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New Jersey lawyer focusing on special education law and employment law

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The Downward Spiral – Part II

This is Part II of a two part blog series. In the first part, I described unreasonable parents who ultimately find themselves in a downward spiral. In this post, I will discuss parents who are loose cannons.

The term “loose cannons” is an often used term in the employment and family law setting, particularly when a boss dislikes an irrational employee or when a husband thinks his wife is irrational. In the context of special education, a “loose cannon” can be a person who is unpredictable, has no self-control, and will go to any lengths to prove him- or herself right even if it causes harm to the parent or the child. Often loose cannons seek revenge and cause far more damage than if she had just walked away.

In the world of special education, there are–sadly–a few parents who can be characterized as loose cannons. Sometimes, when parents find themselves in a downward spiral, they become loose cannons, seeking revenge and retribution.

Parents who are loose cannons may do one or more of the following:

  • Repeatedly file petitions for due process hearings that may have little or no merit
  • File complaints with the state department of education that may have little or no merit
  • Write nasty notes on blogs and newspaper websites (sometimes anonymously)
  • Go to the local press to air their dissatisfaction
  • Repeatedly attend school board meetings to express their anger
  • Shout or provoke IEP team members
  • Send hateful emails to each individual IEP team member
  • Commit battery or assault against school personnel

The list goes on and on.

It’s not pretty. It’s not funny. In fact, it can be downright scary.

Parents who have engaged in one or more of the above actions have gotten restraining orders from court. Some have been convicted for harassment. Some have received hefty fines. Others have been prohibited from even going to see their children at school functions, like intramural sports or school plays. In some cases, IEP meetings take place outside of school for everyone’s safety. In almost all cases, the parents lose their credibility. Once it’s all said and done, it is difficult to regain that credibility back.

As I explained in an earlier post, special education lawyers are extremely reluctant to represent parents who have all but destroyed their relationship with school personnel. A good, experienced lawyer knows right away that a loose cannon is one who will never be satisfied with the outcome of a case.

Lawyers want their clients to be satisfied with the outcome of their case. It’s important to special education attorneys — myself included — that children with disabilities get the services, accommodations, modifications, and compensatory education they are entitled to. On the same token, however, parents must be realistic, understanding, patient, and well mannered, if lawyers are expected to take their case.

Right Way Wrong Way SignParents must also listen to their lawyers too. A parent who doesn’t follow her lawyer’s advice risks a great deal — so much so that all the money paid to the lawyer pales in comparison to the long term damage that could be caused to the child.

If you — or a parent you know — is beginning to lose control of the situation, get help. Find a lawyer. Reach out to other parents who have children with disabilities. Network with parent advocacy groups. It bears repeating: get help.

There’s a right way to do things — and there’s also a wrong way. The choice is yours.

Good luck.

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