School is back and it’s time to start planning what your child will need for the coming year. Of course, anyone who has dealt with public schools will be quick to recognize that our educators’ penchants for zany bureaucracy can make even an intractable DMV clerk blush with envy. Consider that some schools have banned things as outlandish as: 1) Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (not all chips, just hot Cheetos); 2) Cartwheels; 3) Backpacks; and 4) even “best friends”.
But what if what your kid needs help getting through the school day? Where do you start? Well, first start with the premise that Florida law assures every child (regardless of challenges) the right to an education. That means for parents of autistic kids, like me, the assistance for your child is there but you have to know how to fight for it. Know that:
1) Before being deemed eligible for support, your child will be evaluated by the school’s team of special needs professionals. That team will set out a description of your child’s needs and a support plan. To ensure that the school system doesn’t give you the short-shrift and say that your child just needs to toss his Cheetos and backpack in the trash and kiss his best friend goodbye, parents should be aware that they have the right to have their own psychology and legal professionals there through the process. As the school’s default is to often say your child needs less help than he does, this is wise if you can afford it.
2) If not, the school system provides free support advocates to help you navigate through the process. But private help is likely better.
3) If the school refuses needed support, know that lawyers will often handle such cases on a contingency with the expectation that they will recover their fee from the school system if it turns out they wrongfully withheld needed support.
Special needs kids can accomplish amazing things with the right help and a family that’s willing to fight for it.
Russel Lazega is an attorney and author of two of Florida’s most widely distributed legal textbooks on Florida Insurance Law. He also represents accident victims and consumers at war with their insurance companies and is based in North Miami, Dania Beach, Orlando and Tampa, Florida. Questions? Contact: Russ@lazegalaw.com.