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Bar News - December 13, 2013

Book Review: Special Education Advocacy, Edited by Ruth Colker and Julie K. Waterstone


LexisNexis (2012)

In 1975, the US Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and ushered in a new era of education civil rights for children with disabilities throughout the country.

This sweeping legislation enacted procedural protections for families of disabled children, mandated the end of the prior practice of barring disabled kids from receiving an education, and instituted from that time forward expectations that these children would be educated in a regular classroom if that placement was appropriate. The statute has since been amended many times and was renamed the Individual with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, as it is now more commonly known.

Ruth Colker, a professor at Ohio State University School of Law, and Julie K. Waterstone, the director of the Children’s Rights Clinic and a professor at Southwestern Law School, have collaborated with other special education scholars to write this book on teaching advocates for children the area of special education law. The text focuses on the everyday tools of special education advocates: statutes, regulations, and general material from education psychology. It provides both the experienced practitioner as well as the law student with a detailed description on how to practice special education law through the sometimes mine-strewn administrative law process known as the due process hearing. And perhaps best of all, it focuses on the practical aspects of special education law practice, providing the reader with useful information about the process of the practice.

As a special education practitioner, I was especially impressed by how the authors and editors have interspersed the book with case studies, which provide relevant issues, questions, and discussion points that have arisen in many of the special education cases that have come across my desk.

I personally found the section on the various testing tools used by psychologists in evaluating a child suspected of having a disability to be extremely helpful. With clear, layman-friendly language, the book provides a primer on how these testing instruments are used and the results evaluated in determining if a student is eligible for services under the IDEA.

Another very helpful section deals with the issues surrounding discipline of children with disabilities. I have found in my practice that kids with disabilities are apt to get themselves into behavior scrapes at school and can be labeled as “troublemakers.” The discipline chapter clearly describes why these children are prone to have discipline issues, either due to their inability to properly perceive their environment or develop appropriate social cues because of their disabilities. As a result, the IDEA provides protections and safeguards for disabled kids when faced with disciplinary action, and the book describes how the advocate can best provide support and guidance to the child and family.

In a section related to the discipline discussion, the book draws a straight line between the common entanglement of students with disabilities with the juvenile justice system in our country. The authors note that kids with special disabilities issues are dramatically over-represented in the delinquency system. They advocate strongly for the use of the procedures within the special education system, rather than the delinquency system in dealing with discipline issues.

I strongly recommend this book for both novice and experienced special education practitioners. Both will find it to be useful reference tool that also provides the basic “nuts and bolts” information required to successfully provide special education advocacy.

I plan to keep this text on my desk, along with Scott Johnson’s New Hampshire Education Law Manual, and Pete and Pamela Wrights’ Special Education Law as the basic reference books for my special education practice.

Frank McDonough is an attorney based in Hollis.

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