Educational Advocates: Do You Need One?

What you need to know about Advocates.

Now that your child has been diagnosed with ADHD or a learning disability, you may have questions about what legal rights and protections are afforded to your child in an educational setting. Keeping up with all the changes in the laws and regulations can be overwhelming. However, there is assistance available in the form of Educational Advocates, which are available through social service agencies, private fee for service or through the school district.

Fighting for disabled students’ rights

Advocates are specially trained individuals in disability law. While they are not lawyers, one of their chief responsibilities is to stay current with the regulations that affect children in an educational setting. An Advocate’s role is to represent the student and parents in any meetings with school administrators. In these meetings it is important for the Advocate to identify the problems the child is having at school and home, assist in the determination of accommodations for the child and ensure implementation by the educational institution.

“For an Advocate to be effective, they need to know the laws that affect children in an educational setting," said Yvette Campbell, an Educational Advocate with Advocates Across America. “They should have a thorough knowledge of disability law, the types of services available to the child and how to work as a team member. Having a good working relationship with all parties involved ensures that the child will receive the most beneficial services available depending on their circumstances."

Deciphering the laws governing special needs children

There are two laws that govern children who have been identified with disabilities: Section 504 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Section 504 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities if the educational institution receives federal funding. It ensures that children identified with a disability have equal access to an education. Children under Section 504 can receive accommodations and modifications. Examples of accommodations can include sitting a child at the front of the class or reducing the number of problems a child has to complete. Section 504 does not require the school to provide an individualized educational program (IEP) and has fewer procedural safeguards.

IDEA is a voluntary Federal Special Education Act in which states elect to participate to receive federal funds. This law prohibits the discrimination against children with specials needs who are trying to receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education. There is not a specific provision for children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and they may fall under the “Other Health Impaired” subsection. In order for a child to be governed by IDEA it must be shown that their disability is substantially limiting them from receiving a Free and Appropriate Education. This could include a learning disability, an emotional disability or more than one clinical disability such as ADHD and Childhood Depression.

IDEA provides an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and is similar to a medical treatment plan. The IEP should include present levels of performance, goals and objectives to address these issues, how those goals will be measured, related services, and directs placement either through testing or observation and qualified measurements of progress. The IEP is reviewed at least once a year to determine the progress of the child, however, a parent can call a review meeting any time if they feel the child is not progressing.

Helping parents pack an extra punch

Having an Advocate to assist in determining your child’s rights can be very valuable; not only from a legal perspective, but also by reducing the stress or intimidation parents may feel by meeting with school administrators. The cost for hiring an Educational Advocate is $25-$75 an hour, depending on whether the individual is working under a government grant, through a non-profit organization, the school district or providing their service as an Independent Contractor. Their fees usually include telephone consultations, research and meeting with school officials.

For referrals to Advocates in your state, visit WrightsLaw.com and click on the Yellow Pages section.

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