Client-Centered Practice: An Attorney’s Role in an IEP Meeting

By: Morgan Schroeder, Fall 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

An IEP is an individualized education plan, and thousands of students across the United States currently have one in place with their schools. This individual plan is used to create educational goals for students who struggle in school or have a disability that affects their ability to learn. Creating this plan requires the time and attention of many school officials, the parent and student, potentially doctors and specialists, and of course, attorneys. All children in the United States have a right to a free public education, and many laws also protect students against discrimination in education based on disability. This means schools often have an attorney present to both protect the school’s interests and make sure these rights are being implemented. However, a parent can also benefit from being represented by an attorney. Parents want to make sure that their children are learning and improving, but an IEP includes many provisions that a parent may not completely understand. The parent may be afraid to ask questions, or provide input into the goals because they are not an expert in education. Maybe they don’t want to question what the school is saying because they believe the school is doing what is best for their child. Or perhaps they don’t know the full extent of their child’s rights or what other options are available. This is where an attorney can be very valuable to a parent, and can help protect their child’s right to receive a quality education.

A strong attorney-client relationship is essential to creating a successful and useful IEP. The parent needs to trust their attorney, and understand how the attorney can help them in this setting. With this trust, the parent will be more willing to divulge information about their child, discussing their child’s strengths and weaknesses inside and outside the classroom. The attorney’s role will depend on the client’s needs. If the parent addresses their concerns to their attorney, the attorney can speak up at the IEP meeting on their behalf, asking questions and making suggestions. The attorney can draft provisions that incorporate the parent’s questions and concerns to ensure they are reflected within the IEP. The attorney can review what the school has written and make sure everything that was agreed to is included. And the attorney can make sure that the school follows through with what was agreed to.

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The Need for Health Law Services in Rural Communities

By: Emma Fennelly, Fall 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

Rural communities have special needs when it comes to accessibility. These needs manifest in many different ways: rural communities often suffer from food insecurity due to food deserts; they have fewer options when choosing school systems for their children; they have fewer opportunities for employment; they often lack affordable or subsidized housing; they lack modes of public transportation; they often have little to no access to healthcare; and they often have little to no access to legal services. Due to these deficiencies, many individuals and families in rural communities simply go without, exacerbating their educational, financial, and health issues and contributing to the cyclical nature of poverty.

Health law can seem somewhat ambiguous. As I have learned through my time in the HeLP Clinic, which partners with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to serve families with children with severe health concerns, health law is an all-encompassing field which aims to help individuals address their health concerns that impact every area of their lives. Many clients, particularly those with less affluent backgrounds, are unaware of their legal rights regarding health and, in turn, do not receive the services they should to support their health needs. From housing deficiencies and inadequate education to denial of public benefits, health law attorneys seek to empower their clients with the knowledge of their legal rights to benefits and services, improving their overall quality of life. Rural communities, however, often lack any access to health law attorneys due to their locality. This fact is especially problematic as rural communities have such specialized needs stemming from their lack of accessibility.

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When you don’t know, ask!

By: David Hymel, Fall 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

Know your limits. Law students, like everyone else, have many limits. One limit is time, another is patience, and another—which we often do not care to admit—is knowledge. When we run into knowledge limitations, our instincts tell us to make something up that sounds a lot like knowledge, but is in fact smoke in the wind. In the HeLP Clinic, law students handle cases involving complex medical conditions, symptoms, and terminology. Personally, when I run into a medical term I do not understand, I usually convince myself that I can put on a cape and become a medical expert. I hop on google, read WebMD, and conclude that “Ah yes, that is a classic Hematological Malignancy.” Smoke in the wind. Meanwhile, there are walking, talking encyclopedias of medical knowledge in the room next door from the Morehouse School of Medicine. Here’s what I‘ve learned: when you don’t know, ask. It works!

I’ll give you an example. The HeLP Clinic takes in a lot of cases involving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To qualify for SSI, the Social Security Administration (SSA) states that the applicant must be disabled. In order to be disabled, a person must have a legitimate physical or mental disability that causes serious limitations in his or her life.

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