The best teachers teach their students that they should never stop learning. I remember my favorite teachers reinforcing that. My father, who was a public school teacher and principal for 35 years, also taught that to me. As a lawyer, I love learning from other lawyers and advocates – new tips, new ways of thinking about issues, new procedures, new laws, new approaches, etc. With this in mind, I am currently attending the annual conference of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) in San Diego. It is four solid days of interacting with colleagues from around the country and learning from the best in the field.
Today, I attended an all day session entitled “OCR, 504, ADA and Making the Most of Your Civil Rights.” Just as the name implies, we spent all day dealing with alternatives to the standard special education due process procedure. When most people think of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), they think of special education and IDEA. But Section 504 also has a FAPE standard. Bullying and disability discrimination can be a basis for denial of FAPE under Section 504. Another interesting tidbit we discussed today was that when it comes to communication devices, in the decision about which devices are appropriate, the ADA gives primary consideration to the preference of the individual with a disability. 28 CFR 35.160. In fact, the public school must honor the choice of the student with a disability unless they can prove that an alternative would be just as effective. IDEA does not contain this “equally effective” standard, but the ADA does. This is just the tip of the iceberg – many of the rights granted to students and parents by Section 504 and the ADA can be just as powerful, if not more powerful, then those granted under special education law. We also spent a good deal of time talking about restraints, seclusion, OCR complaints, and OCR mediation.
Tomorrow will be another all-day session entitled “Assessment Boot Camp: Understanding Tests and Measurements.” Saturday and Sunday will consist of several shorter sessions dealing with a plethora of subjects. I also will have the honor of presenting a session designed to help attorneys who are running their own special education law practice (i.e. the things that special education attorneys need to think about when they run their own practice versus working for somebody else).
This is now my fourth annual national COPAA conference. In each of these conferences, I have come away with so many new ideas and approaches to help me advocate successfully for my clients.
The Law Office of James M. Baron represents students and parents in special education and other school-related legal matters throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Please visit http://www.lawbaron.com, or call 781-209-1166 for more information.