YELP Students Advocate on Behalf of Clients for access to Special Education Services

Students in the Youth and Education Law Project (“YELP”) wrapped up their clinical quarter this past Winter having successfully represented several young clients and their families in gaining access to special education services and accommodations. Below are highlights of their work.

Maureen Howard (’14) and Matthew Fine (’14) represented four-year-old D.M., a pre-school student with autism.  D.M.’s parents approached YELP after moving to the area and becoming involved in a dispute with her school district.  D.M. had been receiving significant special education services in her prior school district, but her new district had refused to provide comparable services, in violation of special education and student transfer laws.  After the sides were unable to resolve the dispute at an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) meeting, Maureen and Matthew filed a due process complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings.  At an ensuing pre-mediation resolution session, Maureen and Matthew negotiated a settlement agreement, procuring a level of services comparable to what D.M. had been previously receiving and securing compensatory services in the form of extended education during the summer.

Andrew Noll (‘14), Maureen Howard (‘14), and Matthew Fine (‘14) represented I.R., a kindergarten student who is deaf, in a disability discrimination matter.  I.R. and his family sought I.R.’s admission to a special state school for students who are deaf/hard of hearing.  I.R. was rejected from that school because school officials asserted I.R. has a second disability which the school stated it could not accommodate.  This despite the fact that I.R.’s only mode of communication was American Sign Language (ASL) and that school is the only publicly available option for students who would benefit from an ASL environment. The family sought YELP’s representation, and Andrew, Matt, and Maureen conducted extensive factual investigation and legal research to prepare a disability discrimination claim for potential federal litigation.  Litigation would prove unnecessary. After detailing in a letter I.R.’s discrimination claims and demanding I.R.’s readmission, Andrew, Maureen, and Matthew received from the school an unconditional offer of admission.

When third-grade special education student E.S. first came to YELP, he was mainstreamed in a general education classroom with inadequate behavioral and academic supports. Rather than developing strategies to accommodate E.S.’s intellectual disability and emotional disturbance, the school put him under a table in what they called the “cave” for up to two hours a day. Recognizing that this type of segregation/seclusion is not an acceptable—and indeed, unlawful—educational and behavioral intervention, Michael Reynolds (’13) and Lila Miller (’14) represented E.S. and his mother at an IEP meeting to secure E.S.’s placement in an appropriate education environment. In the meantime, E.S.’s behaviors continued to escalate, resulting in the need to evacuate the classroom to restore order and safety. The situation was so severe that the school district requested that E.S. receive home instruction until the IEP team determined a new placement for E.S., a request that required his mother to miss nearly five weeks of work. Michael and Lila successfully arranged for the school district to reimburse E.S.’s mom for all of the work that she missed during the home instruction. They also persuaded the school district to fund E.S.’s placement at a non-public school that meets his educational and behavioral needs. E.S. started at the school last month and both his mother and teacher report that he is doing very well.

The Youth and Education Law Project is directed by Professor Bill Koski (the Eric and Nancy Wright Professor of Clinical Education). Carly Munson serves as the Bingham McCutchen Clinical Staff Attorney and Joanne Newman is the program’s Legal Assistant.

Congratulations to all.