WATCH: Being A Proactive Parent of a Special Needs Child

Jun 14, 2024 | Podcast

In this video, the Gateway School and New York Special Education Attorney Adam Dayan of The Law Offices of Adam Dayan, PLLC discuss how special needs parents can be actively engaged with the process throughout the year to make their life easier and their case stronger including:

  • How to be proactive as a parent in the Department of Education process
  • Ways of being proactive with your attorney
  • Ways parents can contribute to this process and feel more in control

WATCH this video sponsored by The Gateway School, a New York City school for students who struggle with language-based learning difficulties, where Adam Dayan discusses how parents of special needs students can learn techniques to be a more effective advocate for their child, or read the video transcript to learn more.

Do you have questions about your child’s education? Call Special Education Attorney Adam Dayan at the Law Offices of Adam Dayan: (646) 866-7157 and request a consultation with our New York attorneys today.


Laurie Gruhn:

All right. Welcome everybody. Thank you so much for being here. Some of you had the pleasure of a little backstage conversation, nothing particularly dramatic there. I’m Laurie Gruhn. I’m head of the Gateway School. I believe there are people here from Gateway as well as, as we put it, the external worlds. For those of you who may not be familiar, Gateway is a K through eight school for students with language-based learning differences, including but not limited to ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, et cetera. I’m in my third year as head of school. I’ve known the school for about 40 years since I’ve worked as an educator in New York City, and most importantly, I know the school as a parent of an alum. So what I want to share with this group very briefly is I know the journey families walk when they first start considering a different road, as well as the map they need to follow once they’re on the road.

All you think about in some ways is am I doing what I need to do to support my child? Is my child in the right place? Am I doing my job as the parent with a child who has unique learning needs? What do I have to do to work with my attorney, my doctors, et cetera? Based on this, Adam Dayan and I had a conversation this past fall about how we can support our families. Gateway is having a series of conversations with specialists in the field, and when it comes to being the proactive parent of a special education child, I can think a few people better than to guide us along this journey. Many people never imagined initially traveling. So I want to thank you for being here today, and it’s my pleasure to introduce Adam Dayan. Adam, I’m turning the box over to you.

Adam Dayan:

Thank you very much, Laurie. I’m very excited to be here and looking forward to speaking with you all about today’s topic, Being a Proactive Special Education Parent. I am Adam Dayan, as Laurie mentioned, and the name of my firm is The Law Offices of Adam Dayan. Next slide please. So a little bit about me. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I have spent most of my life in New York City. I completed my schooling in New York City. I’m a graduate of CUNY Baruch College where I was a member of the first ever class of the Macaulay Honors College. My experience at Baruch was pivotal for me. I obtained my Bachelor of Business Administration in the area of psychology, and it was in my developmental psychology course that I first learned about autism. And so that grabbed my attention immediately and I knew from that moment, from that time that I was learning about it, that I knew that I wanted to help children with special needs.

I went on to secure my law degree from Yeshivah University’s Cardoza School of Law. That was back in 2008. A little bit about me personally, I have a wonderful wife of 12 years. Together we have four beautiful children. My oldest is my daughter, she’s five and a half. We have twin boys who are three and a half, and we have a new addition to the family, baby girl, who is seven months old. So very busy at home, but a lot of fun. And professionally, I started my firm in 2009. We have completed 13 years of achieving outstanding outcomes with exceptional client service for special needs families, and I’m really, really excited to be having this conversation because it’s so important for parents to be informed and aware of their rights and knowledgeable about this process as early as possible so that they can be proactive. And we’re going to talk about a lot of interesting and important points here today. Next slide please.

So if you get nothing else from today’s presentation, I want you to get this. Instead of waiting for news and updates from your child’s school, or school district or even from the law firm that’s representing you, stay actively engaged and involved with the process throughout the school year. This is going to make a world of a difference for making your life easier and your case stronger. Next slide please. So let’s talk a little bit about why is this particularly relevant. Now, as you’re all aware, we have a new mayoral administration and Mayor Adams has taken an approach that’s similar to Mayor Bloomberg’s approach when he was in office and that has been to lawyer up and make this process a little bit more adversarial for special needs families, contrasted with DeBlasio’s administration that had a policy of streamlining settlements and removing some of the hurdles for special needs families.

And I just want to give a caveat that nothing I’m about to say is meant to scare anybody. It’s just meant to underscore the overarching point of this presentation, which is that you need to be prepared and make sure that you are doing everything you are, right, because you are up against some challenges as a special needs parent. And the more organized and proactive you can be and the more you can make sure that the information you have is accurate and complete, the more likely you are to be successful with this process and to get your child the supports and services that are needed. So let’s talk a little bit about what it means that the process has become more adversarial for families. More cases are proceeding to impartial hearings. More cases are being contested by the DOE at those impartial hearings. In the past, they would show up and concede the matter, meaning acknowledge that they didn’t do what they were supposed to do and now, they’re putting up more of a fight in that regard.

The DOE is presenting more evidence. The DOE is examining witnesses more aggressively. Recently, there were comments by the chancellor that some families have figured out how to game the system and that so mischaracterizes what is going on in the world of special education. There are so many hurdles for special needs families to jump through, to secure what should be given to them automatically that to say that they’re gaming the system does not fairly represent what is happening in this process. And finally, New York City just secured 38 million dollars in funding to hire more lawyers, and the DOE will have you believe that they’re doing this to make sure that special needs families get what they’re entitled to. But we are seeing a little bit differently from our perspective, which is that the process, as I said, has become more adversarial and they have a team of lawyers now to show up at these impartial hearings and challenge the case in a more aggressive fashion.

And so throughout this conversation, we’re going to talk about what can you do to counteract these aspects of the system that might be working against you? Next slide, please. So I just want to cover this in a general way. I’m not going to get overly technical. There are significant challenges in the DOE’S implementation unit. This is the office, if you’ve gone to an impartial hearing and succeeded, this is the office that has to implement that decision. It has to give you what the judge said you’re entitled to if there’s funding involved, this office has to disperse the funding and there are significant challenges at work in that office. Recently, there was a special master’s report. This is part of this federal class action lawsuit that I’ve noted here. It’s called LV versus New York City DOE, for those who are interested, it dates back to 2007. And basically the gist that I want to convey is that the DOE has found to be out of compliance with the terms of that settlement agreement resulting from that class action lawsuit, repeatedly.

And the report details various findings, some of which include the IU is understaffed, the IU is using outdated equipment, and in some ways, the IU is set up to fail. And so again, I’m emphasizing the important point here, that you want to be as organized and accurate from the outset so that when you get to the end of your case and now it’s up to the IU to implement the decision based on the paperwork that you’ve submitted, it all looks the way it should look, everything is comprehensive, accurate, and complete, and it puts you in the position of getting what you are entitled to faster. And the other thing is, I’m going to repeat this throughout the presentation probably, educate yourself, educate yourself, educate yourself. Do your homework, review free resources that are available. For example, I’m going to refer you to our firm’s podcast.

We have an episode that’s coming out on Monday, February 13th about the implementation process. The name of the podcast is called Curious Incident: A Podcast for Special Needs Families. The name of the episode is Implementing Decisions and Settlements. I’m going to be speaking in broad strokes here today. This podcast episode goes into detail, provides examples, walks you through the different types of documents we’re talking about when we’re talking about implementation, how you can keep those in order throughout the year in the right format rather than searching for them at the last minute and perhaps having difficulty getting what you need. So I can’t emphasize enough, the more you can be knowledgeable about what’s going to be expected at the end, the better you can prepare yourself with the appropriate documentation throughout the process so that when we get to that point and now it’s time to implement, whether it’s after a hearing or after a settlement, which I’ll talk about as well, you have what you need.

It’s been reviewed. Your legal counsel, your legal team has confirmed, “Looks good, everything’s right, nothing further needed here. Send us the same types of documents next month.” You’re doing it gradually throughout the process, it’s going to feel way less overwhelming that way, and you’re not going to run the risk of having a hard time accessing or securing documents or information that you need. So keep an eye out for that podcast episode. It’s available on Spotify, Apple, Google, and our law firm’s website. Next slide please. So I’ll move through this slide pretty quickly. What I want you to know is that it used to be there was just the DOEs impartial hearing office that heard impartial hearings. Long story short, a backlog occurred and one of the solutions was to create a new office to help streamline these matters. And that new office is called the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings.

And let me just clarify. So, it’s called Oath. Oath has always existed, but recently the special education matters have been going to Oath. So that’s what I mean when I say new, that part of the process is new. And so as a result, there are some procedural differences between how Oath is hearing these cases and how the other DOE hearing office is hearing these cases. There is some new, less experienced, impartial hearing officers at the Oath office. The IHOs at oath are creating greater pressure to move cases to hearing, even where settlement seems likely or possible and moving forward is in neither party’s best interest, and there have been more flawed final decisions with poor reasoning. Again, nothing that’s meant to scare you. If you are working with the right legal team. These are all issues that can be overcome by being organized and presenting a persuasive case.

But I want to reiterate that you got to do everything in your control to set up the case properly so that when it gets to a hearing officer, if and when it gets to a hearing officer, whether it’s at the DOE office or at Oath, you have the highest chance of being successful. Couple of other DOE programmatic changes that I thought you might want to be aware of, the DOE is increasing the availability of special education services. They are screening earlier for certain disabilities, for example, dyslexia. And the city seems to believe that spending private school dollars on the public school system would render better results. And so they’re pushing to keep families in the public school system. So if you are seeking to demonstrate that the public school system is inappropriate, and we’ll talk about what inappropriate means in a minute, you have to have the support and documentation to establish that. You really have to have the right evaluations, the right progress reports, the right letters from professionals, to support your position that the program being offered by the school district is not appropriate and your child requires something else.

Whether it is a private independent school like Gateway or private services or some other type of support, you have to make this clear through supporting documentation. Next slide please. So I just want to provide a little bit of a backdrop, a little context for the DOE process. And I mentioned a moment ago, appropriate, inappropriate, and that all has to do with point number one on this slide, the idea of a free appropriate public education. All of our conversation here today hinges on this important concept of a free appropriate public education. Your school district has an obligation to provide your child with a free appropriate public education. The cases that we litigate often, maybe always, have to do with the idea of free appropriate public education. Did this school district provide it? If not, what would be an appropriate education if your child is enrolled at the Gateway School? Is the Gateway School providing an appropriate education? So this is crucial to any conversation about what a child with special needs is entitled to.

Also really important for this process is knowing that a parent has an obligation to communicate concerns and provide requisite notice. So there’s no such thing as sandbagging the school district when it comes to special education law. You shouldn’t be trying to notify them at the last minute or keep an important piece of information that they need for their process from them. You have a duty to communicate your concerns, let them know what’s going on, give them an opportunity to make things right. And if you’ve established that they haven’t made things right or they can’t make things right, then you’re entitled to make a change. Select that private program, select that private service, and make sure you provide adequate notice. Once you’ve done that, the parent through their legal representation will file a formal due process complaint. This is what initiates the formal legal process. And then your case is going to proceed on one of two tracks, either settlement or an impartial hearing.

Regardless of what track it goes on, if you resolve your claims successfully, it’s going to have to be implemented. And we started talking about that a few minutes ago. If it’s through settlement, it’s going to go to one office for implementation. That office is pretty good in terms of handling things timely and getting those disbursements out. If it’s going on the impartial hearing track, it’s going to go to that IU office that we spoke about before. Either way though, it will have to be implemented. Next slide please. So how can you be prepared going into each school year? Let’s talk about that. You should assume as we do, that you will have to go to an impartial hearing. Now, I’m not saying that every case goes to an impartial hearing. It doesn’t. In fact, at our firm, 60% of the matters that we handle, settle, and the remaining 40% go to impartial hearing. So it’s the majority of cases that we handle at our firm, that settle.

But we prepare every case as if it’s going to impartial hearing, because if it’s one of those that proceeds to an impartial hearing, we have to be prepared and we have to have that paper trail and we have to have everything in order, in an organized, clear, complete fashion so that we can demonstrate to the hearing officer what has happened in the past and make a persuasive argument for the relief you’re seeking. And so you should operate on this assumption as well. Keep every record, maintain every important document as if your case is going to an impartial hearing, as if you’re going to have to prove the history to the person who is hearing and adjudicating the case. And I have a slide coming up about how best to organize that information. Assume you will have to testify on the record. This is so important.

And I’ll tell you that at our firm, we thoroughly prepare our clients before they ever have to testify on the record. But that thorough preparation is no substitute for having been involved in your child’s education throughout the process, throughout the school year, throughout the time period in question. And so you might have one parent who’s more involved in the education piece, talking to the teachers, going to the IEP meetings, and the other parent is more involved in the financial piece dealing with the tuition and the bank statements. And that’s fine. We might even present both parents to talk about their respective areas of expertise, but you have to be involved because you are going to need to be able to demonstrate to the hearing officer that you know what you’re talking about and you’ve been an engaged active participant in your child’s education and the school district process.

So keeping that perspective, let’s go over a few points, few examples of how you can help your legal team to prepare your case from the early stages. Share reports, share invoices, share proof of payment, share any other documentation that you think might be important or relevant. If you’re uncertain whether it’s important or relevant, err on the side of caution. Send it to your legal team. They’ll tell you if it should be incorporated into the case or if it can be disregarded. Sending letters to the DOE. So at every initial consultation when I meet with a prospective family, I emphasize this point, we are going to be drafting letters on your behalf to communicate your concerns. I don’t know if every firm does this, but it’s something that we do. We will prepare letters in collaboration with our clients on their behalf, that reflect their concerns so that they can send it to the DOE

And I’ll say at every consultation, “If we send you a letter that needs to be sent to the DOE, you need to send it promptly. You need to keep a copy of the transmission email or the transmission receipt, or if you sent it by mail, a copy of the mail receipt, and you got to do it promptly and be on top of it.” Same for preparing for IEP meetings, they’re impartial hearings. We’re going to reach out if you’re our client to prepare you sufficiently in advance in a very thorough and comprehensive way. And we need you to make yourselves available promptly so that we can do that. Now we have really strong success rate. I’ll talk about that later. But our success also depends on the cooperation of our clients. And so we emphasize this from the get-go. And let me just say this, if you think that you’re just going to hand over your case to your lawyer and then sit back and relax, let me disabuse you of that notion.

And I’m speaking as the owner of a firm that drafts the letters and advises about correspondence and prepares for school visits and sends summary letters after the school visits and does a whole lot of work on our client’s behalf. But you have to be engaged and involved in the process, and that’s going to give you the highest chance of succeeding. And remember, this is an annual process. You’re going to be going through this more than once. The goal is to succeed in the first year and be able to continue that success so that your child remains in that program that’s appropriate for them. And so do the heavy lifting and do the work upfront so that we can achieve that goal, which everyone is on the same page about, keeping your child in an appropriate program. And of course, responding to questions from your legal team.

They’re going to be reaching out to you. Part of your legal team’s job is to develop facts, which we’ll talk more about. And so they’re going to be reaching out to you to clarify different pieces of information. What happened at an IEP meeting? What happened when you went to visit that school? What happened when this person from your child’s previous school reached out to you? What did you say in response? Do you have an email? Can you forward it? Things of this nature. So make sure you’re responsive to your legal team. And I can’t emphasize this point enough. Consult with your special education attorney before the end of the school year preceding the year for which you want help. And so now it’s January, almost February 2023. Let’s just assume you’re looking for help in September 2023. Now is the crucial time to be reaching out to legal counsel to prepare for next school year.

You have seven months. If you get started now, it’s not too late. You have seven months in which to prepare. And that level of preparation and strategizing, is critical for your case. We do a lot of vetted our firm. It’s one of the reasons we are so successful. And I just want to contrast two examples. One of a client who came to us in August 2022 and said, “I need your help. I’m going to enroll in this school in September and I need your help moving through the process.” Versus someone who came to us that same month, August 2022 and said, “I need your help looking ahead to September 2024, which is when I’m looking to make this placement change and I want to make sure that we have time to plan it out properly.” I’m not saying that in every case, you need two years to plan it out.

Usually you don’t. But having that buffer is crucial. If it’s rushed, it’s going to feel way more uncomfortable for you. You’re going to feel the pressure of that last minuteness. You’re not going to have the opportunity to plan it out as much as you would like, to maximize your chances of success. So please, if you know need to go through this process, start early. And one thing I want to emphasize is, I can’t speak for all firms, I can speak for mine, and I know it’s similar at some other firms, you probably won’t pay more in legal fees if you start earlier, but you get the benefit of that additional support and guidance. So if you know you are going to go through this process and you know you want to engage legal services, start earlier, it’ll give you more time for planning and it won’t cost you more in many cases.

Next slide please. So we’ll stick with the 2023 2024 school year as an example, for purposes of this discussion. Let’s talk about some of the things that your law firm will help you do. So we talked about developing the facts, and that will include what happened in an IEP meeting. What happened when you went to visit a school? Did the school district reach out to you? Did you receive this or that notice from this school district? Things of that nature. Your law firm will refer you to professionals if additional assessments and documentation are required to support your case. This is so important from a planning perspective because if you do need to secure additional assessments or reports, it can take time. For example, neuropsychological evaluations, which are often the gold standard in this field and something that law firms refer families out for often, they can take months to secure.

There’s a lot of testing that has to happen and then a comprehensive report. And so you need to allow time for this to happen. I just want to emphasize that if you are going to other professionals because additional assessments or support are needed, trust the recommendations of the law firm you are working with. I can tell you that at our firm, we very carefully vet the people in our referral database, and they have to meet certain criteria in order for us to feel comfortable referring families out to them. And what might be considerations for us or what might be appropriate from our perspective, is not necessarily the same as for a layperson. And so using neuropsychological evaluation as an example, just because someone does the usual tests or writes a good report, that’s not necessarily going to be enough from our standpoint of advocating on your behalf.

That is important. But in addition to those factors, you need someone who’s willing and able to observe your student in a natural environment, not just one-to-one testing, but perhaps go into the classroom and see how does the student function in the classroom. You also need someone who has experience and expertise in terms of testifying at impartial hearings because if they write a great report and do a great classroom observation but can’t testify clearly or persuasively before an impartial hearing officer, that’s not going to do you so much good. You need experts in your corner in the event that your case goes to an impartial hearing, so that they could convey to the hearing officer what’s appropriate for your child. So I can’t emphasize that point enough. Your law firm will, at least I know our law firm, does prepare letters to your child’s school or school district on your behalf.

Again, we’re going to speak with you, understand the full picture of what happened, help you prepare this letter, so that you can convey your concerns and then advise you to send that out so that the school district is on notice. We’re going to speak with professionals involved in your child’s education and advise you prior to your 2023 2024 IEP meeting. I use that last part as a shorthand. Typically, IEP meetings that pertain to the 2023, 2024 school year are happening now. Some have started to happen in January and then will continue to happen in February, March, April, may, June. And then usually over the summer it gets quieter. But these IEP meetings have enormous implications for next school year and your legal matter. And so there’s a lot of nuances that I can’t completely cover right now, but you want to be prepared for those IEP meetings.

You want to know who from your experts should be participating in those meetings. You want to understand what topics to discuss and what to be careful about when dealing with the IEP team. We need to have a conversation about how you can keep notes at these meetings because sometimes, parents have concerns that they say at the meeting, but then they’re not written in the IEP and they’re not captured in the meeting minutes and it’s really important to have a full picture as to what was said and done at that meeting. And so we’ll help you flesh that out and make sure that all of that is clear. We’ll prepare you thoroughly for the school placement visits. We’ll give you questions and guidance about what you need to be looking for during these visits. We’ll talk to you before, we’ll talk to you after.

We’ll help you craft a letter and address it to the school district, summarizing your concerns about this program that you visited. And again, these are more examples of how you have to be actively involved. You can’t just get a school placement notice and say, “Well, I don’t think I’m going to like it.” You need to go. You need to ask the right questions. You need to take detailed notes, you need to report back. And I don’t mean for this to sound overwhelming, I know it can be overwhelming to parents who are first starting out, but I can assure you that it’s not overwhelming for us. And so as your guide through this legal process, we are going to walk you through every step of this so that you understand the parts and you understand where we’re going and you’re just taking it one step at a time so that it’s not quite as overwhelming as when you’re receiving it all at once.

And finally, we’re going to prepare and communicate your reasons for disagreeing with the DOE recommended programs and placements, I think I just covered that. There are valid basis for rejecting a proposed program or placement, and there are reasons that while you might put forth those reasons for not wanting that school, are not necessarily adequate from a legal standpoint. So we’re going to help you distinguish between appropriate and not appropriate, and help you objectively conclude is it appropriate or not? So that’s part and parcel of the work we do at our firm. Next slide please. All right, so being proactive means keeping your legal team informed. You should update your legal team about any new development that happens. I’ll go through some examples, but you should be erring on the side of caution as I mentioned earlier, and just let your legal team know what’s going on you.

You’re not going to bug us with too much communication. You could jeopardize your case by doing too little communication. So update us. You can say, “I’m not sure if this is important, but I just wanted to let you know,” and just make sure that everyone’s on the same page. Examples of where you’re definitely going to want to reach out and provide an update right away, if you obtain a new evaluation of any kind, whether it’s public through the DOE or private on your own, just let your legal team know if there’s been a new evaluation. If you’re looking to enroll in a private school or a new service. We spoke earlier about the notice requirements and the need for planning, so make sure you’re keeping your team informed about that. If you’re considering switching schools. Sometimes I’m asked, “What if we want to change schools and what if we want to change schools in the middle of the year? Is that okay?”

And the answer is, it could be okay with proper planning and proper notice. That could be fine. But you want to let your legal team know if you are thinking about making a switch and do it early. I had a client who let us know in August that they were making the switch. That’s when they had finally decided to do so. But there were months preceding that when they were playing around with the idea. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t, just clue your legal team in at the same time that you’re considering it as an option so that they’re aware. If you receive an IEP meeting notice or any other type of DOE notice for that matter. And I just want to stress this point, there have been instances where parents disregarded a notice they received, didn’t inform their legal team that they had ever received it, and then they got to an impartial hearing and the DOE presented it and the DOE had detailed records of every step of when they sent the notice, who sent it, who mailed it, what time.

And so if the DOE has that information and can demonstrate to a hearing officer that they sent it and the parent has no record, no recollection, that is going to present poorly in front of a hearing officer. So whatever it is, if you get something in the mail, send a copy to your legal team, put it in the binder, don’t discard things thinking that they’re unimportant. Let your legal team decide if they’re important or not. If you communicate with someone from the DOE or your child’s public school, reach out to your legal team right away. I always discuss at initial consultations, “Here’s how our firm’s structured. Here’s your immediate points of contact. If anything happens, you call us up right away, whether it’s a phone call or an email and we’ll walk you through it.” We’ll tell you about the implications, we’ll give you advice about how to respond and then you can respond in an informed way that supports your case instead of undermining it.

And finally, if you’re visiting a public school placement from the DOE. For the reasons we mentioned before, we want an opportunity to prepare you in advance of any such visit. Next slide please. All right, so keeping track of your case. What records should you maintain in order to be proactive and keep track of your case? Notes regarding your last IEP meeting and a copy of the IEP. Remember we discussed earlier, it’s not always going to be reflected in the IEP what your concerns were or in the meeting minutes, but if you have notes, we can draft you a letter after the meeting reiterating and memorializing that you expressed these concerns at the meeting and that becomes part of the paper trail and history. And that can be introduced as an exhibit as evidence at an impartial hearing to support your case. Your child’s most recent DOE evaluations.

We need to be aware of those evaluations and familiar with the reports. And I’ll also say this, if you received a DOE evaluation that you disagree with, and let me just say there are plenty of reasons to disagree with the DOE evaluation. They usually include limited testing. They typically omit any sort of programmatic recommendations and where you would expect them to be helpful in telling you what your student needs, they can be utterly lacking. And so if you disagree, there may be instances where you could get a private evaluation set up at the DOE’S expense. We’ve had a lot of success recovering that for our clients. So keep track of these DOE evaluations. Let your legal team know if you have any concerns about them and know that you might be able to get a private evaluation, which will be way more helpful to you at the DOE’s expense.

Keep track of all private evaluations and whether the DOE was provided with copies. Remember, no sandbagging if this is something that you’re planning to rely upon for your case. If you introduce a great private psychological evaluation at your hearing and then it comes to light that you never shared it with the DOE and never gave them a chance to consider it and use it, that’s not going to play well in front of a hearing officer. That’s going to harm you. And so talk to your legal team about whether it should be shared with the school district. And I want to emphasize, always talk to your legal team before sharing it. There may be reasons you don’t want to disclose it. Discuss it with your legal team first. DOE program and placement recommendations and whether you visited them. Communications with the DOE, especially providing notice of disagreement.

Sometimes, notice of disagreement can be informal. It might be an email that you sent or reference to a conversation that you had or a note that you scribbled. That can be sufficient notice, but you got to have a record of it. Your signed enrollment contract with a private school, proof of payment for tuition, proof of payment for transportation, proof of payment for any other service. And again, for further details and guidance about which statements to use when and what form those documents should be in, give that podcast episode a listen. Services your child is receiving at and outside of school. Methodology is applied in your child’s classroom. This is really important because sometimes methodologies go to the heart of whether a program is appropriate. If you have a child with dyslexia, and everybody heard the intro that Laurie did earlier, this is [inaudible 00:41:30] here or in Gillingham instruction, multisensory instruction, Wilson training.

These are examples of specific methodologies that kids with dyslexia or language-based learning disabilities are probably going to need and not just for an hour a day, not just by some teacher who lacks the credentials, but by qualified educators who can do it intensively and consistently. So be familiar with what is or is not happening in the classroom in terms of methodologies. And by the same token, know what progress your child is or is not making in the classroom and have regular check-in points with your child’s classroom teachers. If you get to an impartial hearing and it becomes clear that you have no clue what sort of progress your child was making, this is true whether it’s a DOE classroom setting or a private school like Gateway, and there wasn’t any regular schedule by which you checked in with the classroom teachers or the school administrators, that’s going to reflect poorly on your case. So have those regular check-in points and know about how your student is or isn’t progressing. Next slide please.

So preparing for a hearing, let’s talk about that. Make sure to pay attention to communications from your legal team. You’ll get notices about status conference. Those are typically the preliminary things that happen in the impartial hearing process. You want to be aware of when they’re occurring. DOE disclosure, at our firm, we typically send a copy of the DOE’s evidence to our client and say, “Look it over before the hearing. Let us know if anything seems amiss to you.” That could be a very helpful check-in point prior to the hearing. DOE witnesses so that you are in a position to share with your legal team interactions that you had with those people or communications that you may have had with them and how that might be used for your case. We’ll let you know if there’s any DOE arguments we are anticipating so that we can work on a strategy together and be on the same page.

And of course, your disclosure and witnesses, what you as the parent are going to be relying on for your case. You’re going to want to be familiar with those documents and we’re going to want to have ample opportunity to discuss how those documents and those expert witnesses play into the overall strategy for your case. Review the evidence before the hearing, ask any clarifying questions before a hearing. Set aside time to meet with your legal team to prepare for your testimony and ask for any new or additional hearing dates immediately if necessary. If you have a scheduling conflict, if it becomes apparent that you’re going to have to continue someone’s testimony on another date, if it becomes clear that you’re going to need additional witnesses that you weren’t anticipating, work out the scheduling stuff as early as possible, convey that to the hearing officer and get those dates secured so that everyone has the same understanding about how the case is proceeding. Next slide please.

All right, so I’m going to reiterate that you can be in control of your case. You can significantly affect the outcome. So allow for ample time by starting ASAP. Educate yourself, educate yourself, educate yourself with free resources. And if you’re reading resources and they seem general and you really want to speak with someone regarding your specific circumstances, schedule a consultation with the law firm. At our firm, we don’t charge for initial consultations. It gives us an opportunity to delve into the specifics of your circumstances. So that’s an option for you as well. Be thorough and organized. Keep a binder. Remember, keep that binder with your invoices, your evaluations, your proof of payment, your email power respondents, your notices from the DOE, your IEPs, and organize it by school year. For those of you who are just starting out, this is an annual process, I may have mentioned that earlier.

You’re going to have to go through this in some form or fashion every year for which you’re seeking relief. And it’s true that sometimes we consolidate the school years, but every school year has to be proven and every school year has different facts. And the reason this is an annual process is that it depends on the IEP that’s developed. The school district has an obligation to create that IEP annually. So when you’re organizing your documents in your binder, do it by school year and it will be very clear for your legal team to see what occurred school year by school year. Be willing to obtain a private evaluation if necessary. We talked about this a little bit before, particularly neuropsychologicals. They are the blueprint for your case and they’re going to make a world of a difference.

You don’t have to do new neuropsych every year. Generally they’re considered valid for three years, but it’s going to make a world of a difference for purposes of your case and for understanding what your child needs. Be in agreement with your spouse, partner, significant other, about whether to engage legal services and what programs or services to pursue. If you’re not on the same page, it could become problematic. And understand the law firm you’re working with. At our firm, for example, as soon as a new client engages our services, we send out a welcome packet that tells you more about who we are and how we work with our clients and what you can do to be an excellent client. So review those materials, know what you can do to move your case in a positive direction and ask lots of questions about who you’re going to be working with.

And we’ll go to the next slide now and I cover some examples of questions you should be asking. Areas of practice. Okay, you’re going to be interviewing law firms. You want to be an informed consumer, an informed client, and you want to ask questions of whoever you’re speaking with to decide if they’re the right law firm for you. So first areas of practice. Do you specialize in special education law or do you have a general law practice? This is not an area where you can just dabble. Most of the law firms who do special education law are boutique law firms and there’s a reason for that, because the policies are always changing. There’s a lot of intricacies that you can’t keep up with if you’re just dabbling in this area of law. So you want someone who specializes in special education law. At our firm, for example, we’ve specialized in special education law for the last 13 years.

We do some work now in the area of special needs trust and estate planning, and that’s strictly due to popular demand because our clients were asking for those services and so we wanted to be able to deliver that. Success rate. What is your success rate? Now you have to understand that no lawyer can guarantee any particular outcome regardless of how successful they’ve been in the past, but they should be able to tell you their success rate in these types of matters. I can tell you that at our firm, our success rate is around 97% of matters handled. And again, the reason it’s so high is the strategizing and planning that we do with our clients initially so that we’re strengthening the case from the outset. Client communication. How frequently will you provide client updates? Do you have a formal process? Will you reach out to me or will I have to reach out to you?

Who in your firm should I expect to receive these updates from and what form? So client communication is always a big one. And in addition to getting the outcome you want, you also want to have a good client experience and you want to know where things stand and you want to know that you have a dialogue open with your law firm so that you can get updates. At our firm, we send out formal client update every 30 days, even if there’s not anything major happening in your case at that moment, we’ll give you an update and tell you what we have planned for the next 30 days to move your case forward. And then of course, plenty of informal updates in between. Next slide, please.

Organization. How is your law firm structured? Who should I expect to deal with? Do you have clearly defined roles within your law firm to ensure that no single person gets overwhelmed and my case is handled efficiently throughout the process? I can’t emphasize enough how many components there are to this process. And you want to make sure that the firm you’re working with has the resources to address every aspect, to move the case through the system efficiently, to address your concerns, to make sure that the thorough prep that needs to happen is happening. And so at our firm, we have an organizational chart and clear job descriptions, so that everyone in our firm understands who is responsible for doing what. We also have an operations director overseeing our processes and making sure that we’re all working together as a team at every stage of the process to ensure our clients’ needs are being met.

And I have to say that the DOE doesn’t make this easy for parents law firms, and you have to be organized and well-structured to go up against that and get the results for your clients. So make sure to ask about that. And the final point on this slide about implementation, relates to that as well. What resources do you have in place within your firm to make sure that my matter gets implemented effectively and efficiently once a favorable outcome is secured? This is crucial because a favorable agreement or decision doesn’t do a lot of good if it’s not getting implemented. So at our firm, we have an implementation department responsible for making sure favorable outcomes get implemented. We train our paralegals to think like the DOE employees who are going to be reviewing the documents that are submitted so they can spot issues upfront and ensure the accuracy of the information so that once it gets to the DOE, everything is correct and the outcome can be properly implemented. Next slide please.

So just in terms of managing your expectations, understand that winning your case one year does not guarantee that you will win your case the next year. You could have a different hearing officer, the fact of the case may differ, but success in one year does make it more likely that you’ll succeed in subsequent years, especially if the DOE keeps making the same recommendations. Know that it can be a lengthy process, especially the first time you’re going through it. You should expect that it’s going to be a minimum of six to eight months from the due process complaint filing for a resolution through settlement, a minimum of eight to 10 months from DPC filing for resolution through hearing, and more months beyond that for the DOE to disperse the funding. And again, it’s worse at IU than it is for the office that implements settlement agreements. Finally, working closely with your legal team well in advance will best prepare you for your settlement negotiations or impartial hearing and increase the likelihood of achieving a successful outcome.

So I’ll just leave this slide up as we move to Q and A. For additional resources, we mentioned the podcast episode and the podcast as a whole. You can also go to our website for the free New York City Special Needs Family Guide. It’s six or seven pages that you can download and it gives you complete overview of the legal process. And if you are interested in learning more about special needs trusts, you can reach out to our office to request that information. You’ve got our contact information on the right-hand side of this slide and I’m happy to entertain any questions that people may have.

Laurie Gruhn:

I recommend that people … You can either speak up or use the small raised hand icon. I’ll do my best to see it as I scroll through this. Adam, I want to thank you and your team for a really thorough, thoughtful, and informative guide. I think so often families know what needs to be done, but they don’t always know how to do it. One of the biggest decisions you make as a parent is whether or not you begin to re-examine what your child needs and whether you need a specialized program. It’s hard to make that decision, but once you do, the forest doesn’t automatically become clear, it becomes even more thick. And thank you so much for clearing some of those woods so that we can walk with confidence and passion as we all support our children and our students.

Adam Dayan:

My pleasure.

Laurie Gruhn:

All right. Are there any … Christie. Thank you so much. Okay. Any particular questions? I don’t see any.

Speaker 4:

Laurie, I see one hand.

Laurie Gruhn:

Jill Adams, I see your hand is there. Be sure to unmute.

Jill Adams:

Thank you. My daughter is in kindergarten this year at a special education program. She came from a private preschool. I’ve been told that our case is perhaps not as strong because we have not gone to public school and failed. I’m wondering if you can just speak to that a little bit from your experience. Thank you.

Adam Dayan:

Good question. I’d be happy to speak to that. It’s not true that you need to enroll in a public school or try a public school first before determining that it’s not appropriate. The United States Supreme Court has actually chimed in about this. So I’ll just refer back to what I was saying earlier about objectively demonstrating that a certain program is not appropriate. You want to make sure to have the right evaluations, the relevant progress reports, notes on the program and placement that are being recommended. But if someone told you that you have to first enroll in a public school setting or give your child an opportunity to fail before choosing a special ed private school, that’s simply not true.

Laurie Gruhn:

Thank you for that. Anybody else? Ashley, if you notice a hand before I do … Oh, Josh. Josh Bernstein. Hi Josh.

Josh Bernstein:

Yes. Hi. Hi Adam. Thank you so much. This was very informative. I just have a quick question because I’m just trying to understand. I know everything with the city takes so long, but how many cases would you say is filed each year against the city and do you have any idea of how many people are looking over the cases for the reasoning why it takes so long?

Adam Dayan:

I never really like to cite the statistics because they’re always changing and I don’t have them at my fingertips right now, but I do believe that last I checked, they were somewhere around 15,000 due process complaints per year. And that has risen, that has increased steadily over the last several school years. And so there are definitely more people filing due process complaints. That was one of the reasons that a backlog occurred. I spoke about the backlog earlier, and that was one of the reasons they moved some of the impartial hearings to Oath, to address that backlog due to the increase in due process complaints. Things are moving more efficiently now. So the backlog that existed previously has very much been remedied and the cases are moving swiftly through the system again. But having said that, it does take a long time and that’s why I mentioned the timeline before and it’s important that everybody have realistic expectations because it takes enough time to get an outcome and then the additional time on top of that to get paid or to get the relief that was awarded, it’s extra time that you have to wait. So that’s what I would say in response.

Laurie Gruhn:

Thank you for that. Going once, going twice. We’re getting ready to close, but I certainly want to see if there is perhaps one more question, Adam there’s nothing like listening to a great educator and today, you are a great educator and we thank you for that. Again, I see many, many of our Gateway families on this call. So you know what it is to walk this road. Adam, I think there are many clients and colleagues of yours on this call as well. One of the things I want to leave you with is the idea that we are all in this together, schools and families and the specialists who bring us together, and when we keep your children at the center of the discussion, when we are proactive and follow guidelines, they can, will and do flourish. So Adam, thank you for what you’ve offered us today. I don’t see any other calls and I will turn it over to Ashley and your team to end the call as is appropriate. Thank you all for spending your lunch with us today.

Adam Dayan:

Thank you everyone for joining.