Carol Sadler
Special Education Consultant/Advocate
1105 Rock Pointe Look
Woodstock, GA 30188

I am a lay Parent Advocate assisting parents of children with disabilities in school IDEA, 504 and SST meetings. I am a former CHADD and LDA Coordinator, graduate of the 1st GA Advocacy Office PLSP legal training course and most importantly parent of two children with various disabilities.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

KidsEnabled Magazine Article on Parent Advocacy

Fall 06 Article

Parent Advocacy
By Maggie Parry

Sometimes fighting for your child’s educational rights can be an overwhelming and lonely task. But parent advocates, an underutilized resource, can help guide and ultimately empower parents of children with learning differences.

Mother Hugging SonWhen Heidi Fernandez’s son, Andrew, was diagnosed with autism, she knew he would need an individualized set of educational supports and services to ensure he reached his learning po­tential. But as she sat through her first round of individualized education pro­gram (IEP) meetings, she realized those supports were about as easily attained as a winning lottery ticket. She discov­ered that, because educators didn’t ful­ly understand Andrew’s atypical learn­ing style, they were less than willing to make changes in the classroom. She felt discouraged in her lack of knowl­edge regarding special education law and how to negotiate within the school system. Instead of the IEP meetings moving Andrew’s goals forward, they ended in stalemates because of fund­ing disputes, school policy confusion or staffing issues. Fernandez realized that if she was going to speak effec­tively on Andrew’s behalf, she would need crucial information and support. Desperate to obtain the tools Andrew needed for school success, and armed with the belief that “knowledge is power,” Fernandez turned to a parent advocate.

A parent advocate acts as “coach” to provide the information and training necessary to empower parents to ad­vocate for their children in a school set­ting. Once Fernandez enlisted the help of a parent advocate, she began to see a change in the outcome of Andrew’s IEP meetings. Her advocate helped her develop negotiating skills and function as a learning resource for teachers re­garding Andrew’s specific learning dif­ferences. When seeking a functional behavioral program for Andrew’s IEP, Fernandez used her newfound skills to successfully push for a timely and correctly executed assessment. This resulted in a realistic plan of tar­geted positive behaviors and rein­forcements to facilitate Andrew’s success during the school day. “As I became more knowledgeable,” Fernandez says, “I gained a strong voice and power in those meetings. I had more confidence to assert my­self for Andrew and his needs.”

Fernandez’s story reflects the experi­ence of many parents who seek sup­port services for their exceptional or challenged learners. Parents play a crucial role in making the decisions that shape a child’s academic suc­cess. For parents of children strug­gling with learning differences, that role exponentially intensifies as classroom and individualized sup­ports become mandatory for effec­tive learning. Parents might know their children better than anyone else, but when faced with the com­plexity of education law, school pol­icies and over-worked educators, they find themselves lacking critical tools necessary for speaking on be­half of their kids. They can become
Overwhelmed by what they do not know and consequently feel they have no effective voice in meet­ings or the power to help develop an effective plan for their children. Parents often don’t have the time or emotional energy to research the in­formation that advocates can bring to the table.

Like Fernandez, Carol Sadler felt the school system was not hearing her concerns adequately. Her daugh­ters, Christina and Angela, both diagnosed with multiple neurologi­cal disabilities, struggled in reading and math. They were not progress­ing, and Sadler could not get the proper supports in place to ensure their learning success. After seeking the advice of multiple professionals outside the school system with min­imal results, Sadler sought the help of a parent advocate. She became well-trained in negotiating skills, knowledgeable about her daugh­ters’ rights under the law and con­fident in her own ability to run an IEP meeting where her child’s needs remained at the forefront. Her expe­rience opened her eyes to the greatneed in the school community for advo­cates to help train and guide parents. Af­ter serving as coordinator for the Learn­ing Disabilities Association of Georgia for four years, Sadler underwent parent advocacy training through the Georgia Advocacy Office’s Parent Leadership Support Project and began advocating for other parents in her community. One of her priorities as a parent advocate is to understand the child’s learning difference and how that affects not only academic goals, but social, emotional and behav­ioral issues as well. She works closely with parents to teach the skills necessary to navigate meetings and obtain the nec­essary services and supports.

Claire Dees is also a parent advocate and president of Spectrum, Gwinnett Coun­ty Autism Support Group. She focuses on helping teachers and parents work as a team. Her advocacy goals include teaching parents how to be a resource for teachers. “The reality is that parents have to train teachers regarding their exceptional children,” she states. “Both parties need to think outside the box if academic goals will be met. If teachers consistently see parents as ad­versarial, and parents perceive teachers only as unyielding, then academic goals get lost in the impasse and the child loses the most.” Dees’ advocacy ser­vices include conducting parent/ teacher seminars, which teach communication and negotiation skills, as well as effective ways to share resources and ideas.

Services Offered by Parent Advocates

Advocacy services can be as simple as helping parents write an effective letter to school ad­ministrators, or as involved as teaching parents the subtleties of special education law.

  • Sometimes all parents need is an hour or two of telephone consultation. Many parents, though, need someone to at­tend school meetings with them and speak on their behalf. Ser­vices will vary from advocate to advocate. Other services that an advocate might provide are: Teaching parents and educators which accommodations and modifi­cations are appropriate for a child
  • Developing an effective IEP plan
  • Reviewing documentation and test results to determine if a child is eli­gible for special education services
  • Working with the school to develop positive behavior plans
  • Obtaining a child’s educational re­cords
  • Locating professionals in the com­munity such as developmental pedi­atricians, psychologists, therapists, social workers or attorneys
  • Locating community resources such as recreational and social opportuni­ties
  • Helping parents become well-versed in education law
  • Obtaining appropriate testing that is paid for by the school system
  • Documenting cases
  • Recommending resources for treat­ment and therapy options
  • Educating teachers about a child’s specific learning differences.

Choosing the Right Advocate

Choosing a parent advocate who tru­ly understands the unique needs of your child could potentially be criti­cal to that child’s academic success. Asking the right questions enables parents to find the best advocate for their child’s specific set of learning challenges. Following is a checklist of questions and concerns to bring to the table when interviewing pos­sible advocates.

Training and experience
While there is currently no stan­dard certification process for advocates, there are diverse and valu­able training opportunities (see side­bar above). Does the advocate keep his or her training current by attend­ing workshops and conferences? Parenting a child with a learning difference is not necessarily enough experience to be a successful advo­cate. Always ask a potential advo­cate for references. Speaking with parents who have experience with a particular advocate offers valuable insight when making a choice.

The maze of educational policy and law
Advocates should be familiar with the school system and be able to translate for parents the compli­cated “language” of educational policies, procedures and legislation. They should be comfortable nego­tiating in IEP meetings. Are they fa­miliar with the Individual with Dis­abilities Education Act (IDEA) and other legislation involving children with learning differences? Some advocates have an area of exper­tise involving particular skills such as conflict resolution, knowledge of behavioral programs and supports, management of documentation and investigative procedures.

Every child is unique
Effective advocates will take the time to acquaint themselves with the unique abilities and challenges of your child. Parents should expect the advocate to explain how the child’s learning difference will influ­ence him/her in an academic envi­ronment. If unfamiliar with a par­ticular learning difficulty or disabil­ity, is the advocate willing to learn and become knowledgeable about that learning difference? How much time will the advocate spend with the child? The unique needs and goals of each child is always a prior­ity for a successful advocate.
Other issues to consider fees
If an advocate charges for ser­vices, make sure you understand the payment schedule and how fees are determined (hourly or flat rate). Many advocates who have gained valuable experience and knowl­edge advocating for their own chil­dren become advocates for other families. Out of a genuine interest in helping others they usually offer their services for free. A more com­plicated case might require the ser­vices of a paid advocate who spe­cializes in a specific disability or works in partnership with an educational attorney’s of­fice. Remember, it’s impor­tant to choose an advocate whose services and expertise are the best match for your child.

Documentation and record keeping: Determine who will be responsible for document­ing meetings: you or the ad­vocate. How will files be main­tained, and who will keep the copies at the advocate’s place of business? Make sure you know how to obtain a copy of your child’s records when you need them.

Communication: What is the best way for parents and the advo­cate to keep each other informed re­garding issues, upcoming meeting dates and other important items?
Legal Issues: Some advocates work independently and others work in partnership with attorneys. An ef­fective advocate can help parents determine if an attorney is necessary. Remember, advocates can offer legal infor­mation and help parents negotiate and resolve dis­putes, but they are not lawyers.

Parent advocates are a valuable tool in helping par­ents of atypical learners find a strong voice for their child. Whether parents need guidance with letter writing or someone to attend IEP meetings, the experience and exper­tise of a parent advocate provides direction on the journey through the school system.

Maggie Parry is a freelance writer/editor who has a child with a seizure disorder and autism. She can be reached at


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Access by Students with Disabilities to Accelerated Programs - OCR Letter

Below is a very important recent letter by OCR addressing the rights of students with disabilities to advance content and accelerated school programs.  There have been many complaints filed with OCR where schools are denying children with disabilties access to these classes and telling parents they cannot receive necessary spec. ed. support and services and/or spec. ed. and 504 accommodations in these classes.  They are wrong, and this letter below states it is a violation of 504 and FAPE to do so.
Print and copy this letter to take with you to 504 and IEP school meetings, and send this link below to your educators who may be confused about this issue and/or violating children's rights.
Advocacy & Consulting Services - IEPadvocate4you
Carol Sadler, Special Education Consultant/Advocate
GA Advocacy Office PLSP I Graduate
1105 Rock Pointe Look
Woodstock, GA  30188
"There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people."   ----  Thomas Jefferson
Information contained in this communication is confidential and privileged.  It is not meant to represent legal or medical advice, but rather advice given based on my knowledge as a trained Parent Advocate by the GA Advocacy Office, Council of Parent Advocates & Attorneys, CHADD, LDA, and the GA DOE Parent Mentor program as an invited guest.  Please do not forward without my permission.
Dear Colleague Letter: Access by Students with Disabilities to Accelerated Programs


DEC 26, 2007

Dear Colleague:

I am writing to advise you of an issue involving students with disabilities seeking enrollment in challenging academic programs, such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes or programs (accelerated programs).  Specifically, it has been reported that some schools and school districts have refused to allow qualified students with disabilities to participate in such programs.  Similarly, we are informed of schools and school districts that, as a condition of participation in such programs, have required qualified students with disabilities to give up the services that have been designed to meet their individual needs.  These practices are inconsistent with Federal law, and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education will continue to act promptly to remedy such violations where they occur.

As you know, OCR is responsible for enforcing two Federal laws that protect qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination. OCR enforces Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and its implementing regulations at 34 CFR Part 104, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in programs or activities receiving Federal financial assistance.  OCR is also responsible, in the education context, for enforcing Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II) and its implementing regulations at 28 CFR Part 35, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability by entities of State and local government.  Although this letter discusses aspects of the Section 504 regulation, Title II provides no lesser protections than does Section 504.  Also relevant are the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which is administered by the Department’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).  The IDEA provides funds to States and school districts in order to assist them in providing special education and related services to eligible children with disabilities.  The IDEA’s implementing regulations are located at 34 CFR Part 300.  OCR consulted with OSEP in drafting this letter.1

As an initial matter, I want to commend the efforts so many of you have made to ensure that placement decisions for all students are based on each student’s individual academic abilities regardless of the presence, nature, or severity of a disability.  I want to ensure that all of you are aware of the Federal civil rights requirements discussed below.

Prohibition Against Disability-Based Discrimination in Accelerated Programs

The practice of denying, on the basis of disability, a qualified student with a disability the opportunity to participate in an accelerated program violates both Section 504 and Title II.  Discrimination prohibited by these laws includes, on the basis of disability, denying a qualified individual with a disability the opportunity to participate in or benefit from the recipient’s aids, benefits, or services, and affording a qualified individual with a disability with an opportunity to participate in or benefit from the aid, benefit or service in a manner that is not equal to that offered to individuals without disabilities.  34 CFR 104.4(a), (b)(1)(i), (b)(1)(ii); 28 CFR 35.130(a), (b)(1)(i), (b)(1)(ii).

Under Section 504 and Title II, a recipient may not utilize criteria or methods of administration that have the effect of subjecting qualified individuals with disabilities to discrimination on the basis of disability.  34 CFR 104.4(b)(4) and 28 CFR 35.130(b)(3).  A public entity also may not impose or apply eligibility criteria that screen out or tend to screen out an individual with a disability or any class of individuals with disabilities from fully and equally enjoying any service, program, or activity, unless such criteria can be shown to be necessary for the provision of the service, program, or activity being offered.  28 CFR 35.130(b)(8).  Public school students with disabilities who require special education and/or related services receive them either through implementation of an individualized education program (IEP) developed in accordance with Part B of the IDEA or a plan developed under Section 504.  34 CFR 104.33.  It is unlawful to deny a student with a disability admission to an accelerated class or program solely because of that student’s need for special education or related aids and services2, or because that student has an IEP or a plan under Section 504.  The practice of conditioning participation in an accelerated class or program by a qualified student with a disability on the forfeiture of special education or of related aids and services to which the student is legally entitled also violates the Section 504 and Title II requirements stated above.

Please note that nothing in Section 504 or Title II requires schools to admit into accelerated classes or programs students with disabilities who would not otherwise be qualified for these classes or programs.  Generally, under Section 504, an elementary or secondary school student with a disability is a qualified individual with a disability if the student is of compulsory school age.  However, schools may employ appropriate eligibility requirements or criteria in determining whether to admit students, including students with disabilities, into accelerated programs or classes.  Section 504 and Title II require that qualified students with disabilities be given the same opportunities to compete for and benefit from accelerated programs and classes as are given to students without disabilities.  34 CFR 104.4(b)(1)(ii) and 28 CFR 35.130(b)(1)(ii).

Furthermore, a recipient’s provision of necessary special education and related aids and services to qualified students with disabilities in accelerated classes or programs must be consistent with the Section 504 and Title II requirements regarding free appropriate public education (FAPE).

Free Appropriate Public Education

In general, conditioning participation in accelerated classes or programs by qualified students with disabilities on the forfeiture of necessary special education or related aids and services amounts to a denial of FAPE under both Part B of the IDEA and Section 504.

Section 504 requires a recipient that operates a public elementary or secondary education program or activity to provide FAPE to each qualified person with a disability who is in the recipient’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the person’s disability.  34 CFR 104.33(a).  Under Section 504, the provision of an appropriate education is the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services that satisfy certain procedural requirements and that are designed to meet the individual education needs of persons with disabilities as adequately as the needs of persons without disabilities are met.  34 CFR 104.33(b)(1)(i).  School districts may create a plan or other document to provide students with disabilities with FAPE pursuant to Section 504.  The Section 504 FAPE requirement may also be met through the implementation of an IEP developed in accordance with Part B of the IDEA.  34 CFR 104.33(b)(2).

Part B of the IDEA requires that FAPE be made available to eligible students with disabilities in certain age ranges.  The IDEA defines FAPE as special education and related services that: are provided free of charge; meet State standards; include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education; and are provided in conformity with a properly developed IEP.  20 USC ยง 1401(a)(9); 34 CFR 300.17.3

Participation by a student with a disability in an accelerated class or program generally would be considered part of the regular education or the regular classes referenced in the Section 504 and the IDEA regulations.  Thus, if a qualified student with a disability requires related aids and services to participate in a regular education class or program, then a school cannot deny that student the needed related aids and services in an accelerated class or program.  For example, if a student’s IEP or plan under Section 504 provides for Braille materials in order to participate in the regular education program and she enrolls in an accelerated or advanced history class, then she also must receive Braille materials for that class.  The same would be true for other needed related aids and services such as extended time on tests or the use of a computer to take notes.

Conditioning enrollment in an advanced class or program on the forfeiture of needed special education or related aids and services is also inconsistent with the principle of individualized determinations, which is a key procedural aspect of the IDEA, Section 504 and Title II.  As noted above, under Section 504, the provision of FAPE is based on the student’s individual education needs as determined through specific procedures--generally, an evaluation in accordance with Section 504 requirements.  34 CFR 104.35.  An individualized determination may result in a decision that a qualified student with a disability requires related aids and services for some or all of his regular education classes or his program.  Likewise, the IDEA contains specific procedures for evaluations and for the development of IEPs that require individualized determinations.  See 34 CFR 300.301 through 300.328.  The requirement for individualized determinations is violated when schools ignore the student’s individual needs and automatically deny a qualified student with a disability needed related aids and services in an accelerated class or program. 

I urge you to use the information provided in this letter to continue to evaluate whether your school district is in compliance with these anti-discrimination requirements.  OCR remains willing to continue supporting you in these efforts.  We provide technical assistance to entities that request assistance in voluntarily complying with the civil rights laws that OCR enforces.  If you need additional information or assistance on these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact the OCR enforcement office that serves your state or territory.  The contact information for each office is available online at: I thank you in advance for your cooperation and assistance in this important matter.

Sincerely yours,
Stephanie J. Monroe
Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights

1 You may contact OSEP to address any issues that relate specifically to the requirements of IDEA.  Contact information for OSEP is available online at:

2 The term "related aids and services" as used here is intended to include both the Section 504 requirements at 34 CFR 104.33(c) and the equivalent requirements under the IDEA, i.e. related services, supplementary aids and services, program modifications and supports for school personnel.  See 34 CFR 300.34, 300.42, and 300.320(a)(4).

3 Among other things, an IEP must contain a statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services to be provided to the child, or on behalf of the child, and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided to enable the child to advance appropriately toward attaining the annual goals; to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum and to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities; and to be educated and participate with other children with disabilities and those without disabilities.  An IEP also must contain an explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with children without disabilities in the regular class and in these activities.  34 CFR 300.320(a)(4)-(5).