The decision to hire an IEP advocate is personal, and very different for each family. Below is a list of reasons that you may want to consider hiring a Special Education Advocate.

  1. Your voice matters – In most cases, the IEP team is composed of 5 or more district employees, with hundreds of years of combined experience in the field, and you, the parent. Although parents are an “equal member of the team” it is easy for a parent to feel overwhelmed and/or manipulated in this situation. Bringing an educational advocate helps ensure that your ideas, suggestions, and concerns are heard in equal proportion to the district personnel.
  2. Language and customs – In order to effectively advocate for IEP services, you must be fluent in the language of Special Education. Terms and acronyms (FAPE; MDE; FBA; IST; LRE; etc.) are frequently used during IEP meetings. Furthermore, if you want a service in your child’s IEP, it is wise to first address the need in the evaluation. A qualified special education advocate can help you understand these terms, and how to make the best use of the process.
  3. Evaluations – A qualified special education advocate can help you by: reviewing existing evaluation data; helping you to gather additional evaluation data; explaining what the current evaluation results mean; discussing whether or not to ask for an updated evaluation; suggesting what additional assessments to request; and helping you to understand what services you could request based upon the current evaluation.
  4. The IEP – An IEP is a written contract between the school and the parent. As such, the wording is vital. If a need was identified in the evaluation or agreed upon at the meeting, but was left out of, or worded vaguely in the IEP, then your child won’t receive the service. A qualified Special Education advocate can help you review the IEP for omissions, errors, and immeasurable statements (i.e. what does “as needed” mean?)
  5. Goals – IEP goals need to be: based upon current data; developed with parental input; individualized based upon the student’s needs; written in measurable terms; and updated regularly (once a year at minimum). A qualified Special Education advocate can help ensure your participation in the development and monitoring of appropriate IEP goals.
  6. Divide and conquer – Two heads are better than one. One person can take notes and formulate questions, while the other actively participates in discussions. Also, it never hurts to have someone there that can back up your recollection of events.
  7. Take the emotion out of it – Even after 25 years of experience working as a Special Education teacher and supervisor, I still get emotional at many IEP meetings. Because no one in the room can ever match the passion I feel for my own child, I become upset when I don’t feel like the staff is invested in my child’s best interest. Having an advocate by your side gives you someone to turn to and say “am I explaining myself well”, or, “can you please help me to get my point across”? Ultimately, you can make clearer decisions when you remain calm.
  8. “Meaningful Educational Progress – In theory, the purpose of Special Education services is to help student’s “catch up” to their age equivalent skills. Take for example a 5th grade student who only reads at a 2nd grade level. By the time that student is in 8th grade, you want them to be reading on an 8th grade level. In order to meet that goal, the student would have to make more than one years’ worth of growth each school year. A qualified Special Education advocate can help you to ask for and evaluate evidence of your child’s growth on IEP goals.
  9. What if you don’t agree? – Although most people at an IEP meeting want “what is best”, the more people you have at the table, the harder it becomes to agree on what “best” means. For example, “what is best” can be interpreted by a teacher to mean “what is easiest”, by a principal as “what is cheapest” and by a parent as “what is ideal”. A qualified Special Education advocate can help you understand when you have a strong argument, and what your options are in moving forward.
  10. What is missing – A qualified Special Education Advocate can look at all your documentation and help determine if there are any additional questions to ask (what about an aide? What transition programs do you offer?), or evaluations that should be conducted (FBA; Assistive Technology? Etc.)
  11. Cost – A special Education attorney can charge $250 – $350 per hour. A Special Education Advocate will typically charge half of that or less.
  12. Least restrictive option – You do get farther with honey than vinegar. Therefore, you may get farther by hiring an advocate before jumping to the more litigious option of hiring an attorney.