Civil Rights Attorney Assisting Tennessee Children and Families
Every child deserves to have an opportunity to receive a quality education that will enable them to learn and grow. Unfortunately, not all schools understand the rights and needs of their students. Students with disabilities are particularly likely to face challenges in getting the education or services that they need. At The Salonus Firm, Tennessee education lawyer Jessica Salonus handles claims arising out of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), including retaliation against parents and teachers and school abuse of children. We provide strength and compassion to our clients during difficult times. The firm also represents people in Jackson, Memphis, and Nashville, among other cities, who need a workplace rights lawyer to guide them.
Understanding Your Child’s Education Rights
The IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA are the three primary laws that affect children with special needs. The ADA is probably the most well-known because it is a federal anti-discrimination law that prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and that also applies to workplaces. A disability is defined generally as a physical or mental impairment that substantially restricts one or more major life activities. Schools must provide reasonable accommodations to a child with a disability including making reasonable modifications in their policies, practices, and procedures when necessary to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability. In addition to prohibiting discrimination against a child with a disability, the ADA also includes an anti-retaliation provision.
Section 504 is a civil rights law that prohibits disability-based discrimination in school programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. Schools that receive financial assistance from the federal government are required to give students with disabilities educational services and accommodations to ensure that their individual needs are met to the same extent that the needs of students who do not have disabilities are met. Under Section 504, a plan must be developed to outline the needs, services, and accommodations of a child with a disability. Like the ADA, Section 504 also includes an anti-retaliation provision.
The IDEA is a federal education law that is designed to ensure that children with disabilities are provided a free appropriate public education through the provision of special education and related services sufficient to meet their unique educational needs. Unfortunately, all too often schools fail to meet this requirement and do not provide children with the needed special education, related services, educational placement, or other necessary accommodations to meet a child’s unique needs. If your child has special needs, you should be vigilant about whether they are receiving the specialized education and/or related services that they deserve. In Tennessee under the IDEA, the categories under which a child may receive special education or related services, include intellectual disability, hearing impairment, emotional disturbance, deafness, deaf-blindness, autism, multiple disabilities, visual impairment, traumatic brain injury, speech or language impairment, specific learning disability, other health impairment, orthopedic impairment, developmental delay, functional delay, or intellectually gifted.
The IDEA provides for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to plan a particular child’s special education experience at school. The IEP process often starts with referrals for a special education evaluation, usually either from teachers or parents. Once a referral for evaluation is made, the school must obtain informed consent from a parent to conduct an evaluation. Once consent is given from a parent, the school has sixty (60) days to conduct the evaluation. Prior to conducting an evaluation of the child, the school should work with the parents to gather educational and medical information about the child.
After gathering information about the child, an IEP team, which is a group comprised of the child’s parents and school system professionals (typically including teachers, therapists, psychologists, and administrators) is assembled. Together, they decide if the child is a “child with a disability” eligible to receive special education and related services under the IDEA. If the parents do not agree with the eligibility decision, they may file for a due process hearing to challenge the decision. If the child is found eligible under the IDEA, the school has thirty (30) calendar days to hold an IEP meeting and develop a child’s written individualized education program. The definition of disability under IDEA is narrower than it is under Section 504, so a Section 504 plan may still be available to child with a disability even if an IEP is not.
Parents are an integral part of their child’s IEP team, but often feel outnumbered or intimidated by school officials who are generally more versed and familiar with the IEP process. If you are a parent who believes the school is not providing your child with the special education or related services your child needs, The Salonus Firm can provide you with guidance or legal representation. Attorney Jessica Salonus is a parent of child with a disability herself. Therefore, she understands the concerns of parents and she is passionate about assisting children with disabilities so that they may receive the education and services they deserve. Whether your need is for legal representation at your child’s IEP meeting, for a due process hearing or federal lawsuit to be filed, or case evaluation and legal advice on your child’s situation, The Salonus Firm can help.
In addition to failing to evaluate or identify a child for special education or refusing to provide your child with the necessary educational placement, instruction or related services, sometimes school officials retaliate against a parent or their child with a disability, interfering with the child’s and parents’ rights. Retaliation can also occur when teachers advocate for a child’s rights and suffer punitive consequences from their employer. If you or your child has been retaliated against for engaging in protected activity (such as requesting an IEP or services be provided), contact The Salonus Firm quickly as there are timelines for preserving your claims.