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Tennessee Legal Retainer Agreement Form - DOC


Tennessee Legal Retainer Agreement Form document sample

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Mission: To gather organizations who serve children with special needs together into a
single coalition in order to educate populations about children’s education rights and to
enhance viable (less costly) means of court access to ensure children with special needs
are receiving an appropriate education.

The Coalition for Children’s Education Rights (CFCER) is overdue and desperately
needed. The needs are not primarily legislative. We need to make the laws that exist
known and followed. That means non-profit organizations can use their membership and
clout with no danger to their 501C3 (IRS tax-free status).

Our children have been granted specific civil rights in IDEA (Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act) to receive an education appropriate to each child’s needs.
Legislatures inherently recognize the lack of equal opportunity in creating IDEA and the
state laws and regulations reflective of IDEA.

We need to train everyone so we share the same understanding of the basics of Special
Education law. When everyone has a general understanding of the basics of Special
Needs Law, parents will not be forced into Due Process to obtain basic justice for an
appropriate education for their children with special needs. No one will accept the
outlandish forms of injustice now endured. We need to:

      Arrange trainings for parents, teachers, child advocates, support staff, nurses,
       doctors, lawyers, judges, school teachers, school administrators, school boards
       and for our own personnel.
      Cull our membership for who will serve on these committees in a committed
       manner to accomplish these missions.
      Cull our membership for contacts among friends and family in key position to
       accomplish these project missions.
      Cull our membership for friends and family who have insights into how some of
       the legal, union, legislative and college processes work with some degree of
      Cull our membership for who is suited to become the next volunteer trainers
      Cull our membership for more ideas than are contained in this paper.

The Need for Court Access
We all know the problem for families revolve around the cost of court access:
    Families of children with special needs have a myriad of “hidden costs” and have
       far less disposable income than co-workers in like positions. Children are
       expensive. Children with special needs are far more expensive that merely
       expensive children.
    School Districts have a lawyer on retainer where a family must suddenly “find”
       money for a legal retainer.
    Hearing officers have been throwing out the old simple letter complaint as
       “insufficient” creating delays for families who did not hire a lawyer for Due

       Process. These families must then scramble to money for a legal retainer so that a
       lawyer will create a complaint sufficient for Illinois State Court’s (whose
       complaint form is more complicated than a Federal Court’s).
      Like Wisconsin’s agency, the Special Education division of the Illinois School
       Board of Education (ISBE) is grossly understaffed and cannot adequately monitor
       for IDEA and NCLB provisions any more than can Wisconsin. In September
       2007 a federal judge (We are in the same federal district as Wisconsin.) found the
       school district of Milwaukee to be far out of compliance with Child Find and
       found that the Wisconsin state agency that monitors them for federal monies
       lacked the resources to perform their job of monitoring. A lot of children with
       special needs went un-served for a long, long time.
      It typically costs a family $5,000 to $10,000 to go through Due Process to even
       ask to have their legal costs reimbursed by the school district if the family
      If the district “capitulates” just prior to Due Process, NONE of the family’s legal
       fees can be reimbursed by the school district. However, the family will probably
       have been rendered financially unable to go back for Due Process for other
       problems, other children in the family or if there are problems with the
       implementation of the voluntary agreement that was reached.
      School District will do anything to avoid creating a precedent for payment for a
       specific need. They will go up through multiple courts and appeal until the family
       runs out of money to go with them to the next court. In this sense our legal
       system offers justice to the “highest bidder”.

The Way Things Can and Will be:
Once knowledge of the basics of Special Education Law become as common place as the
understanding of the basics of a simple will, no one can pretend things are otherwise
without public humiliation. You’ll hear someone at McDonalds asking a neighbor if his
daughter got the Extended School Year the whole neighborhood understands she needs.
You’ll hear people on a commuter train reasonably questioning if the proposal to put a
child in a self-contained room is the Least Restrictive Environment since that child
already has steady friendships in his current setting in the regular classroom. This is not
brain surgery. This is more constant and common in nature than local, state or global
politics. This is possible.

Actions that Make It All Possible In Committee Formats:
What follows here are lists of committees with their missions that will create a series of
actions making a far better future possible through education for all creating cultural
change. Further explanations follow areas of endeavor.

The Legal Community

Mission: To convince law schools to incorporate basics of IDEA law into their core
curriculum as an act as common as making a will. To increase sources of training for
parents to learn Civil Procedure and IDEA law so that they may represent their children

in the court system. To recognize that children with special needs are a rapidly growing
population whose civil rights to an appropriate education are in dire need of protection.
To create and maintain indexes to Due Process cases. To begin the process of having an
interactive game of IEP meetings and situations, mediation and Due Process scenarios
developed (pro bono) for training purposes.

Mission: To convince those who control the bar testing process to incorporate basics of
IDEA law into the bar as an act as commonly known as making a will. To recognize that
children with special needs are a rapidly growing population whose civil rights to an
appropriate education are in dire need of protection.

Mission: To convince practicing lawyers to incorporate basics of IDEA law into their
practice as an act as common as making a will. To create access to training programs
from multiple sources for practicing lawyers. To recognize that children with special
needs are a rapidly growing population whose civil rights to an appropriate education are
in dire need of protection.

Mission: To identify far-reaching cases that will serve all the children of the coalition in
their benefit and take those cases through the court systems as far as they will go. To
invite potential expert witnesses to be “on call” to offer their assistance for cases pro
bono. To oversee the creation of an index that readily shows state differences in
interpretation/implementation of IDEA.

These are committees geared to the legal community as a whole. Some of this may
require investment on the part of parents. However, planned payments over time with a
student loan are far preferable for our families’ budgets than dropping well over a
thousand dollars on a legal retainer at the drop (or repeated drop) of a hat. Only parents
or lawyers may represent a child beyond Due Process. However, we are capable of
creating the means to fill that need:

   -   We can create programs like those in Maryland where law students coach people
       to stand before the court Pro Se (without a lawyer).
   -   We can create classes for parents and hire lawyers to teach us procedure and/or
       law in person and/or on the internet through already available means (like
       Concordia College for example). We still need subset information on specific
       differences in state statute, regulation and precedent, but the vast majority of the
       area is covered by federal statute, regulation etc… that takes precedent over any
       state versions. Some families members may eventually be able to take advantage
       of scholarships to these programs in legacy funds left by other families.
   -   We can use already created books, tapes, DVDs and videos with centralized
       marketing and better discounts due to increased volumes of purchasing.

   -   The publicly available Due Process cases are unusable without an index. We
       need a useful index rather than the current mess. We need that index to brought
       current and maintained.
   -   The University of Tennessee Law School is developing a program for training
       practicing lawyers in the basics of Special Education Law. We can learn from
       other models to create our own in Illinois..
   -   Especially for up-coming generations who are accustomed to computer games, we
       can create computer games that are reflective of both Special Education Law and
       Civil procedure. These games can be as interactive as Warcraft etc…
   -   Multi-millionaires are not sympathetic, typical “everyman” persona to represent
       the whole of families of children with special needs in the highest courts with
       national press attention. We need to bring forth our typical families for that form
       attention as part of the creation of cultural change.

Court monitoring

Mission: To monitor all decisions made by Due Process hearing officers for fairness,
sound legal reasoning and ensure bias is not a factor in patterns of decisions. To forward
this information to those who maintain the indexes. To communicate significant
information relating to Due Process to the rest of the coalition. To alert all families filing
for Due Process that they are not alone and put them in touch with resources that can help
them build their case.

Mission: To follow and note trends in patterns of decisions across like cases and judges.
To communicate significant information relating to the state courts to the rest of the
coalition. To interact with the committee on Federal Courts for differences in treatment of
clients, issues and potential bias on the part of a judge.

Mission: To follow and note trends in patterns of decisions across like cases and judges.
To communicate significant information relating to the state courts to the rest of the
coalition. To interact with the committee on state courts for differences in treatment of
clients, issues and potential bias on the part of a judge.

These are committees geared to act as observers and watchdogs of the legal process for
all of us. Most importantly, we can reach out to parents who have suffered enough to
force their families to Due Process. We can put them in touch with legal supports and
assure them they do not stand alone. We need to monitor the practices (like insufficient
complaints) in Due Process that limit our access to the Due Process. We can create forms
and work with parents to overcome this barrier, but only when we are monitoring to
identify the problem in the first place
     - We need registries of lawyers who practice in the basics in the field, especially as
        it grows. COPAA (Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates) is an excellent
        source for specialists. We need to take the more involved cases to the lawyers

       with specialties in this area. We need to find out from their clients what level of
       service they provide. We need rating systems for lawyers so we find lawyers
       suited to our needs both legal and personal. (Styles vary a lot.)
   -   We need to know what qualifications are necessary to be eligible to be a hearing
       officer, what training is included, what additional training is mandatory to
       maintain a current knowledge of changing laws etc… as well as what methods of
       communication are used to keep them up to date AS things change.
   -   We need to analyze the cases to see if there is a clear bias occurring in any
       hearing officer over time for any reason…including lacking current information.
   -   We need to know how to file a complaint regarding a pattern of bias on the part of
       any hearing officer and be organized enough to do so as a coalition if necessary.

The Education Community

Mission: To invite potential expert witnesses to be “on call” to offer their assistance for
cases pro bono from college faculty. To encourage and help teacher training programs to
create opportunities for student teachers to experience inclusive forms of team teaching
(as implied in IDEA 2004) in a practical process. To empower student teachers with the
knowledge of IDEA and sense of personal responsibility for their part on an IEP team
safeguarding a child’s right to an appropriate education. To influence student
administrators (Masters level) to respect the laws regarding IDEA and encouraging
teachers to respect the laws as well.

 Mission: To obtain adequate training and support for all teachers (regular and special
education) to educate children who have special needs. To defend a teacher’s right to
speak freely as a member of an Individual Education Plan Committee as Congress
intended. To recognize that children with special needs are a rapidly growing population
whose civil rights to an appropriate education are in dire need of protection. To keep their
members updated with information regarding their legal obligations and suggest
resources regardless of any given administrations willingness to do either.

We need to address the entire education community. That includes those who teach the
teachers (outside of the Education Department as well as within), student teachers and
teachers working in the field and those representing the teachers in the field. The
education community at any level does not offer the income available in private business.
None of those who enter this community went into or through collegiate education for the
money. The value system is typically somewhat different than a for-profit entity.

   -   We need to create regular outlets for student studying education to attend and
       observe IEP meetings with us.
   -   We need to create relationships with professors in every academic department
       who can call upon us for our experiences as parents in their classes as needed for
       discussion or Q & A sessions in courses etc...

   -   We need to work to find the means for student teachers to work hand-in-hand
       from Special Education student teaching and Regular Education teaching as they
       are expected to in the future as RTI (Response to Intervention) and inclusive
       practices (adequate supports, accommodations and modifications in the Least
       Restrictive Environment) are put into practice as required by federal law.

Although we parents often have to deal with the occasional exceptions, there are a lot of
fabulous teachers in our schools. We all know teachers for whom we would gladly start
fan clubs. No one is drawn to the field of teaching by money, because there is not a
whole lot of money in the field. However, a more common value of this demographic is
their zeal for teaching and caring about their students. This is where we can use union
support and the union can support the teachers of our children, especially in the era of

There are a lot of teachers who join their union only because it is mandatory (by school
culture if not legally mandatory). These are very non-enthusiastic members who resent
paying union dues. Their veteran peers who have fought at the bargaining table on behalf
of all resent the lack of appreciation of their efforts by those who are unenthusiastic. It
makes for a pretty uncomfortable situation in the school lounge. It is essential that we use
this moment in time to bond regular education teachers and special education teachers in
a common goal to serve our children with special needs.

We need to work with teacher unions so together we can:

   -   Support teachers serving on IEP teams to speak freely before their direct
       supervisors who typically serve on the IEP teams to legally commit resources as
       directed by the team.
   -   Support teachers on IEP teams with legal and moral backing should an
       administrator confuse the supervisory relationship with the equal footing of team
       members of an IEP team as intended by Congress. There is no reason this area
       should not be part of a contract as part of the working environment for all
   -   Insist upon adequate training and resources for all teachers (regular and special
       education) who serve children with special needs together through RTI and
   -   Support teachers who recognize when a child’s Least Restrictive Environment is
       not in a regular classroom and strive to preserve the full spectrum of
       environments for such children.
   -   Support teachers in explaining to all parents the benefits of inclusive teaching for
       regular education students which include a greater capacity in helping others and
       an increased ability to work with a wider range of differences between people as
       they become adults.

Unions make it possible to provide more training in Special Education for all teachers,
more information to keep members abreast of changes in this area, and assist in

publicizing any retaliation by the school against any member or members for their actions
on behalf of a child. This is an atypical area for union PR. However, it could be an
extremely effective area.

Most communities are more fond of teachers than school administrators. Most school
boards are more concerned with community concerns than administrator’s concerns. It is
the community that elects the school board. News of an administrator retaliating against
a teacher who stood up for a student’s needs would not be good for the school board. In
turn, it is not good for the administrators who report to the board.

Higher At-Risk Communities
Mission: To train and/or work with CASA volunteers as they represent a child’s legal
interests (including their civil rights to an appropriate education).

Mission: To train and/or work with DCFS personnel and their clients to ensure those who
represent children in the education system as any kind of guardian, foster parent,
biological parent etc…are prepared to represent the child’s civil rights to an appropriate

Mission: To work with and advocate for prisoners’ education rights for the Special
Education legally mandated for prisoners aged 17 to 21 who have learning disabilities.

Moving forward and taking responsibility for the children most vulnerable in our society
is a necessary act that will improve the lives of all of our children. That said, no coalition
can be solely reliant on any one organization. We need to move forward on all the
projects with or without the assistance of any one organization’s commitment or speed.

CASA volunteers already hold the legal torch for their clients legal rights. With our
training and support, they will add the students’ civil rights to an appropriate education to
that flame. Their satisfaction is in knowing they made a real difference in the life of a
child. This arena of advocacy adds to that satisfaction. CASA volunteers are respected
in the courts for their focus on a single child and bringing together multiple parties
reports related to the welfare of an individual child. They are veterans of advocacy on a
large scale.

Supporting CASA’s intent to protect a child’s civil right to an appropriate education will
inherently bring the issues of civil rights for all students with special needs to the
forefront of the legal community. This will happen all over the state in most every
courthouse where they have a presence. Nothing will take the coalition as far as fast as a
change in the culture of the legal life of the state. Those lawyers and judges are typically
involved in numerous community activities. They will inevitably be able to challenge the

religious-like faith and assumption that “all school everywhere” are always acting in the
interests of all children.

It would not be surprising if parents who have fought through the school systems for
years would take an interest in helping children beyond their own through CASA when
their own children no longer need their advocacy in the schools. It would be reasonable
to assume there will be cross-over in time as parents affiliated with organizations through
this coalition are comfortable learning other forms of court-related advocacy for others.

Anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of CASA’s clients are affiliated with DCFS. However,
many DCFS families are not served by CASA. There are many DCFS parents
anticipating reunification, foster parents, new guardians and new adoptive parents who
are not part of the CASA caseload. Typically, these are not parents who are confident
navigating bureaucratic systems. As in our own families, many learning disabilities may
be congenital. Being an advocate in an environment that dis-empowered you as a student
is exceptionally difficult. These various kinds of parents (temporary and/or permanent)
need more support. This coalition can link them to resources and provide training support
these parents in their advocacy for their children’s civil rights to an appropriate

Some foster parents’ children may or may not have had needs beyond a regular
education. Some foster parents may suffer from the pleasant illusion that one can always
trust the schools. Being a temporary parent to a child who has been traumatized is
difficult. However, that child is in a high risk category for having that trauma affect the
process of learning for an extensive period of time. The civil right to an appropriate
education of foster children must be protected at all times. This is particularly
challenging as some of them change schools repeatedly. The IEP is legally intended to
be portable. Theirs must be.

While there is an enormous variety of needs among children and their parents in the
DCFS system, there is no parent fighting for their child’s rights anywhere in the state
who cannot sympathize with the feelings of futility that experience frequently brings.
Providing reinforcement through CASA and other member organizations through this
coalition (assuming CASA joins us) will make these much more stable homes. We all
know how discouraging it can be to know the school system is failing your child and
feeling helpless to do anything to change it.

A lot of DCFS parents have hidden from their problems through drugs and/or alcohol.
All of us parents recognize the urge to just “make this all go away” when our children are
being hurt. We can help stabilize homes from this particular form of pain. We can teach
parents how to become victors for their children rather than victims. That benefits all of
us and benefits all of our children.

We can all win on behalf of our children when we work together for all the children. No
child with an inadequate, inappropriate education has the makings for a fine future. It

breaks all of our hearts. It is a lot to have in common: all of us hate seeing children
abused and failed by the education system.

Inter and Intra Communication

Mission: To establish the bylaws for membership by organizations and individuals for
membership and internal relations. To obtain appropriate training for board and
committee members to serve both the whole of this organization as well as multiple
organizations within it. To create a set of reasonable rules that can be used by other
states and be a model for a national organization linking state coalitions together. To
ensure the paperwork for a 501C3-like status at federal and state levels is filled out, filed
and moving smoothly. To find a pro bono accountant to set up the financial house of this

Mission: To invite individuals and organizations to join this coalition. To let families
know they are not alone with special needs. To put families in touch with our member
organizations that meet their needs and with other committees where they have indicated
a willingness to work. To invite potential expert witnesses to be “on call” to offer their
assistance for cases pro bono. To gather information and approach celebrity-
spokespeople for this coalition. To gather information about potential members and
groups for future state organizations.

Mission: To gather and promote news regarding the coalition, its collaborative efforts,
the coalition-related efforts of member organizations and individuals to the public and
general membership via direct email, news agencies, and other appropriate means. To
maintain an up-to-date web site about trainings and other news available to all members
and the public.

We need to
  - Create our internal “house” and keep it in order
  - Recruit, assist, and empower our member organizations and their members.
  - Write advocacy letters to local news sources to suggest stories
  - Set up contacts with local news radio and TV stations to make ourselves (and our
      members) available for offering opinions from a “family perspective” on things
      like the cases before the Supreme Court for when something comes out in which
      we have an inherent stake
  - We need to educate the entire community about these issues, needs and values
      through power point presentations with speakers bureaus for non-profit service
      groups, churches, city and town administrators etc… who represent the leadership
      of many communities.

   -   Our group alerts need to be shared with other like organizations, and we need to
       act on each other’s alerts.

We need to do much more outreach to parents who are not fighting the schools because
they believe they will lose before they start. None of us can afford to waste time on lost
causes. We all still have to invest our daily energy into “the usual work and family stuff”
as well as the needs of our children (which is more than most kids’ needs daily) as well as
fights with medical professionals, insurance companies and what feels like a long list of
people who overlook our children and families. We do not have to settle for that in a
democracy. We are a huge and influential number of people at every level. We just need
to be educated about how to use and maximize our rights on behalf of our children. We
need to change the culture of our communities through education about our issues.

When we join together, we create a vast army of parents the likes of which the country
has never seen in its history. When we do this for our children’s lives, our
grandchildren’s lives etc… all will be far better for our efforts. It is time to get this done
for all of our children and all of our families. It would be cruel to leave this fight for next
generation. Lets fight, win and make the world better than it is now for them.

We all have so much to do everyday. We are a remarkably tired demographic. However,
we have been trained by our children for tenacity and endurance. There are no better
teachers for those lessons. Therefore, everything is possible.
                                      Cate Borzi
                                      PREP Parents Reviewing Education Plans
                             (not up yet)


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