmer says, "Your job is to present your case in an organized manner that gives the decision maker enough good factual information to reach a conclusion in your favor -- this is different from advocating at IEP meetings or evaluation meetings."

Paper Chase: Managing Your Child's Documents. This article by Massachusetts attorney Bob Crabtree teaches you what documents are important and how to organize your child's documents. Learn how to use a log and create documents to prevent problems and get better services for your child.

Representing the Special Ed Child: A Manual for the Attorney and Lay Advocate. Comprehensive article by Pete Wright about representing the child with a disability, from analyzing legal issues, legal principles, analyzing evidence, getting additional evidence, through the due process hearing.

Self-Advocacy: Know Yourself, Know What You Need, Know How to Get It by Nancy Johnson. "Self-advocacy is the ability to understand and communicate one's needs to other individuals. Learning to become an effective self-advocate is all about educating the people around you. There are three steps to becoming an effective self-advocate . . .

Support for School Personnel and Parent Training: Often Overlooked Keys to Success by Attorney Susan Bardet. To help children succeed, IEP teams can use the tools provided by the IDEA -- support for school personnel and training for parents.

Tactics and Strategies: IEP Goals and Objectives - Pete and Pam Wright answer questions about IEPs and IEP Meetings. How can parents get good goals in their child's IEP? What can parents do when the school wants to use subjective "teacher observations," not objective testing, to measure their child's progress? How and when should parents use a consultant to help with IEP goals and objectives? How can parents avoid "methodology disputes?"

Tactics & Strategies: Power Struggles, Meetings, & Follow-Up Letters. Pat Howey teaches you how to avoid power struggles, deal with IEP meeting frustrations, use follow up letters to get answers to questions - and how to use your power wisely.

Three Generations at the Supreme Court. Attorney Pete Wright (who has dyslexia and ADHD) represented Shannon Carter (who has dyslexia and ADHD) before the U. S. Supreme Court.

A New Generation of Advocates. The Wrightslaw Army at William & Mary Law School. Sarah Bellinger Receives Equal Justice Works Fellowship.

What You Need to Know Before Filing a Complaint - Advocate Pat Howey describes the pros and cons of filing a complaint with the state.

What You Should Know About Evaluations. Attorney Bob Crabtree explains, "As a parent, you must make sure that all areas of possible need are assessed as quickly as possible. While some parents would rather not allow their school system to evaluate their child, a refusal to cooperate at this stage of the process can backfire . . . " Read article.

Why You Should Obtain a Comprehensive Evaluation from an Independent Evaluator - Benefits of a comprehensive evaluation, despite objections by school personnel.

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Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy

If you are advocating for a child with a disability, Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition by Pam and Pete Wright is an invaluable resource.

"If I were asked to choose just one book to help me learn advocacy skills, this is it!" - Support for Families of Children with Disabilities.

Table of Contents l Reviews l Introduction l Index

Internet Orders l Mail, Phone & Fax Orders l 40% Discount l Exam Copies

For more articles, success stories, resources and publications about advocacy, visit

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Legal Decisions About Advocacy by Parents

Collingsru v. Palmyra Bd. of Education,  U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Parent rights - Can a non-attorney parent represent his or her child in court? Why? Why not? (1998) 

Erickson v. Bd. Ed. Baltimore County. U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Decision about attorneys fees for prevailing parent-attorneys.

G. v. Cumberland Valley, U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Tuition reimbursement, LRE and "vigorous advocacy" by parents (1999).

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Get Help

To be an effective advocate, you need to learn about the child's disability, proven methods of teaching and learning, rights and responsibilities, and advocacy strategies. We spent many hours collecting information so you can spend your time learning, not searching.

Visit the Free Pubs section and download free publications about IEPs, behavior problems, discipline, autism, children's mental health, reading, special education, transition planning, harassment, high-stakes testing, retention, zero tolerance and more.

Yellow Pages for Kids with Disabilities

We built the Yellow Pages for Kids with Disabilities so you can find information and support. The Yellow Pages include thousands of resources - parent support groups, evaluators, educational consultants, tutors, advocates, attorneys, and others who provide services to parents and children.

Resource Directories

To learn about your child's disability and effective educational techniques, use the Directory of Disability Organizations and Information Groups.

To get your state special education regulations and other special education publications from your state, use our Directory of State Departments of Education.

For information and parent training in your state, use the Directory of Parent Training Information Centers.

For legal and advocacy information, use the Directory of Legal and Advocacy Resources. Here are suggestions about how to find an advocate or attorney.

For additional resources, visit, the companion site to Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition.

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Free Books, Pubs, & Newsletters

If you trying to find accurate, useful information on the Internet, you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of material you find. You can easily spend hours looking without finding what you need. We can help!

You will find dozens of quality publications about IEPs, reading, high-stakes testing, transition plans, children's mental health, discipline, zero tolerance and more on our Free Pubs Page. Check the list of free online newsletters - these newsletters are a great source of information.

Legal Rights of Children with Epilepsy in School & Child Care: An Advocate's Manual (PDF) Advocate's Manual published by The Epilepsy Foundation that provides detailed practical guidance to help parents and non-attorney advocates understand the rights of children in the special education process. This new manual is not limited to children with epilepsy, it's reach is far broader. It provides excellent information about how to effectively advocate to secure the rights of all children with disabilities.

To Learn More . . .

You will find hundreds of articles, newsletters, Q's & As, and legal decisions in the Wrightslaw Advocacy Libraries and Law Libraries. For information about specific issues, from autism and ADD to zero tolerance, visit our Topics Page.

Subscribe to The Special Ed Advocate, our free online newsletter. You can read back issues in the Newsletter Archives

Do You Have a Success Story?

We are collecting stories about successful advocacy. Do you have a success story that you would like to share? Read Success Stories on the Fetaweb site.

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