Why a Law Firm Filed a State Complaint.

(Psst... it was not a lawsuit)

By: Erin O. Roma, MSW

The education law in the United States that protects students with disabilities not only provides students with rights, but it also places responsibilities on the adults to ensure the law is followed. Are you a parent raising a child with a disability in the public schools? Read on.

Let’s talk about your rights (and responsibilities).

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (2004) (20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.) is the REASON students with disabilities who meet certain criteria can have an Individual Education Plan (IEP). With it, comes a slew of rights for those students and their parents. There is also the responsibility of knowing you have rights. Without knowing that they exist, how could you exercise the rights? Fortunately, the IDEA also gave a lot of responsibility to school districts and state departments of education so it should all run smoothly. Being able to exercise those rights is easy-peasy. Right?

Good, bad, or indifferent, the IDEA (remember, that’s the law that describes the why, what, and how of IEPs) asks the public agency (a District and a State) to follow the law. Who is on the front lines when the law is not being followed? The parents.

Parent participation is a very important part of the IEP process. So important that when the law outlines who comprises an IEP team, parents are listed first!! See it here with your own eyes: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/statute-chapter-33/subchapter-ii/1414/d/1/B

Do you feel the power?!

We hope so! In the words of Spider-Man, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

If you are a parent raising a child who operates in the world outside of a normed bell-curve, you know the meaning of the word responsibility and may not feel that you have any power.

Feeling powerless is very scary. There are multiple reasons a parent raising a child with a disability may feel powerless, and they are all legitimate and they all make it more difficult to fully access procedural safeguards (fancy phrase in the law that includes parent rights). We hear that and want to be able to even out the playing field, even if only a little, so that parents who are feeling powerless might feel more included and gain a little swagger in the process.

Our Why

With all of this in mind, here's why we will continue to do this type of work when we see a need and the short advocacy story of this Systemic State Complaint:

At The Sullivan Law Firm, we are passionate about this work for many reasons. If you catch either of us walking down the street, use caution. We both should be wearing a t-shirt warning you that if you don’t have time for a very long conversation, then don’t ask us what we “do” for our work. If we were not such a fancy and formal law firm, our bios may read something like this:

Julia is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer turned lawyer who always wonders if she should have been a social worker and Erin is a social worker who frequently proclaims “I should be a lawyer!” (only to then attempt a LSAT practice test and spend the whole time saying, huh??)

When COVID-19 related learning disruptions began in March of 2020, we watched the social safety structures supporting families raising children with disabilities begin to crumble around them. We looked at the full picture in front of us and asked ourselves, what can we do?

We turned to our trusty IDEA (the law) and narrowed down the components (procedures) we believed were being violated for many students. In other words, those parent rights packets you receive at every IEP meeting? Those are the “procedural safeguards” built into the IDEA. A State Complaint, whether it is systemic (like this one) or about one individual, are a part of the procedural safeguards and follow the same process. We were concerned that our district wasn’t following the “procedural safeguards” due to COVID-19 learning disruptions and wanted to know if our concerns were valid (or not). The only place we could turn for answers was the Georgia Department of Education. So we did.

If your child is doing well and you are not concerned, great! If not, we hope the complaint can change some of that. In the next couple of weeks, it is our intention to provide some additional resources to the community that families can use to guide their thought process on what this complaint may mean for them. If you want to sign up to be on our State Complaint Families mailing list, use this link: https://forms.gle/rYttAFXYfFUZbprJ6. If not, we’ll be sharing everything through our blog and social media pages and you’ll be able to find it there, if you need it.

Good luck out there!

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