Special Ed Attorney and Advocate Chat {transcribed podcast}

IEP Podcast Transcribed

I’ve had some requests to transcribe podcasts, as some want the information but don’t want to listen to podcasts. So, here you go. There may be some typos that occurred due to bots doing the transcribing. I’ve read it twice and fixed what I found.

I’m also including it here for you to listen.

Special Ed Advocate Lisa Lightner: Hi there and welcome. It’s Lisa Lightner from don’t IEP alone and a day in our shoes. Welcome and thank you for listening to another podcast. Today is an exciting day for me. I have my first ever podcast interview, so please bear with me if there are glitches. I am working out recording and having a guest speaker and of course we’re doing it by phone. Um, but I’d like to introduce to you Jennifer Price. Jennifer is an attorney from the Pittsburgh area. She is a special education attorney and does a few other disability related, uh, legal issues such as special needs, trusts and landlord tenant issues as pertains to people with disabilities and so on. She is also a published author now of a new book. So Jennifer, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your book first.

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price: Hi. Sure. Thank you for having me on. Um, so I wrote a book titled empowered using real case examples to look deeper into IEP management, which I recognize it’s a mouthful, but it, I basically went through cases from 2018 that I thought were relevant and helpful. It’s not all the cases, it’s a pretty short book and I summarized the cases in an easily digestible way. Um, and then get provided, you know, significant thought questions at the end would face to take notes for parents or caregivers or advocates helping parents to then, you know, use those cases to analyze their own situation.

Special Ed Advocate Lisa Lightner : Okay. And the book is available on Amazon, correct

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : It is. It’s available on Amazon for 1295. It’s a paperback book.

Special Ed Advocate Lisa Lightner : Okay, great. And it’s available as an ebook on Barnes and noble and Amazon.

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : Yup. The ebook is $9.95.

Special Ed Advocate Lisa Lightner : Okay, great. So take a look at that. Um, if for my listeners, if you’re interested, um, it’s one of the reasons I wanted to talk with you today and the content of your book is also is very timely for parents. Um, of course we recently had and, and recently being a relative term, but we recently had the Supreme court decision of Andrew, um, and a lot of parents know about the court decision. I liked that your book, uh, summarizes court decisions because I’ve read through a lot of read through a lot of federal appeal decisions and so on. And they can be a little tough to digest and you have to, I’m sure as an attorney we even have to like set time aside to read it, uninterrupted, digest it and so on. Um, but I think for the lay person it’s particularly difficult and I think that a lot of parents are, I know that lot of parents, because they ask me about it, they want to use court decisions, particularly Andrew and particular, particularly Doug C versus Hawaii. Um, those are the two I think that come up most often. But they want to use those with their IEP team. You know, they want to have something to point to, to show the IEP team that says, Hey, look, you have to do this. It says, it says so right here. Um, I have yet to find, I don’t know if delicates the right word I wanna use, but I have yet to find a really, truly, um, functional and professional way for parents to do that. Can you speak to that a little bit

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : for parents to understand some of the cases like interest,

Special Ed Advocate Lisa Lightner : well that too, I understand the cases, but also when the parent, you know, the parents working alone, they don’t have an advocate, they don’t have an attorney and they kind of want to use case law or use court decisions in their argument to getting their child’s needs met.

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : Right, right. So I, I completely agree with you. I have also um, come across so many parents who kept out frustrated at the situation that they’re in and they really follow the case fault. So they’re aware of decisions like interrupt, but at the same thing, they don’t know how to use it. And I’ve gone to workshops and presented at workshops and that’s always the question at the end. Now how do I use that information That’s great that I know how the court rules that. How do I then use that information And that really was the biggest impetus behind the fog to try to pull back some of the layers in the mirror. It’s smoke and mirrors of the case fall and understand, allow parents to kind of see how we as lawyers will read the cases and how we then use the cases. So I go through, um, I I have therefore steps in the book.

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : Um, but then in each step like step one with child five I will use, I will fight a couple of cases and then for instance that very specific questions, um, you that parents can then think about, you know, like uh, when it comes to evaluations, one of the questions I asked and if a parent has gotten an independent educational evaluation is if your child needs an IEE or the school in private evaluators using different tests and if so, what tests are being used as a parent, you need to learn the differences among the tests and what symptoms are disabilities the evaluated the testing for because there when it came to evaluations, there was the case was that where it came down to experts and different testing and why the courts may have ruled in school district favor and so forth and so on. So I agree there, there definitely is a, a desire from parents to want to use the cases.

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : And that was the impetus behind the book. Tried to help them learn how to use these cases without hiring a lawyer. And I also did some research and statistically when it comes to a due process hearing the, there are a large number of parents almost, uh, not quite the majority, but there are certainly a large number of parents that represent themselves in a due process hearing. So especially when that situation occurs, knowing that due process hearings can be appealed to a court of law. And so everyone hearing officer judge alike are looking at case law decisions. I think it’s definitely beneficial for parents to really know how to use these cases.

Special Ed Advocate Lisa Lightner : It is. Um, and I’m not sure I have, I haven’t personally looked it up in quite some time, but the last time I did research it, I believe that the success rate of parents prevailing when they go pro se and that is not using an attorney but doing the due process case themselves. Um, but that the, the rate that they will win or prevail is in the single digits. Is that still correct

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : Yeah. Yep. That’s what I learned also. And it has not changed. Um, and even when I’ve read some of the hearing officer decisions myself, um, I have not read a case yet where a parent has been successful at the due process hearing, not that I’ve read all the cases, certainly, but the ones that I have read, the parents were not successful.

Special Ed Advocate Lisa Lightner : Right. The only I’ve been doing this now for about 10 years. The only person I know, um, who was successful is one of my mentors. And um, like she’s one of my idols really. She’s, um, a little bit older than I am, but she’s a working advocate and she also is a paralegal. And, um, just a really, really gifted advocate. And I so much enjoy even talking with her because just the stuff that comes out of her mouth, I’m like, Oh my God, I didn’t even think of it that way. Um, but she’s just an exceptional person and an ex and she has an exceptional advocacy mind. And she is the only person I’ve ever known, um, to prevail in due process. And keeping in mind that that was before, um, Oh, what’s the term I’m looking for A burden of proof. So, um, she, she prevailed and it was also before 2005 when, um, she did not bear the burden of proof.

Special Ed Advocate Lisa Lightner : So, um, so there’s that. Um, but yes, that’s important I think for parents to know that, first of all, and I don’t know if our statewide statistic, Jennifer and I are both in Pennsylvania, um, and our office of dispute resolution will tell you that more than 90% of due process filings settled or do not or withdrawn, they, they do not proceed to an actual due process hearing less than 10% of them do. Um, and then of those that do go to a due process, hearing the, the weight, the rate of parents winning is in the single digit. So that’s just important to know. Um, so as a parent listening to this right now, they’re thinking, Oh, great. Um, so basically what you’re saying is, I need an attorney. And when parents need an attorney or an advocate, the first thing that I hear is, Oh well I can’t afford one. What I, my advice to them is, you know, often you can’t afford not to, um, unless you know, unless you are a paralegal or have some kind of, I don’t want to say inside knowledge but some kind of work experience or something that will, will give you kind of a little bit of an edge.

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : Well exactly. And there is language in the statute that allows for attorney fee reimbursement. Now of course that requires you that the parents to have the money up front. Um, but there, there is that language in the statute. And so usually what I will do is, um, once we get down to settlement negotiations in lieu of going through a hearing, then I will negotiate a reimbursement from the school district and I haven’t had an issues with that. Now I do speak to a couple of cases regarding attorney fees and the book where that has been an issue. Um, and, and whether, you know, a parent could, uh, refused the offer being made by the school. If they don’t agree to reimburse the attorney. Um, but there is language in the statute allowing for attorney being post Smith what’s up I tell parents the same thing.

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : Like it’s, it can be an expensive long hardship if you don’t get an attorney. Um, however, you know, I do hope that parents will at least have take this book and you said if they either don’t have the money or they’re just from what that leads to make an effort without the Medtronic that they will try to use the book to help analyze. Because I do think that there will help sort of clear their thoughtful that that are and it will get them see things from the school district’s perspective. You know, because sometimes parents will come in and they will talk about fairness and the school is looking at what’s there. But the school pure position is what am I legally allowed to do because that’s going to be the lawyers today. What is the school district legally allowed to do And so if parents can start thinking in that mode about whether it’s legal or not legal versus whether it’s fair or unfair, then it will position them better in the long run.

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : Right. I, um, several years ago for the blog, I had interviewed, um, a hearing officer from up in new England and he said many of the same things that you’re saying as far as parents. And I actually just did a podcast, kind of along the same vein. And when I S I said, you’re standing too close to the elephant. Um, and I think parents get in this mode and I get it. I’m a parent and I, you know, I have one with disabilities and I get the protective nature and the mother bear or whatever, you know, whatever you want to call it. But when you’re standing too close to the elephant, you’re not seeing everything. And I think that’s, that’s a trap that parents kind of get into. One of the, um, one of the other parent mentors or parent advocates who is in who Admins, I’m sorry, who admins The Facebook group with me. Um, she calls it like they fell in the hole and it’s kinda like parents just fall in this hole and they can’t see out. They can only see one little beam of light. And that’s what they focus on is reaching that beam of light and they’re not looking at all the things around them.

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : Well exactly and I think that’s why the success rate is so low at the due process hearing state because you know, you’re, you’re required to at least try to negotiate a settlement ahead of time. And so if you’re, once you’re emotionally invested, it can be hard for you to maybe hear the other side or what the school was saying. Or maybe the school was just, you know, being standoffish and evasive and they’re being difficult themselves, which wouldn’t be unusual. And so then by the time you get to the due process hearing, sometimes it can be hard for you to really delineate the issues and focus them and then know exactly how to argue your points based on the issues. It’s still, your arguments may come out of parent’s arguments. They come out more and emotionally based. Whereas with you hire a lawyer at that person isn’t going to be emotionally invested, obviously because a fucking child, but, but they’re also going to be able to make the purely legal based argument about whether it’s a denial of faith, uh, for various reasons. So I wrote the book and, and asked and provided the questions at the end in the hopes that parents could use it to take notes to help them really, really think about their child’s situation, you know, and, and be able to articulate their points and, uh, less emotional, more legal, uh, format.

Special Ed Advocate Lisa Lightner : Oh, good. Um, I’m looking forward to reading it myself. Um, it’s, I, I often have to also recommend or remind parents that, you know, the good guy doesn’t always win. Um, you know, life isn’t always fair. Hearing officers aren’t, aren’t always going to see things your way. And again, when you’re standing too close to it, you can only see one thing and it’s like, this is so incredibly unfair. How do you not, how do you not see what’s going on here How do you not see what they’re doing to my child Um, and not using enough because once you get to due, I had an advocate mentor many years ago who said, once you go to due process, you know, everyone’s losing. Um, because it’s no longer even really about the child. It’s about who has the better case and who can, you know, who has the better paper trail, who has the better documentation of um, providing FAPE or denial of FAPE.

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : Yep. Yep. And that’s why I love the parents that come into my office who at least have stacks of papers and they usually walk in apologizing. Oh, I’m sorry, I have so much papers and that so many papers and so many notebooks. And I tell them, no, this is great because I don’t know what the school has, but I like the fact that I can at least look at, you know, two, three, four years of IEP to see are the goals reading verbatim every single year or were changes may. So I, you know, you have all the progress reports, you have all the report cards and test grade. So I 100% agree with the paper trail and who has kept to us kept the best notes. Um, lawyers always like paper trails, whether you, whether you like the information in the paper trail or not as another is another issue, but that actually has something to show.

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : Um, to be clear, what you’re saying is it’s certainly successful and I will say that once it gets to an appeal to a federal court, you know, if you’re appealing, does a due process or a, sorry hearing officer’s suspicion if the parent is appealing because they’ve lost that, the due process hearing level, that can be difficult. Um, because if they’re claiming that someone can’t be believed, there are certain issues that, that the courts will look at. And just the first two, the hearing officer and hearing officers have given a lot of deference when it comes to credibility. You know, if the hearing officer has deemed one witness more credible over the other, that credibility and termination is not, is going to be a very hard issue to appeal. And usually those issues are appealed by parents. And I think because the warriors or the schools know the burden is so high to try to show that the hearing officer ruled and you know, made a bad decision on a credibility issue.

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : Um, and, and then the other thing that parents should understand is that fundamentally, and I mentioned this a couple of times in the book, once it gets to a court, courts really don’t like to be in the business of telling the school district how to run their school or how to educate their children. And so depending on what the issue is, if it’s been appealed to a federal court, um, uh, unfortunately by the, usually by the parents, then it, sometimes there can be a ruling in favor of the school districts because the court will find a way to say, we’re going to defer to the court or we’re going to defer to the school. We’re in the business of interpreting laws. The school is in the business of educating students and who are we to, you know, sort of the plan, our decision and our judgment for the school district because they know the kids within their, their districts.

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : So that’s also something to keep in mind. All the cases that I mentioned in the book are not school district friendly. By all means. There are definitely cases where the school or the court has volt in the parent’s favor. Um, but I do think it’s important for the parents to keep in mind that if they know, courts don’t really like to get bogged down into how the schools are educating kids, then they can also use that to take a different stance and strategize how they’re going to approach the situation that they come out winning at the due process level. Wow. Because gang officers can be a little bit more friendly to parents anyways.

Special Ed Advocate Lisa Lightner : Yeah. That’s, um, that’s some excellent information. And I would say at least here, and you know, I’m in the suburban Philadelphia area and we have a very large and active, um, advocate and special ed attorney. What’s the word Like climate. Um, it’s very active here. Other States, obviously not so much in other States, you don’t have the availability of special ed attorneys and advocates and things like that. Um, but I at least hear there’s rumors and hearsay and things like that when you go to lunch with people that there are certain hearing officers who tend to rural more school friendly and those who tend to decide more often in favor of the parents. Do you see that

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : Yep, absolutely. And those, uh, those discussions get passed around as well. And certainly if you’re going in front of a hearing officer, you’ve never, if it was just the first for you, then I’ll reach out to a colleague and ask, you know, what’s kind of a hearing officer is that, you know, and, and that’s also what you’ll find in the court system as well. So it’s there is, I can say some level of unfairness because you should never feel like you’re on the, you’re gonna, you know, be on the winning or losing side simply based on who your judges are for your hearing officer is. But unfortunately if that can be the case sometimes, but it’s good to know that ahead of time so that you’ll know exactly how to approach the case. You know, if you have someone who’s very school district friendly and, but they also can appreciate the case law and the academics behind it all, then you can just try to prepare your case accordingly so you can really issue spot everything and highlight all of that specific points relative to the case file to show how your case is similar, your cases different.

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : Um, so it’s good to have that information if you can get it because it really does help you strategize your case.

Special Ed Advocate Lisa Lightner : Good. And um, you know what you’ve said, right There is one of the big arguments that I give to parents when they say, well, I can’t afford an advocate or an attorney. I say, you know, it’s not just about me sitting in the meeting with you and it’s not just about writing, you know, a due process, filing a claim. Um, it’s about you’re paying for all this knowledge that’s in your head and all this experience and all your connections and all your networking. Um, and you can’t really put a price on that. And that is where, you know, you can see parents are going to be at a severe disadvantage cause they don’t know any special ed attorneys and they’re not gonna, you know, you’re not really gonna be able to call one up and say, Hey, what do you know about this hearing officer if you don’t know them.

Special Ed Advocate Lisa Lightner : Yup. Um, okay, so let’s see. Let’s give a one more plug for the book and I’m going to edit that part out. This one, what I’m saying right now, I’m going to edit out, but let’s do one more plug for the book and then if there’s, cause we’re at 22 minutes and then if we want to go another 20 minutes or so about a different topic, we can do that. Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay. So let me, um, okay, well thank you, Jennifer for being here today. I think that you’ve provided a lot of great information that parents are, you know, I like black and white kind of concepts where parents can actually grab onto a concept and use it rather than kind of, you know, an abstract concept of, I’m sorry, I’m going to delete that out. That’s terrible. Okay. I’m deleting that out. Um, all right, well thank you so much Jennifer for being here today. Um, any few, let’s give, let’s hear a few more words about your book and again, remind us where we can find it.

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : Oh, sure. It’s, the book is titled empowered and it’s empowered but the E D is capitalized, you know, for the education part of it, using real case examples to look deeper into IEP management and it can be found on Amazon as a paperback or, uh, an ebook and it also can be purchased from Barnes and noble as an ebook.

Special Ed Advocate Lisa Lightner : Okay, great. We’ll take a look for that book listeners. And also I will provide an Amazon link on the podcast. So wherever you listen to the podcast, there will be a link in the synopsis as to where to find the book. Um, thanks so much for being here today.

Special Ed Attorney Jennifer Price : Thank you so much for having me.

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