Information For New Clients from a Paralegal Perspective…

Posted by:  Rondi Wellum, Paralegal and Office Manager

Ann does most the blogging at our office.  We have a goal of increasing the information we share.  Ann is in a hearing this week; I have officially promoted myself to the blogger for the office this week.  As the paralegal and officer manager working in a law firm which specializes in Education Law, I have daily contact with clients whilst they navigate the process of getting help with school issues.  I am often the first point of contact people have with our office.  My goal is to make the process of seeking legal help as easy as possible.  The reality is, it can be difficult to start this process.  The paperwork, appointments and money matters are challenging for anyone, never mind a parent who is surrounded by letters and documents with a calendar full of doctor’s appointments and a bank account in the red…often functioning on limited sleep and almost always feeling overwhelmed.  If I could tell perspective clients a few things, this is what I would say…

Fill out the Intake Form.    It may take about 5-10 minutes, or maybe longer if your particular issue is complex.  In the long run, it is the fastest way to move forward with getting a review of your potential education law matter.  We often get calls from people just checking to see if they are in the right ballpark with their issues.  The first question I ask when I get a call is this:  is the school in North Carolina?  After I have established the school is in North Carolina, I almost always recommend clients complete the intake form —  even if I am uncertain if they have a case with which we can help.  The intake form is your chance to provide detailed information to our attorneys.  Even if it happens to be an issue outside our scope of practice, we may be able to provide a referral to someone who can help.  We used to do intakes over the phone but we have found that education cases often involve a multitude of schools, people, places.  The intake form gives us the Who, What, When, Where, How & Why – and it is substantially better to have this information directly from our clients.  Client don’t want to leave it to me to spell Ms. Fetherstonhaugh.

If you have not already done this, get organized.  Every time you speak to a person about your child’s matter, write down their name, the date of the conversation and a few details.  Don’t be afraid to ask a person his/her name again or how to spell it.  Keep a notebook or Word document with these contacts.   When possible, get thing in writing.  If you have a phone call, follow it up with an email reviewing what you discussed.  Keep school papers neat and organized.  For Special Education cases, we generally want the following items before the consultation:  the most recent IEP and supporting documents (invitation to conference, prior written notice, meeting minutes), the most recent set of evaluations (if any) and any letters/emails relating to the matter.  We mostly work with electronic documents, so if you have a PDF or Word version of documents, that is absolutely fine (even preferred!).  As a person who has done my fair share of scanning physical documents, my face lights up when those documents are neat, tidy without folds, notes or stains.  But coffee and tears happen.

You can expect that a consultation will take about 1 ½ hours and the cost will be either $275 (legal) or $200 (advocacy).  When we schedule your consultation, we will determine that best type for your case, given all circumstances.  Sometimes our legal cases start as advocacy.  This provides a chance to gather all of the documents we need and provide you with information about your options.  The two attorneys here work closely with each other.  Our small office has grown from 1.5 people (Ann and myself) to five people.  We have regular staff meetings to review cases and legal software to keep each other updated about communication, calendars.  I am proud to work for attorneys who are not only very knowledgeable about education law, but tremendously passionate about helping families.

Relax a bit.  I know the families contacting us have often been under extreme amounts of stress.  People arrive here after frustrating communications with the school – sometimes having battled for years to try to fix things and other times being taken completely by surprise about a school discipline or bullying issue.  Being a paralegal in this field is not always super rewarding or glamorous.  From fluorescent lights to mounds of paperwork to attorneys having “the buildings on fire” emergencies, there is something beyond a paycheck that keeps me working in Education Law.  That something is the look on clients’ faces as they leave their consultations.  Almost always, I see clients enter uncertain what to expect.  I see parents arrive frazzled, having chosen a lunch hour slot or end of day as the only time both could be here — or arriving alone because they are a single parent or their spouse could not leave work.  And almost always, those same people leave with a different countenance.  Knowledge is power, so I imagine it must be very empowering to have information to help determine the best course of action.  I also know that one appointment does not fix everything – and our clients leave with to-do lists, things to calendar and maybe another cost to consider.  Many of our clients are not only working toward improving difficult school circumstances, but also parenting a child with special needs.   We also represent college students, some of whom have disabilities and most who have their potential career on the line with a higher education matter.  I want our perspective clients to know there is help and hope.  Obviously I am biased; I work for an attorney who specializes in Education Law.  However, I would not work at this job if I was not fully invested in the mission our firm has of protecting the civil and legal rights of students and families.

I look forward to part two of my soap box stand, which will include information about the next steps as a case proceeds and will cover questions about communicating with attorneys, document management, understanding billing and invoices, etc.  Okay, I may need a part three and four.


Highly Qualified Teachers and Parents’ Right-to-Know

Lately I am hearing a lot of complaints from parents about teachers:  turnover, substitutes, teachers who are absent from the classroom, and teachers who fail to meet student needs.  As we start the 2015-2016 school year, it is helpful for parents to know about teacher qualifications and how to get information about your child’s teachers.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (a re-authorization of the Elementary & Secondary Schools Act of 1965) emphasizes the importance of teacher quality in improving educational outcomes.  NCLB requires that

  • Teachers in Title I schools be “highly qualified” and that
  • All teachers teaching core academic subjects be “highly qualified.”

Title I Schools

Title I schools are those schools teaching student pre-K through 5th grade who have certain percentage of students who are at or below the poverty rate.  To determine if your child’s elementary school is a Title I school, look at your school district’s website for the list of Title I schools or ask the school principal.

If your child’s school is a Title I school, you have the right to receive notification from the school informing you of your right to know certain information:

  • The qualifications of your child’s teachers and paraprofessionals, and
  • When your child is being taught by a substitute teacher who is not highly qualified for 4 consecutive weeks

Your child is entitled to have highly qualified teachers teaching his or her core subjects.  Core subjects are English, reading/language arts, math, science, foreign languages, civics/government, economics, arts, history, and geography.  (However, look for that list to expand if the currently debated authorization of the Elementary & Secondary Schools Act is made law.)

You can find information about what the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction considers “highly qualified” on their website at

Non-Title II Schools

If your child is not attending a Title I school, you are not required to receive notification of your right to know but your child must have highly qualified teachers teaching his or her core subjects and you can request and receive information about teacher qualifications.

Requesting Information about Teacher Qualifications

If you want to learn the qualifications of your child’s teachers and paraprofessionals, you need to write a letter to request this information from the school.

Here is a sample letter borrowed from

Here is web link for this article:

Separation Agreements to Protect Children with Disabilities

Recently, while preparing a separation agreement, my client expressed concerns about how her husband and his family were treating her son.   Her son has attention deficit disorder, but his father and his father’s family do not understand his condition.  The father’s family in particular has unrealistic expectations for the child’s behavior and as a result they are often harsh and demeaning in their treatment towards him.  The father is not protecting his son from his own family.

I got excited thinking about how to craft the separation agreement to accomplish my client’s goal of compassionate, loving care towards her son.  She was committed to sharing legal and physical custody.  I knew that as a young boy with attention deficit disorder, the child was going to need certain things that would allow him to be successful at home and at school.  He was going to need a consistent routine and strict behavioral guidelines, but he was also going to need understanding and patient treatment.  He may need to have medication, so his medication regime would require careful administration and it will need to be monitored for effectiveness and side effects.  Since the boy has special education services at school, the parents will need to attend IEP meetings and will probably need to advocate for their son’s education.  The child may also need tutoring or summer school.  I also know that ADHD is frequently complicated by learning disabilities and social skills needs.  The child is also likely to be a victim of bullying and might develop anxiety or depression.  Whew!  That’s a lot to cover in just one section of a separation agreement!

Since my client was the one who attended school meetings, met with the psychologist and psychiatrist, and tried to create an environment at home that would allow the boy to be successful, we first needed to bring the father up to speed with the child’s needs so that the parents can be on the same page.  From now on, it will be the professionals who would communicate the child’s needs to the father, rather than my client.  The father will need to demonstrate that he understands his son needs, that he can follow professionals’ advice, and that he can create a safe and structured environment for his child.  If the father cannot provide such an environment, the father will not be able to share custody with my client.  After all, it’s all about doing what’s in the child’s best interests!

September Seminar – Obtaining an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE)

We are looking forward to offering our first seminar in September.  The focus of this seminar will be about obtaining an IEE at public expense. The seminar is for parents and guardians advocating on behalf of a student who is or may be eligible for special education services. Comprehensive evaluation is necessary to identify your student’s needs and develop a plan for those needs. Attendees will receive information about how to obtain an IEE at the expense of the school including sample evaluations and letters, and the book Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy – The Special Education Survival Guide.

When: September 19, 2013 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Where: The training will be held at our office at 1135 Kildaire Farm Road, Cary, NC 27511.

Cost: There is a cost for materials of $15 that is due upon registration. T

How: To register for the seminar, please complete and submit the registration form.

Registration for the seminar closes September 16th, 2013.

Beyond presenting useful information about how to obtain an IEE, we welcome this opportunity to meet people within in the community and receive input about future seminars we would like to offier based on community need.

COPAA Conference, March 2013

This month I attended the 15th Annual Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPPA) Conference in Albuquerque, NM.  This conference offers a wide variety of sessions aimed toward advocacy.  It is my goal to keep updated with a vareity of issues which impact my clients.  I am including a list of the sessions I attended and a description of the sessions.  If you see information covered in the conference and are interested in discussing how it may apply to your case or circumstances, please email or call my office.  


  • Litigation Strategies: Creating a Winning Paradigm for Due Process

A Walk Through A Due Process Case and the Issues and Procedures Which May Arise

Presented by: Jon Zimring, Esq. and Mark Martin, Esq.

Description: This one day session serves as a strategic review of due process for attorneys handling cases. It is an excellent follow-up to COPAA’s New Attorney and Due Process training and for attorneys who have some due process experience. The program focuses on the hearing process from problem to complaint to mediation to evidence preparation, hearing presentation and enforcement. Participants will explore the steps in building and presenting a case and the issues and problems which may arise. Practical issues and responses will be considered as have actually arisen in cases. Preparation of pleadings and model pleadings will be made available for use by the participants after the seminar. The focus is on what will happen and how to actually handle the case as it unfolds to develop a winning strategy.


  • Allergies and Access

Presented by: Alexis Casillas, Esq. and Eric Sams, Esq.

Description: Statistics show that at least two students in every American classroom have a food allergy. With the number of diagnosed allergies on the rise, advocating for educational access for students who suffer from severe and often life-threatening allergies is a topic most special education attorneys and advocates will encounter at some point in their careers. Nearly 8% of all American families deal with food allergies, and almost 39% of those students have a severe and/or life-threatening allergy. But what is being done to address these unique situations? When is a Health Plan enough? What kind of services and accommodations can be provided for under a 504 Plan and/or an IEP? What kind of rights do students with life-threatening allergies have when it comes to accessing an educational environment? These questions and more will be explored in this breakout session.


  • Advanced Eligibility for Special Education and Related Issues

Presented by: Claudia Roberts and Mark Kamleiter, Esq.

Description: Students with mental health issues, Asperger’s Syndrome, Non-verbal Learning Disability, Tourette Syndrome, Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, and other such disabilities are often not identified as having a need for special education services. This course is designed to assist advocates and attorneys in more complex eligibility determination cases. The course will also discuss related issues of specially designed instruction in these types of cases.


  • Preparation and Advocacy Strategies Before the IEP Meeting

Presented by: Mandy Favaloro and Carrie Watts

Description: This presentation will focus on how thorough and careful preparation can provide advocates with the tools needed to successfully and effectively advocate for clients from start to finish. In this session, advocates will learn specific skills and strategies to fully prepare a case. We will focus on skills related to reviewing and summarizing documents, issue spotting in advance of IEP meetings, organization strategies, letter writing skills, and working with experts.


  • Not Just Hand Washing: OCD & Other Anxiety Disorders at School

Presented by: Sondra Kaplan

Description: Knowing about the basis of anxiety disorders and the accommodations these children often need is key to helping these students attend and function at school. Learn how to advocate for and get appropriate services for those students, who now make up 8-12% of our student population!


  • Executive Functions: Their Impact on Learning and Solutions for Remediation

    Presented by: Ann McCarthy and Laurie Markus

Description: Are you advocating for a child who struggles to pace himself, becomes easily distracted, forgets to write down assignments, has difficulty getting started on tasks, becomes overwhelmed, or performs inconsistently? If so, this child may have deficits in executive functioning which impact his or her learning. Executive functioning deficits are often intertwined with a wide range of disabilities and have an adverse impact on a child’s ability to be successful at school. Education advocates Ann McCarthy and Laurie Markus will demystify the term ‘executive functioning’ by explaining in practical terms what it is and how it impacts school functioning. Based on their collaboration with the diagnostic and executive functions coaching teams at The Southfield Center for Development in Darien, CT, they will discuss best practice with regard to the evaluation of executive functioning, and how to turn the results of key assessments into action plans for parents and educators. Ann and Laurie will share both their success stories and bumps in the road with regard to incorporating executive functioning remediation into IEPs. They will discuss how (and when) executive functioning deficits should be addressed via an IEP or a 504 Plan.

Changing Teacher Expectations for Students

Research shows that teacher expectations affect the performance of students. If teachers are led to believe that students are capable of great academic progress, they will teach so that the students fulfill those expectations. If they have other expectations, such as “boys are disruptive,” they will act according to those expectations.

The question is how to change teacher expectations. It is not enough for teachers to try to have high expectations for all students, and apparently just giving teachers information about students to change their view of them is not effective. However, teachers can be taught to respond differently to their students.

A recent news story on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition entitled “Teachers’ Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform” describes new efforts to try to change teacher expectations by teaching the teachers how to respond differently to students. Teachers were asked to video tape their classrooms. They then reviewed the video tapes with coaches who gave recommendations on different approaches.

It should not come as a great surprise that the approaches to changing teacher expectations of students are the same that child parenting experts recommend. Those approaches can be summarized as follows: get to know the student by observing and speaking with him, appreciate the student and connect with them at their level, reflect upon your own experiences, and try different approaches.

Students with Diabetes

With the childhood obesity epidemic, it comes as no great surprise to health officials that the rate of diabetes is soaring too. Yesterday, National Public Radio’s Rob Stein reported that in a study of more than 3,000 teens the percentage of teens with diabetes or “prediabetes” increased to a whopping 23%. Scroll down for a link to the complete story.

To be fair, diet and weight are not the only factors in the increase in childhood diabetes and not every child with Type 2 diabetes is overweight. Diabetes can also be caused by viruses that interfer with the body’s ability to produce its own insulin.

No matter what causes diabetes, as the rate of the disease grows among children, those children and their parents must learn to manage the child’s diabetes both at home and in the school setting.

Students with diabetes in North Carolina public and charter schools are permitted a care plan for their diabetes called an “Individual Diabetes Care Plan.” Parents need to make a written request for a plan, as the school may not offer it otherwise. The plan should be made involving the parent or guardian, the student’s health care provider, the student’s classroom teacher, the student if appropriate, the school nurse if available, and other appropriate school personnel.

A diabetes care plan should include the responsibilities and appropriate staff development for teachers and other school personnel, an emergency care plan, the identification of allowable actions to be taken, the extent to which the student is able to participate in the student’s diabetes care and management, and other information necessary for teachers and other school personnel in order to offer appropriate assistance and support to the student.

The information and allowable actions included in a diabetes care plan need to meet or exceed the American Diabetes Association’s recommendations for the management of children with diabetes in the school and day care setting.

Schools need to make available information and staff development to teachers and other school personnel in order to appropriately support and assist students with diabetes. N.C.G.S. §115C-12(31) and §115C-375.3.

Schools also need to comply Section 504 of the Rehabiliation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 794, which prohibits discrimination based on disability 

The American Diabetes Association has a comprehensive campaign for parents and kids called “Safe at School” which can be utilized by parents and school personnel to educate themselves about the legal rights of students with diabetes and how to meet their needs in the school setting.  Here is the link.

Parents need to effectively and appropriately advocate for their child, not only to protect their child’s health but to model that appropriate advocacy for their child. Their child will need to learn to advocate for their own health care needs in order to stay safe and healthy.

Here is a link to the obesity news story:

Special Education – Eligibility Assessment Must Be Timely

This case makes it clear that schools are required to follow the proper timelines for evaluating a student’s need for special education services even if the student is later determined not to be eligible for those services. The school was ordered to reimburse the parents for the private evaluation they obtained for their child.

J.P. v. Anchorage Sch. Dist. Case Summary: 

Parents requested that the Anchorage School District evaluate their child for eligibility for special education services. While awaiting the results of the eligibility assessment, the parents arranged for private tutoring. The school district did not assess the child’s eligibility within the statutorily-required time, and the parents requested a due process hearing. They also arranged for their child to be privately evaluated to determine whether he was eligible for special education services. The school district subsequently completed its evaluation and determined the child to be ineligible for services. At the due process hearing, the parents alleged that the school district committed procedural violations under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), including impermissibly delaying the evaluation. They sought reimbursement for the cost of their child’s private evaluation and tutoring. An independent hearing officer presided over the due process hearing and ultimately agreed with the district that the child was ineligible for services. The hearing officer ordered the school district to pay the cost of the private eligibility assessment and to partially pay the cost of the tutoring. The superior court upheld the award of the private eligibility assessment, but reversed the award of the private tutoring cost. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the school district argued that the parents should not be reimbursed for the evaluation or the tutoring; the parents argued they are entitled to full reimbursement for both expenses. The central question the Court addressed was: where a child is ultimately determined to be ineligible for special education services, does the IDEA provide relief for procedural violations that occur during the process of evaluating the child’s eligibility for services? The Court affirmed the superior court’s decision, upholding the independent hearing officer’s award of the private assessment cost, but reversing the hearing officer’s award of the private tutoring expenses.

Here is the link to the case: