Zatopa&Stephens : Special Education
Zatopa & Siegel, Attorneys at Law
Special Education is intended to provide specialized educational programs and services to meet the unique needs of your child as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1975 and applies to all states.


Knowing the basics of special education law and how to implement the rules in a practical way can make a significant difference in your child’s educational experience

Some "Basics" of IDEA:
Students who are between the ages of 3 and 21 and have a disability which adversely affects their educational experience may be eligible for special education services and programs.

“Disability,” a loaded term.
No parent is happy when her child is “labeled” with a disability. While the line between “disability” and “ability” is often paper thin, the term implies instead a huge concrete wall between your child and other children. While it is important not to avoid the realities your child faces and not to fall into the trap that all children are the same, it is no stretch to remember that all human beings have abilities and disabilities. After all Franklin Roosevelt could not walk but was president 4 times. Stephen Hawking is “severely disabled” but understands the universe like few on this earth. Where I live there is a young man who is severely developmentally delayed and is a nationally recognized weight lifter.

“Disabilities” covered by IDEA are: learning disabilities, emotional difficulties, hearing loss, speech and language problems, orthopedic disabilities, autism, developmental delay, ADHD and ADA, brain injuries, vision loss, and “other health impaired" conditions.

Once a child qualifies for special education she is entitled to an “individualized education program” or IEP which discusses in detail the specific “related” services, programs, strategies, and placement needed to meet her “unique needs.”

Special education placement options include a regular classroom in your child’s neighborhood school, a special class in that school, a special class in another school, a regionalized program, and even private and residential schools, depending on the complexity of your child’s needs.

504 plan
Your child may also be able to access additional services through what is called a “504” plan. This refers to federal law – section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – which requires that although a child may not qualify for special education under IDEA, he may be eligible for help under section 504. Your child’s school district is required to inform you about 504 and how it works.

Examples of related services are speech therapy, physical therapy, counseling, language remediation, vision services, interpreters, and special physical education services.

By law, you are “equal” partners in making educational decisions for your child. Your school district cannot assess, place, or provide services for your child without your approval.

If in fact, there is a disagreement between you and your child’s school district about any segment of her special education program (IEP), you have the right to present that dispute to an impartial third party who will decide whether you or the school district is correct.

The Role of an Attorney
Our firm has two philosophies that govern our assistance to parents:
  1. Parents, as much as possible, should work positively with school districts to address the education of their children without the direct involvement of attorneys.

  2. When an attorney is necessary to assist parents in obtaining appropriate services from school districts, the attorney should endeavor to resolve the problem in as positive and cooperative a manner as possible, using formal legal procedures only as a last option.
The attorneys at Zatopa & Stephens have helped children in special education and their parents/guardians over the last 25 years. We can help you in one or more of these ways:
  • Provide consultation services to assess your child’s situation, and “advise” you on steps you can take to resolve your difficulty on your own without direct involvement of an attorney.

  • Assist you to obtain outside assessments, a crucial step in determining whether a child is in need of special education, and if so, what services the child needs.

  • Provide direct representation in the assessment, eligibility, IEP, or due process procedures of special education.

  • Assist you, either by advice or direct representation, in making decisions as to when/how/who will assess, what placement and service options are available, whether you should go through due process if you are in disagreement with the school district, what to do at the IEP meeting and finally what role if any, an attorney will play in this. Click here for information on how to contact us.
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