Calling All Special Needs Parents: The NJ Supreme Court Wants To Hear From You!

It’s not often that NJ Left Behind finds common cause with Education Law Center (ELC) and so, when we concur, it’s worth a mention. Just over two weeks ago the New Jersey State Supreme Court suspended an opinion called “Non-Lawyer Special Education Consultants and the Unauthorized Practice of Law.”

Why did it suspend Opinion 56? Because ELC made a formal request that noted the Court’s failure to solicit input from parents and parent advocacy organization, as well as special needs parents’ long history of using non-lawyers to assist them in disputes with school districts.

The Court agreed and is currently soliciting opinions from “interested persons” who want to answer any or all of six questions. Here are the questions, but don’t wait too long: the deadline is Nov. 16th.

From ELC’s press release:

“The playing field in special education proceedings is often uneven, and there is a chronic shortage of free and low-cost legal services available to parents,” said ELC Senior Attorney Elizabeth Athos. “Non-attorney educational consultants, who include advocates, play a critical role in enabling children with disabilities to receive an appropriate education and ensuring their rights are protected throughout the special education process. Negative reaction to Opinion No. 56 has been strong among parents and parent-side organizations.”

“Since our founding 32 years ago, SPAN has trained staff and volunteers to support parents at IEP meetings. That sometimes includes ‘speaking on their behalf,’” said Diana Autin, Executive Co-Director of the SPAN Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN). “IEP meetings can be intimidating and overwhelming, especially for parents with limited literacy or English language skills. This Opinion demonstrates a disconcerting lack of understanding of the power imbalance at IEP meetings between parents and schools, and the important role that peers and lay advocates play in leveling the playing field.”

What do you think?