Special Education Advocacy, authored and edited by Ruth Colker and Julie K. Waterson. LexisNexis (2011), 746 pages. Softbound, $61.
Special education law is a demanding and growing area of law given the increased diagnoses of disabilities among children, in particular autism. My first introduction to this area of law was in 1997 while attending law school. I secured an internship at a public interest law organization, which led to employment upon graduation. In those early years, my chief legal resources were case files, colleagues, and self-help manuals written for parents of children with disabilities. I often felt like a lost attorney navigating a maze without a map or compass. Special Education Advocacy is an overdue and much needed resource to guide those in that maze.
Special Education Advocacy is a comprehensive resource for individuals representing children with disabilities in special education cases. Although self-described as a textbook, it is more like a combination treatise and practice guide written by several highly respected law school clinicians.
Special education law has a lengthy history consisting of case law and statutory authorities. Special Education Advocacy appropriately begins with a discussion of this history, leading to the present-day principal law governing this area—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA). The chapters thereafter are arranged in a fairly chronological case-management order, from identifying the client to closing the case. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 cover the initial stages of a special education case, including the client interview, investigation process, requisite educational and medical documents, and requesting special education assessments and services. Chapter 5 is the heart of this resource, as true for all special education cases—the individualized education program (IEP). The chapter fully analyzes the IEP process, which includes identifying the players, preparing for the IEP meeting, listing the types of services available, and setting forth the necessary components of the IEP document to ensure IDEA compliance. Chapters 6, 7, and 8 cover particular groups of children, such as children under age three who are eligible for Early Intervention Services, students subject to discipline measures, and dependency children in welfare systems, for example. Chapters 9 and 10 cover dispute resolution and remedies available to students, parents, and attorneys. The last chapter provides guidance to those representing students in the delinquency system who require special education services.
The strengths of Special Education Advocacy come from the fact that it is written by practitioners who use their own experiences and real client cases to convey and illustrate the law, both substantive and procedural. Client cases serve as discussion points and demonstrate the various aspects of special education cases. Sample documents are plentiful: client letters, medical and psychology reports, an affidavit, IEP meeting minutes, IEPs, accommodation plans, a complaint, and a school suspension notice, for example. Templates and forms are also provided, including an intake form, retainer, request for services, referral letter, document requests, case chronology spreadsheet, and eligibility determinations. I was pleasantly surprised to find some nonlaw aids as well. For those advocates with little background in child development and assessments of psychology and educational attributes, the resource provides guidelines for normal development, an overview of the categories of disabilities, and a primer on evaluation instruments including an explanation of standard deviations and errors of measurement.
Supplementing the substance, practitioner tips, and samples within Special Education Advocacy are appendices of the text of IDEA, its regulations, and 13 seminal special education law cases. Its finding tools include a detailed table of contents with chapter outlines, a table of cases, a table of statutes, and an index.
Special Education Advocacy is best-suited for law students, clinical faculty, and attorneys interested in or practicing special education law, specifically in the representation of children with disabilities. Given my own experience practicing special education law, I can say with confidence that it is a must-have resource for both new and experienced advocates. Special Education Advocacy provides the map and compass to navigate this area of law competently and, most importantly, to best serve parents and children with disabilities.
Cindy Guyer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a research services librarian at the USC Gould School of Law in Los Angeles.