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Do I need to hire an Advocate or Attorney?

Many families and professionals approach CASE when they are frustrated and upset. The top issues we hear from families include:

  • “My son is falling behind and the school keeps telling me everything is fine.”

  • “I have been asking my school to test my student for a disability for months/years, and everyone is ignoring me. They keep telling me the waitlist is really long because of COVID.”

  • “My child keeps getting sent to the office/sent home from school.”

  • “I’ve asked my daughter’s school to add extra support to her classroom. The teacher told me that would really help but they don’t have the staff to do anything about it.”

  • “My son's pediatrician says he needs therapy at school. How do we get it? The school is ignoring my request.”

  • “The people at my student’s school won’t listen to me.”

  • “What I’m hearing in meetings doesn’t sound right, but I don’t know the right words to use to convince them to do more for my child.”

  • “We have a lot of great accommodations written into my daughter’s IEP, but the school isn’t implementing them.”

  • “The school wants to move my child into a different classroom, but I know they can be successful where they are if the school would just give them more support!”




Some issues can be resolved easier than others. Here are some actions to consider before hiring an advocate or attorney:

  • Learn Your Rights: Local Parent Information and Training Centers (PTICs) such as Support for Families of Children with Disabilities in San Francisco and DREDF (Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund) in Berkeley offer IEP clinics, monthly workshops, parent support groups, individual support and advice, and much more! This is a great place to start when you have questions. More PTICs can be found at this link.

  • Attend a CAC Meeting: Your local Community Advisory Committee for Special Education (CAC) is a group that advises your district’s Special Education Department. CACs are made up mostly of parents and often include personnel from your district’s Special Education Department. The SFUSD CAC, for example, is completely parent-led. They meet monthly and every meeting includes a parent training session chosen from topics requested by families in the district. The families that attend CAC meetings are great resources for information about how to navigate your school district. CACs are run through each Special Education Local Plan Area, or SELPA; a list of all SELPAs in California can be found here. Google searches are also a great way to find your specific CAC.

  • Ask your school district about ADR, Alternative Dispute Resolution: The ADR process is a continuum. Most districts have ADR Coordinators and a wide range of programs to support families. One of the most underutilized resources is the Facilitated IEP Meeting. A facilitated IEP meeting can be a real game changer for families who feel like they aren’t being heard in their meetings. In a facilitated IEP meeting, a trained facilitator helps to develop the meeting agenda (with input from all parties), leads the IEP meeting, and guides team members through conflicts as they arise.


Have you tried all of this and still need more support? At CASE, we help families work with their IEP teams. Our special education advocates collaborate with school personnel to develop strong IEPs for students with disabilities as well as train students with disabilities to advocate for themselves. CASE offers free one-hour consultations as well as direct advocacy services on a sliding fee scale. For more information, contact us at info@caseadvocacy.org.


Want more information about the different roles of an advocate and attorney? Check out Understood.org’s helpful guide: https://www.understood.org/en/articles/the-difference-between-special-education-advocates-and-attorneys


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