The Sudden Blossoming of the Represented Child

Published on July 31, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

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When parents of children with disabilities have reached the point that they have called me, they are incredibly frustrated and overwhelmed with their school district.  Yes, sometimes they are angry, but far more often than that, they are worried, upset, and fearful about their child’s future.  In addition, they are often conflicted about whether to hire a special education attorney at all.  Prospective clients will routinely ask  me about possible retaliation, and whether they can ever expect to have a good relationship with their school district again if they retain counsel.

When I am hired, it is because the parents are absolutely convinced that their child is not making progress in the current program.

This is why I am just amazed at how many of the students I represent will suddenly show dramatic gains in the weeks and months following my letter notifying the school district of my involvement.  I mean, forget all those programs promising you a whole grade level improvement on your child’s report card; just hire a special education attorney and you will be astounded by how much progress the school staff will note!

No matter how dismal the student’s performance at the time I was retained, it is inevitable that at the first IEP meeting I attend with the parents, there will have been a recent “blossoming.”

Yes, I know I am dripping with sarcasm here, but it is getting a little ridiculous.  When I write my letters of representation, I am typically indicating that the family is gravely concerned, the student is struggling in any number of ways, and often there has been a recent comment made to the family by the school that the child is failing or about to.  And yet, fast forward several weeks after I’ve been hired, and what should the parents see but flow charts and graphs at the IEP meeting, demonstrating how much their child has “taken off” in the last few weeks.

Do school districts really believe that parents would go to the trouble and expense of hiring a lawyer if they felt their child was succeeding in school?

I’m sorry, but when this happens my right eyebrow naturally raises and I can’t help but be suspicious.  Perhaps it’s because it happens more often than not.  Kids who were getting Ds and Fs are now getting C pluses and Bs, and the narratives on the report cards go from “Billy is uncooperative and disruptive in class” to “while Billy is sometimes off-task, he can usually be redirected.”

How does a kid go from hanging by a thread to “model student” in the span of weeks?

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If it were the case that kids whose parents just happened to have secured representation for their child actually made this kind of progress after years of stagnation, it would be worthy of publication!  So, since that is really not likely, what does this pattern mean?  Does it mean that when a child’s parents hire a special education attorney or advocate, the educators start giving him or her more instruction or attention?   Or worse, does it mean that they are misrepresenting the child’s performance in school?

Most parents I know would rather their child have good skills than good grades.

I would prefer an honest dispute with a school district about why a child isn’t making progress, than these belated attempts to transform a struggling student into a wunderkind.  But more importantly, when school districts employ this strategy in response to getting notice of representation, they usually erode what little trust in them the parents had left.

7 Responses to The Sudden Blossoming of the Represented Child

  1. Mom of kid with CAPD
    August 3rd, 2009 | 9:37 pm

    Great article! This happened to us when we hired an attorney. Suddenly everybody was tracking stuff they hadn’t tracked before. I think the main reason they couldn’t show progress back to the first of the school year is because they’d never written it down before. Of course the progress they showed in school wasn’t showing up at home, so we weren’t so convinced.

    Thanks for all you do to inform parents. People don’t realize the parents go through as much struggle as the child, and I believe much more of an emotional roller coaster. I love reading your reassuring posts that there is a way get results and help these kids!

  2. Rochelle Dolim
    August 3rd, 2009 | 10:49 pm

    They’re fabricating documentation to cover their backsides at the expense of the child.

  3. Michelle Bidwell
    June 30th, 2010 | 2:01 pm

    Great article! I know it was written at about this time last year but every single word is still so true. Same thing just happened to us… the school staff started fabricating “successess” and “progress”. The last IEP meeting was full of their comments about “how wonderful she is doing” and “she’s really opening up and making friends with her peers”. Then, these same staff members, in the very next breath describe how my daughter keeps to herself, needs prompting to do just about everything, etc. Talk about erroding every last bit (and there wasn’t much left) of trust I had in them!! Anyway, thanks for a great article that rang true last year, is still right on the money, and sadly will probably still be true forever.

  4. Samatha Jones
    November 13th, 2010 | 12:00 pm

    I am a teacher, teaching is my passion. It’s so sad for me to read that when an attorney is hired the parents start to hear that their child is doing better. I want all my students to make progress, An attorney is not going to help my students make faster gains in school. Working as a team with parents, will help the child. Parents need to talk with the teacher, ask questions, be clear about what you are worried about. Once an attorney is involved walls go up that do not need to be there. How very sad this all is to me.

  5. Jennifer Laviano
    November 13th, 2010 | 12:24 pm

    Samantha, I couldn’t agree with you more. This is why I tell parents who call me that they need to seriously consider how important the dispute is to them; is it worth creating that kind of adversarial relationship? Most often it is or they wouldn’t be calling me. I have great respect for teachers, and still remember fondly the ones who really had an impact on me. I’ve tried to reach out to them now when I can and let them know how much their passion mattered. Sadly, not everyone is as passionate about their calling as you sound; same is true in all professions no doubt. One thing that I’ve tried hard to cultivate is a reputation among teachers that I will treat them with respect at IEP meetings even when there is a dispute, unless my clients or I are not afforded the same courtesy. I think you would find the following blog interesting. http://www.connecticutspecialeducationlawyer.com/parents/they-should-tell-you-this-is-part-of-the-job/
    Thank you very much for reading, best, Jen

  6. Diane Willcutts
    November 13th, 2010 | 1:45 pm

    “Parents need to talk with the teacher, ask questions, be clear about what you are worried about.”

    I wish the solution were so easy. If it were, special ed. attorneys and advocates would (happily) go out of the special ed. business and take up some other cause.

    But after speaking with hundreds of families, I have never met a single one that HASN’T done all of the above. Typically, families spend years and years trying to work in good faith with school staff, asking questions, communicating their concerns, while watching their children suffer and fall further and further behind.

    Certainly, some teachers have sincere belief that low expectations are appropriate for this particular child, sincere belief that the problem is the child or the parent. But I have also heard way too many teachers say to me “off-the-record” that they AGREED with the family but could not share their perspective in meetings, as they believed they would lose their jobs. The problem was that the administrator didn’t want to provide what the child needed. And sure, it’s illegal to fire a teacher for advocating for a student, but proving this is what occurred is not so easy.

    I know 100% that the teachers who pulled me aside after meetings would have welcomed having a smaller class/caseload, giving them additional time to work with each student. Many would have welcomed additional training and mentoring. In many cases, the teachers knew that they needed help, but the administrators would not agree to provide it.

    I feel sick that I have met so many teachers who felt obligated to toe the administration’s line, arguing the ludicrous in meetings, insisting that there was no problem OR the problem was that the child was not motivated OR the parents were overprotective and sometimes all three in the same meeting.

    I know there are also teachers who could not face themselves in the mirror each morning if they did anything like the above. I know there are some who are much stronger and who would never sacrifice a single child to support an administrator’s (usually not so) hidden agenda.

    Every parent attorney I have met has said the same as Jen–that they respect the teaching profession, that teachers are critically important, that working in good faith is the way to go. And when teachers are afraid of retaliation from districts, I hope they will reach out to the parent’s attorneys, who can refer them to resources to help.

  7. Disabled Schools
    October 5th, 2011 | 9:38 am

    I found your blog post to be interesting to read due to the fact i believe it is true. once an attorney gets involved the pupil’s grade get better as if by magic when no extra effort is made on either sides. i find it an out rage that teachers and schools lie and say the students improved just because an attorney is now involved, how is that ment to help anyone?

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