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?
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.