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New Jersey lawyer focusing on special education law and employment law

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The Downward Spiral

Woman in a business suit breaks a pencilImagine that there is a certain parent who constantly bickers about every minor issue at each and every IEP meeting.

Imagine that there is a certain parent who refuses to remain calm and makes threats to file due process petitions relating to their child’s special education needs.

Imagine that there is a certain parent who is always looking for a reason to fight, no matter how small the issue appears to be.

I don’t have to imagine these things because I have met such parents.

Let me be clear: unreasonable parents who constantly nitpick the little things and regularly fight school districts are headed for a downward spiral if they never regain their composure and keep focused on the ultimate goal.

Let me give an example:

For months, parent and school personnel have been trying to develop an IEP that is agreeable to everyone. The school district’s principal attends the fourth IEP meeting to see if she can help. Parent says that the principal is not an IEP member, and parent immediately walks out of the IEP meeting after principal refuses to leave the room.

Parent then files a state complaint alleging that the school district violated the law by inviting staff who are not IEP members. Parent refuses to attend IEP meetings until the state completes its investigation, which could be many weeks (or months) down the road.

In the meanwhile, school district personnel — in the best interests of the child — decide to implement a new IEP based on a draft developed from the third IEP meeting. Parent is properly informed and files a petition for a due process hearing challenging the new IEP.

When the school district calls for a resolution meeting, the parent attends, then abruptly walks out in 5 minutes’ time.

We all know how this is likely to end up in court.

Let me give another example:

Parent attends an IEP meeting. All of the required IEP members aren’t in attendance at the beginning of the meeting. The parent demands that the meeting will not start until all of the IEP members are present.

The case manager says, “I’m sorry, but we couldn’t get everyone here at the same time. The speech therapist will be here in about 15 minutes and we can talk about speech therapy at that time. In the meantime, we can discuss your child’s OT and PT services. Both the OT and PT professionals are here now.”

The parent insists that the meeting will not start until the speech therapist arrives.

The case manager sighs. Everyone waits. Finally, the speech therapist arrives.

The meeting begins. They begin talking about OT and PT. Soon, the OT and PT professionals say that they must leave for their next scheduled teaching session.

The parent demands that everyone must be present throughout the entire IEP meeting. The OT and PT professionals walk out. Stunned and somewhat exasperated, the parent says that the IEP meeting is over, walks out, and then files a due process complaint arguing that procedure wasn’t followed.

We all know how this is likely to end up in court.

If you are a rational person with experience at IEP meetings, you would instantly respond: “The parent just did a ridiculous thing from the start. Who cares if the principal is in the room? Just get the IEP worked out and finalized. Then move on.”

Likewise, a rational person would say, “Just talk about the OT and PT first, then when the speech therapist arrives, talk about speech therapy. What’s the big deal? The OT and PT professionals know nothing about speech, so why do they have to be in the room?”

Lawyers are in the business of representing clients in specific legal matters. The vast majority of lawyers are very good at what they do. While a lawyer may zealously represent your child in a special education matter, the lawyer will — more likely than not — maintain composure and follow reason over emotion.

Lawyers understand the nuances of special education law much better than parents and “non-attorney special education advocates.” Equally important, lawyers can represent children with disabilities with professionalism and an eye for the ultimate goal.

Sometimes, parents fight school districts for years without really understanding their ultimate goal. The reason they don’t know their ultimate goal is because they are lost in a fog. Unfortunately, by the time parents have been fighting the school district for many years, some special education lawyers might say, “You have damaged your relationship with school personnel. You have also damaged your own credibility. And the damage is far too severe for me to repair it.”

Unfortunately, in some of these cases, the parent’s downward spiral causes terrific harm to the child’s education, and this damage cannot be undone. Such is the tragedy of a well-intentioned parent who loses control for far too long.

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