I did not choose to practice law in the area of special education; it chose me. While not initially on my radar, representing and securing the rights of special education students ultimately did not only become my job, it also became my life’s purpose and mission. Prior to the birth of my first son, I specialized in criminal defense for approximately 7 years, a field I had no intention of leaving until I was suddenly and unexpectedly taken on an involuntary journey that changed all aspects of my life forever.
At six weeks old, the eldest of my three sons, Brandon, was diagnosed with a congenital brain disorder, a brain cortex malformation called Focal Cortical Dysplasia. Symptoms of this condition are what has been termed as catastrophic seizures, Infantile Spasms, which cause irreversible damage to the brain, detrimentally impacting physical and intellectual development. Initially overcome with anger and grief, for a time I was paralyzed with fear unsure of which direction to take. (Read more about our journey with Brandon here ~ Our Story). The initial processing of the most devastating event of my life was daunting and petrifying and for a little bit of time the fear of the unknown was all encompassing. But I came to quickly realize there was no alternative but to come to terms with our child’s new reality and march forward re-shifting the expectations that come with the promise of a new baby and the excitement of the endless possibilities for his life. Our lives and everything we had planned for them had to be altered. So off to battle for our kid we went!
As I am certain all parents of children with special needs do, I spent countless sleepless nights staring at the ceiling at 3:00 a.m., often seeing the sun rise without a wink of sleep, pondering Brandon’s future, sometimes waking up in a cold sweat, and worrying about how I could ensure that his every need be met and every potential maximized always. Uncovering every way to effectively help my child permeated my every thought. I immersed myself in learning everything I could about the brain, early intervention methods and early intervention programs, and special education advocacy once I learned the elusive “IEP” acronym. “What’s an IEP?” I will never forget asking another student’s mom in Brandon’s early intervention class at UCLA when she inquired as to whether we had scheduled Brandon’s initial transition IEP meeting. Perilously wide-eyed she said, “Girl, sit down, let me clue you in!” Did she ever! That was the first day of the beginning of my life’s mission. Whatever medical or educational services and supports that existed to help my son conquer his disability to the maximum extent possible, I would not leave unexplored. I have since dedicated my life to pursuing and securing everything within my power to ensure he lives his best life.
In my journey with my son, the shift in my professional trajectory became inevitable. After initially weathering abject rejection, blatant negligence and plain old careless disregard for my son’s needs by his school District I made it my mission to fight back, and as it turned out not just on his behalf but on behalf of hundreds of children since facing similar challenges in getting their needs met appropriately. In the course of my own battle, I came across too many helpless and desperate parents that were unsure how to access the proper services and supports for their children from not only their school Districts but also from the Regional Center, which can be just as big a culprit in ignoring or downplaying need or plainly denying otherwise mandated services. I encountered parents that were unaware, uneducated in the complicated inner workings of the system or just plainly exhausted from hitting brick walls and what at times appear to be insurmountable barriers keeping them from obtaining the pivotal help their children require. Most parents are tired, oh so tired, from the daily efforts they must put forth with their disabled children’s routines and demands. To expect them to also tackle the understanding of the complexity of Early Start and the special education system is almost an impossible task. But they churn forward nonetheless and luckily when they cannot fight on their own anymore, the good news is there are lawyers like me that have walked their path and are here to help!
"'What’s an IEP?' I will never forget asking another student’s mom in Brandon’s Early Intervention class at UCLA when she inquired as to whether we had scheduled Brandon’s initial transition IEP meeting. I was clueless."- Georgianna
The brutal and undeniable reality was and still very much is that parents are not often given all of the correct information and tools, and school districts are not always candid about the various types of support and services that can and should be offered. I crossed paths with parents eager to help their children but were given misinformation time and time again and hit brick walls repeatedly. When I saw how easily disabled children can fall through the cracks because they were not treated as the law so clearly demands, I undoubtedly saw my calling and although I had embarked on the road to special education law long before I opened my practice, I decided to do so officially and never looked back.
So I became a special education attorney and it is the most rewarding and important course I have ever undertaken. I knew that what I did for my son I could do for the children of so many families in need, and I knew these families could relate to my experience and draw benefit from it. I wanted to do my part. So I changed careers and set out to help as many parents as I encountered whose desire to help their children was as insatiable and tireless as mine.
I know first-hand that sometimes the barriers you face seem unconquerable, but the deep and unconditional love you have for your child and the desire to see him/her succeed will invariably always be your motivating force. It will not be easy but it is a fight worth fighting, and frankly you have no choice but to fight if your child stands any chance to be educated appropriately and to gain the skills and tools he/she requires to lead the most rewarding, productive and independent existence possible. Know that with the proper support a meaningful education for children with disabilities is absolutely possible. Allow me to share with you the wealth of knowledge and information that I have acquired along the way of this life transforming, beautiful and heart-wrenching journey. Below I share with you some very helpful pointers that I believe are imperative elements for parents seeking assistance with special education advocacy.
The biggest and most important piece of advice I can offer you is to BELIEVE IN YOUR CHILD TO THE EXCLUSIVITY OF ANYTHING THAT INDICATES THE CONTRARY, no matter what the diagnosis, disability or challenge he/she is facing. You must set a high standard and believe that your child can accomplish more than anyone thinks possible. If you give up on your child then everyone gives up on your child. As difficult as it sometimes is, your mind set must be one of eternal optimism and your search for answers an endless one. Believe that your child is going to be very capable of great achievements despite what therapists, doctors and/or school officials opine. They are NOT God. Set that accomplishment bar very high and keep it steady! School administrators, district specialists, special education directors, mediators and Administrative Law Judges must first see your child, not his/her diagnosis or disability and that is up to you to show them, preferably with the assistance of an attorney like me. Allow me/us to help you. When the school district is telling you that there is no funding, classrooms, and/or personnel services available to help your child, your strong belief that your child can be successful as long as these services are provided is what will keep you determined to fight for them!
Those are just excuses that will hindrance your child’s progress if accepted or permitted. It is the resilient and relentless will of parents that yields success in meeting their children’s unique academic needs. DEMAND THAT THOSE NEEDS BE MET! ALWAYS REMEMBER THIS: The nation’s school districts are under statutory mandate by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act 0f 2004 ( IDEA) to tailor educational services to the individual needs of YOUR child. Whenever you hear the words from a school administrator, “We just don’t do that,” or “we can’t offer that service,” you remind them that educational programs are tailored to meet the distinct needs of YOUR child and not to meet the fiscal or administrative convenience of the school district. Do not be afraid to fight back and to invoke the laws that were specifically designed to protect YOUR child. But in order to do so YOU MUST do your homework and must educate and arm yourself and become a warrior on behalf of your helpless little one that is counting wholeheartedly on you to advocate for his/her every need. A parent MUST become an advocate with or without an attorney. You MUST know more information about your child than any one expert or school official can offer and you MUST be familiar with the territory surrounding your child’s disability.
ASSERT YOUR RIGHTS but remember that they can be invoked in a diplomatic non-combative manner. I came to the realization that fighting for my child’s rights did not mean that I needed to fight with administrators. Collaboration is key and it is up to the parents to set a cooperative tone, although I am all too aware that emotions are very high and sometimes no matter how much you try to practice diplomacy, the situation can turn on a dime. While advocating vigorously for your child does not mean yelling and screaming, it does mean being empowered with the necessary knowledge to sternly and unequivocally demonstrate that you are completely aware and educated in everything relating to your child’s needs and you are prepared to plunge forward in order to guarantee those needs are met. Be proactive by being prepared and show the school administrators that you mean business and you are your child’s number one advocate.
It is imperative that parents build a strong team that includes an attorney or advocate, an educational psychologist as your expert, and a qualified pediatrician who understands your child’s deficits and strengths. Armed with this “dream team” make sure that you approach the school district with respect but also with one goal in mind and that is to ensure your child is given access to the proper educational path.
DEMAND THOSE NEEDS ARE MET
If you reach a dead end at the IEP, the quest for your child’s rights is far from over; in fact it is just beginning. Simply, you “respectfully disagree” with their opinions and educational offer and move on to the next step. There is ALWAYS a next step. You have retribution through Due Process, a system in place to take your case to the next level when an impasse is reached with the school personnel at the IEP. If the time does come when a cooperative means has been exhausted you must adequately arm yourself for the next phase with information and knowledge and sometimes that means the retaining of a reputable and knowledgeable attorney. This is the time you must have access to the input necessary to file a due process complaint that seeks the free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to which your child is legally entitled. I have had to take this approach for my own child on a number of occasions, each time reaching successful results because I know my rights and I know that to which he is entitled. But even as an attorney filing for and participating in due process proceedings was difficult and stressful, but well worth it. After waiving a battle to fight for his rights my child continues to receive an education that not only addresses his academic needs but his social emotional ones too, in a fully inclusive setting with the individual 1:1 support he requires (and which was initially denied) to ensure his success. Allow me to help you achieve the same results.
I PROMISE TO DELIVER THE HIGHEST QUALITY OF REPRESENTATION with the energy and dedication of a mom who shares in your desire and desperation to meet your child’s every educational need. My commonality with my clients combined with my depth of experience, academic credentials and professional affiliations translate into effective, caring and zealous advocacy. Having walked in your shoes and having taught myself to navigate through the complex and intimidating maze that is the special education world, I will fight for your child with the same vigor and commitment that I employ to fight for my own – boldly, passionately and tirelessly. A devoted advocate for children’s rights, I consider it my legal mission and moral duty to ensure that every child that seeks my help not be turned away.
Read through some commonly asked questions about the special education process and contact us today so that we may ensure your child is on the right track to an appropriate education.