Special Needs Network, Inc.

From The President

Why African-American Children with Autism are Falling Behind

Why African-American Children with Autism are Falling Behind

By Areva Martin, Esq.


Autism is not a white disorder. Children in the African-American community get autism just as often as anyone else. But they are diagnosed later — and misdiagnosed more often. A white child with autism is almost 3 times more likely to receive an accurate diagnosis of autism on their first visit to a specialist, than a black child.[1]


Why is this happening and how can we stop it?

With autism, early intervention can make the difference between a child who learns to speak and goes to a regular school with his peers, and a child who is increasingly isolated and develops far more serious symptoms of the disorder. Children diagnosed as early as 18 months to 3 years have the benefit of preschool intervention programs in their most formative years. The average African-American child with autism is not diagnosed until they are 5 years old.  Lack of early intervention can negatively affect a child for the rest of his life. It is vitally important that African-American children with autism are diagnosed as soon as possible, so they can receive the care and treatment they need when it matters most.


Why is this happening? A Dangerous Disparity in Care.

Research consistently shows that African-American children and other minorities do not receive the same quality of medical care as non-minority children, even when their insurance and income are the same. The disparity was so obvious that the federal government set a goal to eliminate racial disparities in health care by 2010. Unfortunately, little progress has been made. The Journal of the American Medical Association recently reported on research at Harvard and Brown universities that showed a persistent racial gap in health care services.[ii]


Studies have revealed a variety of reasons for this disparity:

• lack of preventative screening
Doctors who treat African-Americans are often less knowledgeable about prevention and less likely to be certified in special areas, such as autistic diagnosis.[iii]


• free or low-income treatment is often inferior
Because of this, many African-Americans receive primary health care from a separate and less reliable medical system.[iv]


• lack of access to experts
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that African-Americans are more likely to see doctors who have no standing with experts and cannot harness the full potential of the health system. Geographical segregation can also contribute to this lack of access—for both referring doctors and their patients. [v]


• no regular care practitioner
African-Americans are less likely to return to the same doctor over the years. As a result, the pediatrician who may have noticed autistic symptoms developing in a child, is less likely to recognize changes.[vi]


• discrimination and bias
A majority of African-American patients (80%) see a surprisingly small enclave of doctors nationwide (20%). Most of these doctors are white, provide more free and low-income care. Although many have chosen to worked with disadvantaged patients, conscious and unconscious biases can lead to discrimination. Autistic symptoms can be misinterpreted as behavioral problems, caused by living in a difficult environment.[vii]


How can we stop it? The Solution is Advocacy.

Advocacy can make the difference. African-Americans demonstrated the transformative power of standing up for our rights and speaking out during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Although we still have a long way to go, permanent and undeniable changes were made to our culture because people took a stand.


In a magnificent testament to the effectiveness of that advocacy, the President of theUnited Statesis an African-American man.


Our need to advocate for our special needs children is as compelling today as it was forty years ago–before the passage of civil rights legislation or disability rights laws. Fortunately for us, the civil rights icons–like Martin Luther King, Jr., Julian Bond, Rosa Parks, Andrew Young, James Farmer, Robert Burgdorf, Tony Coelho, Tom Harkin and thousands of others–have made the way clear.


By standing up as advocates, we have an opportunity to walk in their great footsteps and take part in the vital and historic struggle for human rights—a struggle that today involves the more than fifty-four million Americans living with disabilities and the hundreds of millions who love and care for them.


Parents of color have a unique opportunity to become powerful advocates for their children and to  join the cadre of men and woman who continue to fight for equal opportunities for African-Americans to get equal medical care, jobs, education, and housing.


Five years ago, I formed the Special Needs Network, Inc. (SNN), inSouth-Central LA, to bring attention to the epidemic of autism and other developmental disorders–especially in the African American community–and to offer resources and other ways to navigate through the bureaucratic red tape to obtain services.


My book, The Everyday Advocate: How to Stand Up to Your Child with Autism (Penguin, 2010) was written to teach every parent the critical advocacy skills they need to make sure their child gets the help they need. It time that more parents knew that all children with autism are eligible to receive a free public education, services provided by the states, behavioral treatments, and classroom training appropriate to their condition.


The Principles of Advocacy described in The Everyday Advocate will empower parents to end the disparity in treatment received by African-American children, so they can get the diagnosis, treatment and services they deserve.



[1] Megan, Kathleen. “Parents, Advocates Seek More Prompt Diagnoses Of Minority Children.Autism Today. Accessed February 2010.


[ii] “Blacks Continue to Lose the Health Care Battle: Better Health Insurance Doesn’t Mean Better Care for Blacks,”ABN News. (Oct. 24, 2006) Accessed February 2010.


[iii] Dembner, Alice. “Disparities found in health care for blacks.” Boston Globe (August 5, 2004). Accessed February 2010.


[iv] Ibid.


[v] Ibid.


[vi] Mandell, David S., et al., “Race Differences in the Age at Diagnosis Among Medicaid-Eligible Children With Autism.” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (December 2002) 41:12, pp. 1447-1453.

Accessed February 2010. Excerpted


[vii] Dembner, Alice.


Are We Really Making the Grade

Are We Really Making the Grade

By: Areva Martin, Esq.


On January 31, 2006, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 517, a bill which allows thousands of students with disabilities in the high school class of 2006 to graduate without passing The California High School Exit Examination (CAHSSE).  As of 1999, all high school students in California are required to take the CAHSEE before graduation, they are required to have gotten at least 50 percent of the questions correct on a test that covers math and language arts.  Students can take the exam a total of six times starting in their sophomore year, including taking it three times in their senior year.  The math portion of the tests includes kindergarten through 8th grade subjects and the language art section includes materials covered through ninth grade.


According to the State Department of Education, CAHSEE was a key element inCalifornia’s school accountability reforms. The goal of the exam is to bring increased meaning to the earning of a diploma in California and ensure that all students that graduate from a public high school in California have met at least a minimum academic standard.  Nearly 5 years later, the test is proving to be yet another form over substance catch all cure for what’s wrong with our educational system for both students with and without disabilities.


The bill signed by the governor came several years after legal and political wrangling over whether students wit physical, developmental and or learning disabilities should be forced to take and pass the exam.  In 2001, a disability advocacy law group filed a class action lawsuit, Chapman v. California Department of Education in Alameda County Superior Court challenging the exam as an invalid and discriminatory test as applied to students with disabilities. Specifically, the lawsuit claims “…charges that the exam discriminates because it provides no alternate assessment, no procedure for requesting accommodations and no process for appeals. The suit claims the exam tests disabled students on material that they have never been taught. As a result, the lawsuit says, the department has “created chaos and confusion.”


In August 2005, the parties reached an interim settlement in the case, in which defendants agreed to support legislation to prevent students with disabilities in the class of 2006 who met all other graduation requirements form being denied diplomas due to the exit exam. The parties reached this settlement after an independent panel of experts estimated that if disabled students were required to pass the CAHSEE, over 25,000 students with who were otherwise on track to graduate with their class would be prevented from receiving a diploma.  The independent panel also concluded that the state had failed to adequately prepare students with disabilities for the Exit Exam.


So as students with disabilities who are on track to graduate this year, they can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they will not be required to take and pass a test for which they have not been prepared.  Unfortunately, the bill signed by the governor only applies to the class of 2006 and does not permanently exempt disabled students from the testing requirements.  Moreover, according to State Department of Education statistics not only are disabled students ill prepared for the exam, over 97,000 general education seniors had not passed the test before the beginning of this school year.


These results only highlight the complete crisis of many students, special and general, in schools throughout our state and nation.  The January Newsweek article, “ The Boy Crisis,” concludes that by almost every benchmark, boys across the nation and in every demographic group are falling behind. That article only serves to reiterate what pundits have known for years, mainly, that boys and particularly African American and Latino boys, are twice as likely to be diagnosed with learning disabilities, severe emotional disturbance or some form of attention deficit disorder.  Consequently, these boys are referred to special education classes or other restrictive environments where often they are isolated and labeled.


With the onslaught of  exams such as CAHSEE and the other myriad of standardized tests required by the No Child Left Behind legislation, schools are being forced to completely restructure their classroom and home work assignments simply to “teach to the tests.” As a result, teachers are given very little flexibility to instruct students in the manner and at a pace consistent with skill levels.


This incredible pressure to increase and maintain test scores create tension and undermine any concepts of critical thinking or problem solving.  For most students, particularly disabled students, root memorization of facts will be completely useless in the real world and in any post secondary program.


In most schools, all forms of extra curriculum activities have been eliminated.  Many schools no longer have physical eduction, art, music, drama or other activities that teach team building, social skills and life skills. Students who are naturally gifted in these areas or who can enhance their math skills by the use of manipulatives or other social games are marginalized and isolated.  Under this formula, only those who are adept at checking the correct box on an endless form achieve success. Forcing an entire generation of children simply to learn how to perform on standardized test is not a solution to the education crisis or the issue of literacy in our state and country.


If we expect general and special education students to graduate high school and become productive and contributing members of society , we need to do more than force them to take yet another exam like the CAHSEE.  Albeit testing for basic skill level is a necessary part of the educational process.  Assuming  such testing, schools must do a better job at making sure students are prepared, and this does not mean waiting until 10th grade and providing instructions specifically for the test.  To the contrary, according to pundits, education has to be viewed holistically and resources have to be targeted to identifying the uniqueness of children and providing instruction that takes into account these variables.


As for disabled children, its absurd to expect them to pass a standardized test that is not specifically modified based on their disabilities and if the material on the test is not included in their Individual Education Program.  Students with certain learning disabilities may be actually gifted, but because of how their brains function they may not be able to calculate a math problem and as such, may require a calculator or a reader.  Experts agree that the need for such modifications on a test are not signs of intelligence, or lack there of, but rather an organic brain condition unrelated to aptitude.  Students that use such a modification can never pass the exam and at best can qualify for a waiver, which for many continues to relegate them to an underclass.


When parents, educators and elected officials understand and accept their respective roles in educating all of the state’s students, we create a win/win situation for children and our community.  Ignoring all of the tools and elements critical to educating children, puts our economy, society and families at extreme risks for losing an entire generation of talent.  General and special education seniors need to be given every possible advantage to graduate and to succeed post graduation.  The 120 million dollars that California will spend on standardized testing can perhaps be put to better use by restoring the many programs that have been eliminated from schools, such as art and physical education, which enhances the learning experience for all learners, not just those students who are test masters.


Areva D. Martin is managing partner of Martin & Martin, LLP in Los Angeles.  She practices civil litigation with an emphasis on labor and employment, special education and disability law.


Balancing a Career and Mothering a Special Needs Child

Balancing a Career and Mothering an Autistic Child

By Areva D. Martin, Esq.


Depending on the nature and severity of the disability, many parents of children with autism find that the prospect of coordinating services, arranging for child care and providing an appropriate educational setting are overwhelming tasks.  Even affluent parents and those with strong familial support find it difficult to care for autistic children, particularly when there are other children in the family.  And with a divorce rate of 84 percent among families with disabled children, many women end up with the primary responsibility of caring for most of the child’s needs.


In the midst of scheduling medical and therapy appointments, attending IEP meetings and addressing the daily demands of the child, is working outside the home even a remote possibility?


For many women, the question of working is really less of a question and more of a mandate.  The high cost of housing, gas, food and basic essentials make employment less of a luxury and more of an inescapable reality.  Even for those couples who have the financial wherewithal to have one parent stay home, working outside the home presents a perplexing challenge.


Many women who have spent years pursuing a degree or building experience as a professional do not want to limit themselves to working as full time caregivers.  These women take pride in their career and business accomplishments.  They derive a great deal of satisfaction from the work they perform. Working is their way of making a contribution to the worlds of business, government, community or politics; it is their way of fulfilling lifelong dreams and aspirations.


Women who have the luxury of not working but who chose to do so anyway often feel conflict over their personal career goals and their commitment to their disabled child.  At the same time, they may be on the receiving end of pressure from family members and friends to quit their jobs and make caring for their disabled child their full-time commitment.  Plagued by feelings of guilt, some women actually quit their full-time positions and opt to become stay-at-home-moms.  Although the solution for some, others may feel bitter and angry about their choice.


Making the choice to work while raising a child with autism is not a matter of right or wrong; it’s a matter of personal choice.  Once I learned that my son, Marty, had autism I never dreamed of ending my career as a practicing attorney.  However, after being fully immersed in the world of autism, I had to totally reevaluate my career and my new obligations as a caretaker for a child with moderate autism spectrum disorder.


In my search for the appropriate balance, I was fortune to seek and receive good counsel.  Several years after my son’s diagnosis, B.J. Freeman, Ph.D., a renowned psychologist who formerly headed UCLA’s Autism Clinic gave me a piece of advice that is appropriate for all parents of autistic children.   Dr. Freeman told me to start early accepting that a child with autism is not going to grow out of it despite the very best treatment. The key to successful parenting, she said, is (to the extent possible) to fit that child into your life’s schedule, rather than completely rearranging your life around the child.   Some of the happiest families she saw in her practice where those that embodied and lived by this principle.


How this plays out for each family is different, but the crux of what Dr. Freeman conveyed is that parents who make the decision to alter their careers, their marriages and their entire familial structure need to do so with a full understanding that even with such a tremendous sacrifice, your child may never achieve at the level you expect.  So before embarking upon such drastic changes, make sure that you are not expecting something in return from your child – other than his or her love.  Setting yourself up with a quid pro quo expectation is sure to lead to bitterness and anguish.


Parents who decide to be, or who have no choice but to be, full-time caregivers for their children, should do so with no expectations.  Likewise, mothers who choose to work while raising an autistic child should do so without feelings of remorse or shame.  In fact, for some mothers, continuing to work is not only the best thing for them, but also for their child.  When a parent feels good about herself, she is a position to share the very best aspects of her parenting skills and patience with her child.


For me, I have followed Dr. Freeman’s advice and have no regrets.  Not only have I continued my law practice, I have become actively involved in the autism community.  In my legal practice, I represent families in educational matters; I co-founded a non-profit that provides resources to other families with autistic children; I sponsor workshops and present at professional conferences on the legal issues involved in raising a child with autism; and I serve on a statewide Commission for autism.  I found that helping not only my son, but also others in the autism community, aids me in dealing with many of my own emotions and concerns.


The key to success is determining your goals, setting realistic expectations and seeking help. Working mothers can meet the many needs of an autistic child and achieve success at work by taking advantage of empowerment circles, as defined in Journey to the Top, my book and CD program.  Identifying family, friends, community resources and agencies that can provide assistance with every aspect of a child’s care, from babysitting to driving, will lift from mom’s shoulders some of the daily tasks that are her responsibility.  There are local and national agencies that can provide support for families caring for children with autism, as well as parent support groups and non-profit organizations that provide assistance for families.  You can identify resources in your community by checking on the Internet, at your local library or with the school district.  Other parents of children with autism are often your best resource.


Also, some mothers successfully manage care taking and work responsibilities by converting their full-time schedule to part-time, negotiating flexible hours with their employer or pursuing self-employment options that may provide more relaxed schedules.


Mothers can have it all.  You can love, nurture and care for a child with autism while at the same time maintaining your career. The key is making smart choices, recognizing that you will need support from others and eliminating any externally imposed negative feelings about your choice.


Areva D. Martin, Esq. is a Harvard trained attorney, syndicated columnist and professional speaker.  She is managing partner of Martin & Martin, LLP in Los Angeles where her practice includes special education, labor and employment and disability discrimination.  Areva frequently sponsors community forums and workshops for parents and professionals.  She is the co-founder and president of Special Needs Network, Inc. and is the parent of a eight year old son who has autism.  Her monthly column on education and civil rights laws can be read the in the Los Angeles Daily Journal newspaper.  For more information visit her at or call her at 213-388-4747.

Delays In Autism Diagnoses For African-American Children


Delays In Autism Diagnoses For African-American Children

President and co-founder Areva Martin, Esq. has released the following statement concerning delays in autism diagnoses for African American children:
“Recently the Centers for Disease Control released an unsurprising report, announcing an increase in autism from one child in 88 to one in 42. While the report is a good indication that our nation is becoming more tuned in to autism spectrum disorders, there is still much ground to cover.


As the head of a leading autism advocacy organization, a mother of an autistic child, and having worked with more than 30,000 families in just a few short years, I have witnessed first-hand the lack of attention to this developmental disability by healthcare providers, insurance companies and public officials.


With April being autism awareness month, it’s important for one to realize that even as the rate of this developmental disorder rises, the rate at which minority children are ignored and pushed aside is even more disconcerting.
Research continues to show that minority children are diagnosed nearly two years later than their Caucasian peers. While we are unaware of a cure or definite causes, we do know that an early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve a child’s outcomes and development progress.


The autism epidemic continues to take a toll on children and families across the U.S., especially families in underserved communities. It is time that we take action to ensure every child in need receives access to quality care and the life-long benefits of an early diagnosis and intervention.”


Supporting articles:

Rise in Autism 

Early Intervention



Forest Grove School District (notes)


I.  Introduction


On April 28, 2009, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Forest Grove School District v. T.A.,[1] a case that addresses a deeply contested issue in special education litigation.  Reviewing the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Forest Grove, the Court will decide whether the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)[2] entitles parents to reimbursement for their child’s private school education if the child has never received special education services provided by a public school.[3]  Forest Grove represents the latest of many cases to perpetuate the circuit split on this issue.  In fact, in 2007, the Supreme Court addressed the same question in Board of Education v. Tom F.[4]  Just two weeks before the Court heard argument in Tom F., however, Justice Kennedy recused himself,[5] resulting in a 4-4, non-precedential decision affirming the Second Circuit’s grant of reimbursement to parents facing circumstances similar to those presented in Forest Grove.[6]  Currently, the Second,[7] Ninth,[8] and Eleventh Circuits[9] recognize the availability of reimbursement, while in contrast, the First Circuit[10] has refused to do so.


Because of the growing divide between the circuits, many parents of children with disabilities face uncertainty about whether they will be reimbursed if they choose to enroll their children in private schools.[11]  The Supreme Court should end parents’ uncertainty by affirming the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Forest Grove and holding that parents who enroll their child in private school before that child has received publicly provided special education services are not precluded from tuition reimbursement under the IDEA.  The language and intent of the IDEA and the balance of policy considerations support the Ninth Circuit’s decision.  More importantly, the Court should capitalize on its opportunity to refine the judicial approach to private school reimbursement cases by adopting an analytical framework that encourages parents and schools to cooperate more closely.


II.  Background: The Law and Facts Behind Forest Grove School District v. T.A.


A.  Reimbursement for Private School Tuition under the IDEA


Congress enacted the IDEA “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs. . . .”[12]  The IDEA provides comprehensive procedural safeguards[13] and empowers parents as “equal partners with school personnel in the education of their children.”[14]  Accordingly, the IDEA is structured to encourage parents to collaborate with school districts in developing Individualized Education Plans (IEP) that provide the special education services necessary for their children to receive a free appropriate public education.[15]  If parents are not satisfied with the special education services offered to their child, they may file a complaint to initiate an administrative hearing.[16]  Parents may appeal final administrative decisions by bringing a civil action in state or federal court.[17]


Because the IDEA did not explicitly address private school tuition reimbursement before 1997, the Supreme Court found the authority to grant such reimbursement in the IDEA’s broad “appropriate” relief provision, § 1415(i)(2)(C)(iii).[18]  This sweeping provision empowers courts reviewing administrative decisions with the discretion “to grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate.”[19]  In School Committee of Burlington v. Department of Education, the Court interpreted § 1415(i)(2)(C)(iii) to “confer broad discretion”[20] that authorizes private school tuition reimbursement when the school district fails to provide a free appropriate public education.[21]  After noting that judicial review under the IDEA is a “ponderous,” slow process,[22] the Court in Burlington stated:


The parents who disagree with the proposed IEP are faced with a choice: go along with the IEP to the detriment of their child if it turns out to be inappropriate or pay for what they consider to be the appropriate placement.  If they choose the latter course, which conscientious parents who have adequate means and who are reasonably confident of their assessment normally would, it would be an empty victory to tell them several years later that they were right but that these expenditures could not in a proper case be reimbursed by the school officials.  If that were the case, the child’s right to a free appropriate public education, the parents’ right to participate fully in developing the proper IEP, and all of the procedural safeguards would be less than complete.[23]


This pronouncement underpins the Court’s holding in Burlington and echoes throughout subsequent decisions that confirm courts’ power to grant tuition reimbursement under the IDEA.[24]
In 1997, Congress amended the IDEA to address explicitly private school tuition reimbursement under a new section, entitled “Payment for education of children enrolled in private schools without consent of or referral by the public agency.”[25]  The following provision of this section includes the statutory language at issue in Forest Grove:


If the parents of a child with a disability, who previously received special education and related services under the authority of a public agency, enroll the child in a private elementary school or secondary school without the consent of or referral by the public agency, a court or a hearing officer may require the agency to reimburse the parents for the cost of that enrollment if the court or hearing officer finds that the agency had not made a free appropriate public education available to the child in a timely manner prior to that enrollment.[26]


Forest Grove presents the question of whether, by adopting the 1997 amendments, Congress barred private school tuition reimbursement for students who have not “previously received special education and related services.”[27]  Or, do “those students remain eligible for private school reimbursement, as they were before 1997,” under the IDEA’s broad “appropriate” relief provision, § 1415(i)(2)(C)(iii)?[28]  The facts in Forest Grove provide context for this difficult question.
B.  Facts and Procedural History in Forest Grove


After T.A. attended public school from kindergarten until the spring of his junior year, his parents removed him and placed him in private school.[29]  Although T.A. “experienced difficulty paying attention in class,” depended on extensive help from his family to complete his schoolwork, and was evaluated by the school district for a disability, he never received special education services while enrolled in public school.[30]  When school staff members evaluated T.A. during internal meetings that did not involve his parents, they considered the possibility that T.A. had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).[31]  Instead of testing him for ADHD, however, T.A. was formally evaluated for a learning disability, and the school’s psychologists and educational specialists unanimously concluded that he had no such disability.[32]  Accordingly, the school psychologist’s report indicated that T.A. was not eligible for special education services under the IDEA, though he may have been eligible for accommodations under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973[33]  The school district never followed up on either the suggestion that T.A. had ADHD or that he might be eligible for § 504 accommodations.[34]  When T.A. continued to experience difficulty in school, his mother contacted school administrators multiple times expressing her concerns and proposing that the school reevaluate him.[35]  The school district told T.A.’s mother that a subsequent evaluation would not likely find T.A. eligible for special education services.[36]  The district offered no other assistance.[37]


T.A. continued to fall behind in school and, in 2002, he began using marijuana and “exhibit[ing] noticeable personality changes.”[38]  In 2003, T.A. ran away from home and ultimately ended up in a hospital emergency room.[39]  His parents then hired a psychologist, who “diagnosed T.A. with ADHD, depression, math disorder, and cannabis abuse.”[40]  Upon the psychologist’s advice, in March of 2003 T.A.’s parents removed him from public school and ultimately enrolled him in Mount Bachelor Academy, a private school intended for students with special needs.[41]  Four days after placing T.A. in private school, his parents obtained a lawyer who advised them to request a hearing under the IDEA and to seek an order commanding the school to evaluate T.A. for disabilities.[42]  The team of specialists assembled to evaluate T.A. “acknowledged T.A.’s learning difficulties, his diagnosis of ADHD, and his depression,”[43] but nonetheless concluded that T.A. did not qualify for special education services under the IDEA “because those diagnoses did not have a severe effect on T.A.’s educational performance.”[44]


Following the school district’s evaluation, an administrative hearing officer concluded that T.A. “was disabled and therefore eligible for special education under the IDEA and [§] 504.”[45]  The hearing officer further concluded that the school district had failed to provide T.A. a free appropriate public education, and accordingly was required to reimburse T.A.’s parents for sending him to Mount Bachelor, which cost $5,200 per month.[46]  The District Court reversed, leading T.A.’s parents to appeal to the Ninth Circuit.[47]  The Ninth Circuit reversed the District Court’s decision and remanded the case for further consideration consistent with its determination that T.A.’s parents were eligible for private school tuition reimbursement—despite the fact that T.A. never received special education services while enrolled in public school.[48]  Both the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning and wider policy implications support its decision.


III.  Why the Supreme Court Should Affirm Forest Grove and Refine the Court’s Analysis


A.  The Second Circuit Correctly Interpreted the IDEA


In deciding Forest Grove, the Ninth Circuit adopted the Second Circuit’s statutory analysis in Frank G. v. Board of Education,[49] a case with similar facts.[50]  Because that analysis was sound and firmly rooted in the text, structure, and history of the IDEA, the Supreme Court should affirm Forest Grove.


The Second Circuit first determined that § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii) is ambiguous because the plain language of the provision “does not say that tuition reimbursement is only available to parents whose child had previously received special education and related services from a public agency.”[51]  Additionally, the Second Circuit recognized the continuing validity of the Burlington Court’s finding that the IDEA’s general “appropriate” relief provision[52] confers “broad discretion” that authorizes private school tuition reimbursement.[53]  The Court stated that the re-enactment of this provision in 1997, “without change, is significant because it can be presumed that Congress intended to adopt the construction given to it by the Supreme Court and made that construction part of the enactment.”[54]


Applying “traditional canons of statutory construction,” the Second Circuit explored the broad purpose of the IDEA and found that the statute “was intended to give handicapped children both an appropriate education and a free one; it should not be interpreted to defeat one or the other of those objectives.”[55]  The court then noted that interpreting § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii) to bar tuition reimbursement for parents whose child had not previously received publicly provided special education services would lead to “absurd results” that involve withholding reimbursement from parents whose children indeed meet the IDEA’s requirements.[56]  Finally, the Second Circuit noted that its interpretation converged with both the position of the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education & Rehabilitative Services and the statute’s legislative history.[57]


B.  Policy Considerations Supporting the Ninth Circuit’s Decision



Reversing Forest Grove could produce consequences that contravene the IDEA’s purpose and essentially “deprive a child of a free and appropriate education when all the fault lay with the public school.”[58]  As the Ninth Circuit recognized, reading § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii) as a categorical bar would require parents of a child with a disability to preserve their right to reimbursement by accepting publicly provided special education services even if those services are inadequate, and even if the school district fails to cooperate with them to formulate an effective IEP.[59]  The Forest Grove school district contends that parents should be required merely to “give the IEP a try and send their child to public school,” even for a very short time period.[60]  However, requiring enrollment in public school as a prerequisite to tuition reimbursement could disrupt a child’s education and produce psychologically damaging consequences:


Appropriate education during a child’s formative years is critical to a child’s development.  Moving a child from one school to another can be highly disruptive to the child, both educationally and psychologically.  That is true for any youth; it may be especially true for a child with a disability.  It would be absurd to conclude that Congress created a regime whereby parents would have to compound the educational difficulties their children have by subjecting them to inappropriate schools merely to qualify for tuition reimbursement.[61]


Even if a child accepts inadequate services while his parents work with the school district to develop an appropriate IEP, the resulting negotiation process could last indefinitely.  All the while, the child must endure insufficient services that deny him the free appropriate education the IDEA promises.[62]  The child’s inadequate education may be prolonged still further if the parents’ negotiations with the district fail and the parents initiate an administrative hearing and eventually appeal to federal court.[63]


In addition, “if the school district declined to recognize a student as disabled—as occurred in [Forest Grove]—the student would never receive special education in public school and therefore would never be eligible for reimbursement . . . .”[64]  Most cynically, reversing Forest Grove would allow—and even incentivize—school districts to “avoid any obligation to reimburse private-school tuition simply by refusing to provide special education and related services themselves—no matter how much a child needs those services and is entitled to them under IDEA.”[65]  During oral argument, Justice Stevens suggested that, under the school district’s approach, by adamantly denying that a student is eligible for special education services, a school district may permanently shield itself from liability for tuition reimbursement.[66]


Some commentators have argued that policy implications in fact militate against affirming Forest Grove.  These commentators fear that Forest Grove may increase school districts’ costs because the districts would be required both to defend against increased litigation by parents and to pay for the private school tuition of an increasing number of students.[67]  But as Justice O’Connor stated in Florence County School District Four v. Carter:


There is no doubt that Congress has imposed a significant financial burden on States and school districts that participate in IDEA.  Yet public educational authorities who want to avoid reimbursing parents for the private education of a disabled child can do one of two things: give the child a free appropriate public education in a public setting, or place the child in an appropriate private setting of the State’s choice.  This is IDEA’s mandate, and school officials who conform to it need not worry about reimbursement claims.[68]



Under the IDEA, a school district is not liable for the cost of private special education services if it affords a child a free appropriate public education.[69]  Accordingly, the simplest and cheapest way for school districts to avoid the cost of private school tuition reimbursement is by providing children in need of special education services with a free appropriate education in the first place.  However, if school districts fail to do so, parents must be able to turn to effective administrative and judicial procedures to ensure that their child ultimately receives the education that the IDEA guarantees.


C.  An Opportunity to Refine the Approach of Lower Courts to Evaluating Parents’ Cooperation with the School District



In addition to realizing Congress’s intent and furthering the IDEA’s policies, affirming Forest Grove would allow the Supreme Court to correct the approach of lower courts to implementing a crucial goal of the IDEA—promoting cooperation between parents and the school district.  Careful examination of the facts in previous cases reveals that tuition reimbursement decisions frequently hinge on the level of cooperation between parents and the school district, and as a corollary, the extent to which parents provide notice before placing their child in private school.  The more vociferously parents alert the school district before removing their child, the greater the chance that courts will refuse to read § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii) as a categorical bar to private school tuition reimbursement.[70]


This observation suggests that the Supreme Court may affirm the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Forest Grove because of T.A.’s parents’ persistent communication with the school district.  However, while the Supreme Court should indeed affirm Forest Grove, it should also refine the analysis that leads to this result.  Instead of allowing the parents’ cooperation with the school district to implicitly inform courts’ interpretations of § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii), the Supreme Court should instruct lower courts to analyze parental cooperation under the separate provision designed for this purpose—§ 1412(a)(10)(C)(iii).  This provision, entitled “Limitation on reimbursement,” allows courts to reduce or deny the amount of reimbursement if parents fail to inform the district that they intend to reject its proposed special education services before removing their child from public school.[71]  By considering parents’ cooperation under this provision, the Court would implement the IDEA’s goal of encouraging collaboration between parents and the district, while avoiding the unintended consequences that may accompany a total bar on tuition reimbursement in cases where the child has not first received publicly provided special education services.


Undeniably, one of the central objectives of the IDEA is to promote cooperation between parents and the school district as a means to ensure that each child in need of special education services receives a free appropriate public education.  The First Circuit’s pursuit of this objective largely determined its decision to read § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii) as a bar to reimbursement for parents who never notified the school district before removing their child from public school.[72]  According to the First Circuit, the statute “serves the important purpose of giving the school system an opportunity, before the child is removed, to assemble a team, evaluate the child, devise an appropriate plan, and determine whether a free appropriate public education can be provided in the public schools.”[73]  Some commentators have argued that this interpretation will induce parents to cooperate with school districts rather than prematurely transferring their children to private schools.[74]


Close examination of the facts in each circuit court case demonstrates that courts rely heavily on the level of cooperation between parents and school districts in reaching their decisions.  In contrast to the majority of circuit courts, the First Circuit, in Greenland School District v. Amy N., read § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii) as categorically barring private school tuition reimbursement when a child has never received publicly provided special education services.[75]  The Greenland court’s anomalous decision, however, may best be explained by distinguishing between the facts of that case and the facts of cases in other circuits.  In Greenland, the parents transferred their daughter to private school before ever notifying her public school that she needed special education services.[76]  The parents first requested that the school district evaluate their daughter for special education services approximately one year after they removed her from public school.[77]  Stating that “[t]he point is that there was no notice at all to the school system before Katie’s removal from Greenland that there was any issue about whether Katie was in need of special education services,” the First Circuit denied the parents tuition reimbursement.[78]


In contrast to the First Circuit, the Second, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits have all read § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii) to allow tuition reimbursement even if a child has never received public special education services.  In the cases addressed by each of those circuits, however, the parents had communicated with the school district about their child’s special education needs in a more active, timely way than had the parents in Greenland.[79]  Indeed, the Second Circuit explicitly recognized this distinction and noted that unlike the parents in Greenland, the parents in Frank G. had provided extensive notice before removing their child from public school.[80]  Similarly, the Eleventh Circuit held that “reliance on the fact that [the child] never attended public school is legally insufficient to deny reimbursement under § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii)”[81] where his parents had engaged in extensive negotiations with the school district over the child’s IEP both before they removed him from public school and while he attended private school.[82]


T.A.’s parents’ communication with the school district in Forest Grove aligns his case with those in which courts have granted tuition reimbursement.[83]  In addition, when it remanded Forest Grove, the Ninth Circuit appropriately instructed the lower court to consider T.A.’s parents’ notice to the school district as one of the relevant factors used to determine whether to grant reimbursement and how much reimbursement to grant.[84]  Consistent with the Ninth Circuit’s instruction, the IDEA directs courts addressing reimbursement cases to evaluate the extent of notice parents provide the school district when they are dissatisfied with their child’s IEP.[85]  However, the circuit courts have inappropriately allowed their consideration of parents’ notice, and parents’ general cooperation with school districts, to influence their interpretation of the language in § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii).  When reviewing Forest Grove, the Supreme Court should correct this approach by instructing courts to confine their analysis of parental notice to the provision intended by Congress—the limitation on reimbursement in § 1412(a)(10)(C)(iii).


If the Court states definitively that § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii) does not create a categorical bar to private school tuition reimbursement, lower courts will be left considering parents’ cooperation with school districts under only § 1412(a)(10)(C)(iii).  In Frank G., the Second Circuit hinted at this improved analysis when it rejected the Greenland court’s interpretation of § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii) as unnecessary because § 1412(a)(10)(C)(iii) “makes clear Congress’s intent that before parents place their child in private school, they must at least give notice to the school that special education is at issue.”[86]  The First Circuit’s alternative, clumsier approach to this policy—reading § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii) as a categorical bar to tuition reimbursement for parents whose children never received special education services from their school districts—results in the denial of tuition reimbursement to parents whose children indeed meet the IDEA’s requirements.[87]


One might argue that § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii) provides the threshold criterion for private school tuition reimbursement—previous receipt of publicly provided special education services—and that § 1412(a)(10)(C)(iii) further qualifies the right to reimbursement for parents who satisfy the initial requirement.  But this interpretation conflicts with the broader scheme that Congress endorsed and refined when it drafted the 1997 amendments to the IDEA, and it would bring about results that undermine the IDEA’s mandate: to provide a free appropriate public education to all children with disabilities.  Most notably, if a school district fails to detect a child’s disability or refuses to provide special education services, that child’s parents could not be reimbursed for the cost of their only practical recourse—private school.[88]  The more refined statutory analysis suggested by this Essay avoids such inequitable results and better reflects Congress’s intent.  Moreover, this approach improves transparency in judicial decisionmaking by inviting courts to analyze parental cooperation under the statutory provision that plainly anticipates such consideration.


IV.  Conclusion


The Supreme Court’s review of Forest Grove presents an important opportunity to advance special education law while resolving the prevailing uncertainty about the availability of tuition reimbursement for children who have never received publicly provided special education services.  The intent of the IDEA and weight of the policy implications support the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Forest Grove.  More importantly, the Court should refine the approach to tuition reimbursement cases by confining courts’ evaluation of parental cooperation to the appropriate, congressionally intended statutory provision.  In the last two special education cases it reviewed, Winkelman v. Parma City School District[89] and Board of Education of the City of New York v. Tom F.,[90] the Court recognized the important role parents play in ensuring that their children receive the free appropriate public education mandated by the IDEA.[91]  When deciding Forest Grove, the Court has the opportunity to solidify this interpretation of the IDEA by affirming the Ninth Circuit’s decision and advancing a more explicit, transparent approach to evaluating parents’ collaboration with the school district.


*.  J.D., NorthwesternUniversitySchool of Law, 2009; B.A.,DukeUniversity, 2005.  Thanks to Hillary Coustan, Scott Lerner, Dave Baltmanis, and the Colloquy Board.

1.  Forest Grove Sch. Dist. v. T.A., cert. granted, 129 S. Ct. 987 (2009) (No. 08-305) (argued Apr. 28, 2009), decision below at Forest Grove Sch. Dist. v. T.A., 523 F.3d 1078 (9th Cir. 2008) (link).

2.  20 U.S.C. §§ 1400–1482 (2006) (link).

3.  It is a settled question that the IDEA entitles parents to reimbursement for their child’s private school tuition if the public school cannot or will not provide the child with an appropriate public education. Burlington Sch. Comm. v. Dep’t of Educ., 471 U.S. 359, 369 (1985) (link).

4.  128 S. Ct. 1 (2007) (mem.) (link).

5.  Tony Mauro, Will Justice Kennedy Recuse Again?,, Oct. 21, 2008, (link).

6.  Id.; see Bd. of Educ. v. Tom F. ex rel. Gilbert F., 193 Fed. App’x. 26 (2d Cir. 2006).

7.  Frank G. v. Bd. of Educ., 459 F.3d 356 (2d Cir. 2006) (link).

8.  Forest Grove Sch. Dist. v. T.A., 523 F.3d 1078 (9th Cir. 2008) (link).

9.  M.M. ex rel. C.M. v. Sch. Bd., 437 F.3d 1085 (11th Cir. 2006) (link).

10.  Greenland Sch. Dist. v. Amy N., 358 F.3d 150 (1st Cir. 2004) (link).

11.  Last year, nearly half of the parents who enrolled their children in private schools because they needed special education services did so while facing such uncertainty.  Joseph Goldstein, 9 Could Rescue Disabled Pupils: Top Court Takes N.Y. Case on Tuition Reimbursement,, Feb. 27, 2007, (link).

12.  20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A) (2006) (link).

13.  See 20 U.S.C. §§ 1412(a)(6) , 1415 (2006) (link to § 1412) (link to § 1415); see also Allan G. Osborne, Jr., Is a Parent Who Places a Child with a Disability in a Private School Entitled to Tuition Reimbursement if the Child Has Never Attended a Public School? Board of Education of the City ofNew York v. Tom F., 219 Ed. Law Rep. 887, 887 (2007).

14.  Osborne, Jr., supra note 13, at 887; see also 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(B) (2006) (“The purposes of this chapter are—to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected.”).

15.  20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(4) (2006).

16.  20 U.S.C §§ 1415(b)(6), 1415(f) (2006).

17.  20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)–(i) (2006); see also Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae Supporting Respondent at 3, Forest Grove Sch. Dist. v. T.A., 129 S.Ct. 987 (2009) (No. 08-305), 2005 WL 870018 (link).

18.  Forest Grove Sch. Dist. v. T.A., 523 F.3d 1078, 1085 (9th Cir. 2008); see 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C)(iii) (2006).

19.  20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C)(iii) (2006).

20.  Sch. Comm. of Burlington v. Dep’t of Educ., 471 U.S. 359, 369 (1985) (link).

21.  Id. at 370; see also Florence County Sch. Dist. Four v. Carter, 510 U.S. 7, 15–16 (1993) (reaffirming the Court’s finding in Burlington that the IDEA authorizes private school reimbursement) (link).
Although Burlington and Carter involved children who had received publicly provided special education services before their parents enrolled them in private school, neither decision holds that receipt of such services constitutes a prerequisite for tuition reimbursement.  Moreover, “following Burlington, lower courts routinely awarded reimbursement to parents of children who had not previously received public special education.”  Brief for the United States, supra note 17, at 14–15.

22.  Burlington, 471U.S. 359, 370 (1985) (“As this case so vividly demonstrates, . . . the review process is ponderous.  A final judicial decision on the merits of an IEP will in most instances come a year or more after the school term covered by that IEP has passed.”).

23.  Id.

24.  See, e.g., Carter, 510 U.S. at 12; Frank G. v. Bd. of Educ., 459 F.3d 356, 369 (2d Cir. 2006); M.M. ex. rel. C.M. v. Sch. Bd., 437 F.3d 1085, 1098–99 (11th Cir. 2006) (link); Greenland Sch. Dist. v. Amy N., 358 F.3d 150, 158 (1st Cir. 2004).

25.  20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(10)(C) (2006).

26.  Id. (emphasis added).

27.  Id.

28.  Forest Grove Sch. Dist. v. T.A., 523 F.3d 1078, 1086 (9th Cir. 2008).

29.  Id. at 1081.

30.  Id.

31.  Id.  Notes from two separate meetings included: Jan. 16, 2001—”Maybe ADD/ADHD?,” and Feb. 13, 2001—”suspected ADHD.”  Id.

32.  Id.

33.  Id.  The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights statute that broadly prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities.  See 29 U.S.C. § 794(a) (2006) (link).  As the IDEA is devoted specifically to students with disabilities, the two statutes provide different, but sometimes overlapping, special education services.

34.  Forest Grove, 523 F.3d at 1081

35.  See Appellant’s Opening Brief at 37, Forest Grove Sch. Dist. v. T.A., 523 F.3d 1078, 1086 (9th Cir. 2008) (No. 05-35641); Brief for the United States, supra note 17, at 5.  In her e-mail, T.A.’s mother expressed concern that T.A. “apparently cannot process information or learn from the teaching methods used thus far” and suggested that “there must be some method of teaching more appropriate for him.”  Id. (citation omitted).

36.  Appellant’s Opening Brief, supra note 35, at 37.

37.  Brief for the United States, supra note 17, at 5.

38.  See Forest Grove, 523 F.3d at 1081–82.

39.  Id.

40.  Id. at 1082.

41.  Id.

42.  Id.

43.  Id.

44.  Id.

45.  Id. at 1082–83.

46.  Id.

47.  Id. at 1083.

48.  Id. at 1088–89.

49.  459 F.3d 356 (2d Cir. 2006).

50.  Forest Grove, 523 F.3d at 1086 (“We agree with and adopt the analysis and conclusion of the Second Circuit.”).

51.  Frank G., 459 F.3d at 368 (emphasis in original).

52.  20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C)(iii) (2006).

53.  Frank G., 459 F.3d at 369–70.

54.  Id.

55.  Id. at 372 (quoting Sch. Comm. of Burlington v. Dep’t of Educ., 471 U.S. 359, 372 (1985)) (internal quotations omitted); see also Forest Grove, 523 F.3d at 1086 (summarizing the Second Circuit’s reasoning in Frank G.).

56.  Frank G., 459 F.3d at 372; Forest Grove, 523 F.3d at 1086.  See infra text accompanying notes 58–65 (detailing the absurd results that would follow the reversal of Forest Grove).

57.  Frank G., 459 F.3d at 372–73 (“We do not view § 612(a)(10)(C) [20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(10)(C)] as foreclosing categorically an award of reimbursement in a case in which a child has not yet been enrolled in special education and related services under the authority of a public agency.” (quoting Letter to Susan Luger, listed in 65 Fed.Reg. 9178 (Feb. 23, 2000) and reprinted in 33 I.D.E.L.R. 126 (Mar. 19, 1999)) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

58.  Brief for the United States, supra note 17, at 27.

59.  Forest Grove, 523 F.3d at 1087; see also M.M. ex. rel. C.M. v. Sch. Bd., 437 F.3d 1085, 1099 (11th Cir. 2006) (stating that “the School Board’s disturbing interpretation would . . . place parents . . . in the untenable position of acquiescing to an inappropriate placement in order to preserve their right to reimbursement” (quoting Justin G. v. Bd. of Educ., 148 F.Supp.2d 576, 587 (D. Md. 2001)) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

60.  Transcript of Oral Argument at 12, Forest Grove Sch. Dist. v. T.A., No. 08-305 (U.S. argued Apr. 28, 2009) (link).

61.  Brief for the United States, supra note 17, at 25–26.

62.  See Sch. Comm. of Burlington v. Dep’t of Educ., 471 U.S. 359, 370 (1985).

63.  During oral argument, Justice Souter seemed especially concerned that litigation could “go on for years” while the student languishes in an improper educational placement.  Transcript of Oral Argument, supra note 60, at 8.

64.  Forest Grove, 523 F.3d at 1087 (emphasis in original).

65.  Brief for the United States, supra note 17, at 17.

66.  Transcript of Oral Argument, supra note 60, at 17–18.  Justice Stevens later asked Forest Grove’s lawyer, “Doesn’t your interpretation of the statute create an incentive for the school board to just say, we’ll never provide any kind of . . . special education, we will just tough it out?  Because they can’t lose, they can’t be liable if they do that . . . .”  Id. at 19.

67.  See John W. Borkowski, The 2006–2007 Term of the United States Supreme Court and Its Impact on Public Schools, 223 Ed. Law Rep. 481, 510 (2007) (link).

68.  510 U.S. 7, 15 (1993) (link).

69.  20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(10)(C)(i) (2006).

70.  See, e.g., Forest Grove, 523 F.3d 1078; M.M. ex. rel. C.M., 437 F.3d 1085 (11th Cir. 2006); Frank G. v. Bd. of Educ., 459 F.3d 356 (2d Cir. 2006).

71.  20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(10)(C)(iii)(I)(aa) (2006).

72.  Greenland Sch. Dist. v. Amy N., 358 F.3d 150 (2004).

73.  Id. at 160.

74.  See Borkowski, supra note 67, 510.

75.  Greenland, 358 F.3d at 159-60.

76.  Greenland, 358 F.3d at 152–53 (“At no point during [the child’s] time at Greenland did her parents or any of her teachers request that she be evaluated for special education services.”)  However, arguably, the school district had adequate notice that the child needed special education services as her parents informed the school that she had been diagnosed with ADHD, her second, third, and fourth grade teachers all employed techniques suggested by her psychiatrist to keep her on task, and her mother, a special education teacher, spent a great deal of time helping her daughter with her homework each night.  Id. at 152–53.

77.  Id.   At this point, in May of 2001, the school district found the child ineligible for special education services, though the district eventually reversed its determination in November of 2001 after reviewing the diagnosis of the child’s private psychiatrist.  Id.

78.  Id. at 160.

79.  See, e.g., Forest Grove Sch. Dist. v. T.A., 523 F.3d 1078 (9th Cir. 2008); M.M. ex. rel. C.M. v. Sch. Bd., 437 F.3d 1085 (11th Cir. 2006); Frank G. v. Bd. of Educ., 459 F.3d 356 (2d Cir. 2006).

80.  Frank G., 459 F.3d at 376.

81.  M.M., 437 F.3d 1085, 1098.

82.  Id. at 1090–93.  Although the Eleventh Circuit decided the legal sufficiency of private school tuition reimbursement for parents whose child never received publicly provided special education services, the court noted that C.M. actually had received publicly provided special education services within the meaning of § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii).  Id. at 1098.  The court ultimately denied reimbursement in this case because the school board had offered the student a free appropriate education, albeit not in the form preferred by C.M.’s parents.  Id. at 1103.

83.  See supra notes 31–37 and accompanying text.  In contrast to Greenland, where parents with a background in special education waited more than a year to notify the school district, T.A.’s parents provided formal notice to the district within one month of T.A.’s enrollment in the private school, upon hiring a lawyer.  See Appellant’s Opening Brief, supra note 36, at 45–46.

84.  See Forest Grove, 523 F.3d at 1088–89.  Other factors suggested by the court include the existence of more appropriate alternative placements, the parents’ effort to secure such placements, and the school district’s level of cooperation.  Id. at 1089.

85.  20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(10)(C)(iii)(I)(aa) (2006).

86.  Frank G. v. Bd. of Educ., 459 F.3d 356, 376 (2d Cir. 2006) (citing Greenland Sch. Dist. v. Amy N., 358 F.3d 150, 160 (1st Cir. 2004)) (emphasis in original) (internal quotations omitted).  Although the Second Circuit disagreed with the Greenland court’s analysis, it agreed with that court’s result.  Id. at 375–76.

87.  See supra text accompanying notes 58–65.

88.  See supra note 64 and accompanying text.

89.  127 S. Ct. 1994 (2007) (link).

90.  127 S. Ct. 1393 (2007) (link).

91.  For instance, the Court reached its decision in Winkelman after searching the overall statutory framework of the IDEA and finding that the statute implicitly grants parents “independent, enforceable rights.”  127 S. Ct. at 1999.


From Anguish to Advocacy

Not Just Anguish, But Action and Advocacy


By Areva D. Martin, Esq.


Becoming an effective advocate for your child is the essential element that counts toward your special needs child’s success.


A parent advocate works tirelessly on behalf of that child.  The list of tasks is endless and includes obtaining the proper diagnosis, lining up (and usually fighting for) intervention services, designing the child’s educational program and more.  It also includes the routine things parents do for children with typical development.


Unfortunately, when our children are diagnosed with a disability, no one gives us a manual on how to best care for them.  Many organizations and/or health care agencies provide parents with materials and lists of resources including websites, lists of doctors, social services, therapeutic agencies, schools and other facilities that provide services to disabled children. But a lot of the information is incomplete and fragmented. Moreover, when parents learn of a child’s disability, they are overwhelmed with a range of emotions ranging from guilt to intense pain.  For many parents, feelings of anguish may last for months to years.  During this period, many parents are incapable of moving forward and seeking assistance for their child.


Parents who find themselves in this emotional space, should seek assistance from loved ones, friends and professionals, if necessary.  There are organizations that offer support groups and other outlets for parents to express their intense emotions.  Joining one of those groups and finding other families who have children with disabilities provides families with support and strength.   Families with special needs children are also the best source of information about resources and services.


The first step in becoming an advocate for your child is learning all that you can about your child’s disability, his symptoms and his behaviors.  Never let anyone or any entity set the expectations for your child.  Parents should be setting and monitoring their child’s progress and setting the expectations for development.  Once parents are armed with information, they are prepared to move from anguish to advocacy.  This advocacy is a lifelong venture and will require parents to engage professionals to assist them in determining what is in the best interests for their child.  During this time, parents may have to engage professional advocates and attorneys to help them obtain certain services from social service agencies and schools.


There are many websites and free periodicals available that provide parents with information on the latest trends in providing medical treatment and intervention; care and education to children with disabilities.  The key is organizing the information and reducing it to a useable format.  Many parents create notebooks, checklists, or other filing sytems that allow them to access readily records and information.  Maintaining a journal or other notebook also helps parents keep track of key developmental milestones, services, contacts the effectiveness of services and available resources.


It is also useful to write a one to two paragraph paper on your child’s disability, what it means, how it impacts the child and who is involved in the child’s care.  This is a document that can be provided to babysitters, doctors, dentists, school personnel and family members.  These individuals who are meeting your child for the first time will get a glimpse of who your child is and how they can best meet his or her needs while they interact with the child.


Finally, documentation is a critical element of advocacy.  Start early and develop the habit of taking notes and memorializing all requests to any medical, service or educational provider.  It is so easy to prove the existence of a request when you can produce it in writing.  To the contrary, in the absence of a document, it may prove impossible to establish points or issues that are key to your child’s home, community or school-based program.


Most children with developmental disabilities will attend public school, participate in sports and other extra curriculum activities, attend college, get married and have careers. This means parents will have to play double-duty – lifelong advocate as well as traditional parent.


In Journey to the Top, my career series for women, I encourage professional women to develop empowerment circles—groups of positive, career-minded individuals who can support them on their workplace journey to success.  Likewise, I encourage families who are raising a disabled child to develop similar groups of family, friends and professionals who can assist them with the myriad tasks and responsibilities they will encounter.  These individuals should be familiar with the child, his or her diagnosis and be prepared to be a source of support for the child and family.


The parents lead their empowerment teams, which include doctors, teachers, therapists and other professionals.  Parents’ have the responsibility to ensure that the child’s program is completely integrated and coordinated.  Be knowledgeable and persistant – this is the only way you can make a difference in your child’s life.


Parents don’t have to have a medical, legal or educational degree to become effective and powerful advocates.  They do have to confront and address emotions which may stand in the way of them assisting their child.  When parents accept their child’s strengths and challenges, immerse themselves in the literature regarding the disability, create an empowerment circle of friends, family and professionals and embrace their new role as advocate, they provide their child with the best opportunity to soar.


Areva D. Martin, Esq. is a Harvard trained attorney and managing partner and CEO of Martin & Martin, LLP.  She is an author, syndicated columnist and professional speaker.  Areva is a national authority on careers, success, leadership and special education.


© 2006 by The ArevaMartin Companies, Inc. This article may be reproduced without permission, for educational and training purposes only, provided that the full and accurate bibliographic citation and the following credit line is cited: Copyright 2006 by The ArevaMartin Companies, Inc., website and reproduced with permission from the author.


Having Your Child Assessed: Challenges and Choices

Having Your Child Assessed: Challenges and Choices
By Areva D. Martin, Esq.


Simply put, an assessment is a formal evaluation process wherein a child is tested for a variety of conditions that might cause barriers to his or her ability to access the public school’s curriculum and offerings.


For many parents, word that their child is recommended for an assessment comes as no surprise.  Although most parents are aware of their child’s challenges long before he or she enrolls in primary school, it is in the crucible of school — the classroom, the playground and the lunchroom — where the telltale signs that warrant the recommendation crop up.  Commonly, there may be reports that a child is disruptive in class, unable to focus, lacks interest in school or peers, is failing to complete assignments, or is inconsistent in demonstrated skill level and grades.


Once a school representative suggests a child be assessed, parents must then make the decision of whether or not to go ahead with it.  This can be a daunting task.  What exactly is being tested and which assessments are necessary?  After all, most parents are not doctors, psychologists or educators, yet the assessment process requires parents to understand terms and concepts normally only used by trained professionals.  However, parents can feel more comfortable and confident about the process simply by understanding several key points.


First, under federal law, a child cannot be assessed unless the parents give written consent.  So if you are ever in doubt or disagree with the need for an assessment, simply do not consent.  It’s your right.


Conversely, parents have a right to request an assessment if they have any reason to suspect that a child may be struggling in school and is in need of extra help.


Next, if you request or agree to an assessment, before signing the assessment plan that spells out what will be tested, schedule a meeting with the school’s psychologist and ask them to explain in detail all of the tests that will be used in the assessment, what each test is for and how it will be scored.  Also, if you know your child does not perform well on standardized test, ask that a part of the assessment include classroom observations.  For example, if a child’s reading abilities are being assessed, in addition to a reading comprehension written test, ask the assessor to visit the classroom and observe your child during reading class.  This observation can give the assessor valuable information.


Finally, ask for the completed assessments at least five days in advance of your first meeting to develop your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), which is a blueprint program arrived at by consensus by the IEP committee (school district representatives, teachers, service providers, the child’s parents and others) detailing how the school district plans to support your child with services and accommodations during the coming academic year.


Because the IEP meeting can be a pressure cooker of emotions – this is, after all, your child’s future at stake – you need advance time to review the assessments and to think about what they mean for your child.  This way, you’ll avoid a common trap of seeing an assessment for the first time at an IEP.


Once you’ve received the assessments (and they may come in piecemeal), set aside a few hours to review them and have a pad of paper handy to jot down questions and notes you might have about the results.  Then, schedule a meeting with the assessor to go over the results.  Ask questions.  You may also ask the classroom teacher to be present to determine whether the test results are consistent with the classroom performance.  If you have friends or relatives that work in the field of education and or psychology, ask them to review the results with you.


Further, if you disagree with an assessment, you are entitled to request that an independent assessment be done by an assessor that you and the school district mutually agree upon. You are also free to select an assessor of your choice and have an assessment completed.  If you obtain your own assessment, send the district a letter 10 days in advance of the appointment advising it that you are seeking an assessment and that you plan to seek reimbursement of the fees.


If the assessments are not available, use the IEP where they are presented as an opportunity to review the results and have them explained to you by the experts.  Then call another IEP to make critical decisions about placement and services.  There is no charge for another IEP and it is better to inconvenience one or two adults for a half-day rather than have your child immersed in a program that simply doesn’t meet his needs.


Assessments are valuable tools that can and should be used to help all parents and educators learn more about children and their educational needs.  Following the above guideline, which stresses parent education, readiness and advocacy, allows parents to fully participate in the process of requesting and understanding assessments.  This in turn, creates a win/win situation for children and schools.


Areva D. Martin, Esq. is a Harvard trained attorney, CEO and managing partner of Martin & Martin, LLP in Los Angeles.  A syndicated columnist, professional speaker and author, Areva is a passionate advocate for children and families.  She represents families in education, special education and discrimination actions.


How to Create Empowerment Circles

Hang up the Superwoman Cape and Build Real Power with Empowerment Circles


by Areva Martin


The tired cliché “women’s work is never done” is a reminder that a woman, whether she be housewife or C.E.O., carries a tremendous nonstop workload.  With an inbox that is never empty and a “to-do” list that never quite gets done, most women are chasing an illusive ideal put forth in the booming economies of the 1980s and 1990s and continues today – the Superwoman myth.


Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe columnistEllenGoodman wrote tongue-in-cheek about the “typical” Superwoman’s day:


“Superwoman rises early to wake her 2.3 children, prepares a nutritious breakfast for them (which they eat) and sends them off to school.  Her kids never forget their lunches or leave anything behind.  Then she dons her Anne Klein suit, drives her husband to his commuter train, and heads to her job where she is powerful, creative and does socially useful things.”


Superwoman sparkles all day at work, then spends one hour of quality time with her children after school.  She manages to exercise, prepare a gourmet meal, and serves up a cold martini to her husband as he walks in the door.


Over dinner the family discusses the upcoming election, the children’s school day or the Mid East oil crisis.  After she and her liberated husband wash the dinner dishes, Superwoman reads to the children and puts them to bed.  Then she settles down for a meaningful conversation with her husband at the fireside, hearing all about his day and giving him the support he needs.  Then they go to bed, where she is seductive and playful and gets eight hours refreshing sleep before morning rolls around again.
Most of us, despite our talents and commitment to work, family and careers, never will have the stamina or drive of Ms.Super.


So how do women accomplish their goals without burning out with obligation overload and withering on the vine due to lack of self-nurturing?


The secret of any woman’s success can be found in those with whom she associates – herEmpowerment Circleof support.  Whether you are trying to lose weight, accumulate wealth, deal with a difficult child, care for a sick parent, manage a demanding career—having supportive, empathetic, conscientious people in your inner circle is critical.  Without these individuals, most women don’t have a chance at achieving personal or professional aspirations.


To draw the right members into your circle to help you achieve your ambitions, you must first set a specific goal.  Is it to lose weight?  Start an entrepreneurial business?  Further your education?  Whatever that intention is will determine the make-up of your circle—this is not a “one size fits all concept.”


For example, if want a promotion, you must select the best people to help you.  There are lots of men and women with whom we enjoy spending time with, but who are not candidates for your empowerment circle as it relates to your career moves.  The friend who shares your fashion savvy may have nothing to add to the process of making difficult choices about identifying and pursuing a new position.


The woman seeking a career change might consider an empowerment circle that consists of individuals who have similar career goals including those who have already attained the desired position and those who are connected to decision-makers.  As you make a list of possible individuals to invite into your circle, develop a checklist of criteria.  Availability, related experience or expertise, temperament and shared visions are qualities to assess.


Make sure each individual you identify is someone you trust and respect.  As you are pursuing your goal, this group will supply information, resources and support.  In order to maximize your chances of accomplishing your goal, you will have to share sensitive information about yourself and receive constructive feedback.  If you do not feel completely safe with the individuals in the circle, you will be reluctant to participate and reveal yourself.  At this point, your empowerment circle becomes nothing more than a book club or sorority meeting.


Once you have identified and assessed potential members, invite them into your circle.  This is a very critical step as it will require you to bare your soul.  Remember, under the Superwoman mantra, a woman in need of help is an oxymoron.  You have to shed any deep-rooted thoughts about going it alone; thoughts that may hinder you from building strong supportive relationships.  After all, you’re not asking for a handout.  You are acknowledging that you are on a journey, one that will be made easier by the support of others.  For many 21st century powerful women, this is a difficult task.


Assuming you are ready, approach each individual and discuss with her the goals you have set for yourself and your desire to create a mutually beneficial circle.  Given the significance of this endeavor, I don’t suggest that you do this by letter or e-mail.  You need to explain your intentions and explore in great detail how the individual approached will also benefit.  The process won’t work unless there is reciprocal benefit.  Also, by speaking in person, you can begin to develop the practical aspects of your relationship.


For example, aLos Angelesmother of two sons who are heavily involved in sports recently shared with me that six women with school aged boys formed an empowerment circle to support each other and their sons as they prepare for the rigors of high school sports. All of the women invited to participate have school-aged boys involved in sports, and all of them are concerned about how to provide support for their sons.  The women decided to meet once a month at different locations and to discuss the issues that arise with young boys in sports and how to balance athletics with academics. Although the gatherings are social in nature, the focus of all discussions is on the boys.  For many of these women, this is the only opportunity they have to share their fears and anxieties about injuries, academic performance, etc.  They also share information about training programs, summer camps, coaches and strategies to assist their children.  The women rarely see each other outside of this monthly meeting; however, they frequently talk via telephone as issues arise.


Further, you have to determine as the sports moms have, what your agenda is.  Individuals are busy and any personal interaction is only going to be sustained if it is meaningful.  It is critical that everyone in the circle makes a contribution based on his or her relative strengths and talents; don’t expect each and every person to give valuable input every time, but do demand participation.  If you find that one person is providing all of the input, your circle is not complete and you will not be empowered.  All members must not only have a shared vision, but they must all be willing to add tangible value.


Once you have developed your empowerment circle, whether you meet once a month in person, twice a month or share a weekly phone call, getting connected with others is an effective way to balance the demands of career and family, accomplish a career goal, manage your weight, or start your own business.


©2006 by The ArevaMartin Companies, Inc.  This article may be reproduced without permission for educational and training purposes only, provided that the full and accurate bibliographic citation and the following credit line is cited: Copyright 2006 by The ArevaMartin Companies, Inc., website and reproduced with permission from the author.


Making the Case for Charter Schools

Making the Case for Charter Schools


By Areva D. Martin, Esq.


When elite public schools like MarquezElementary Schoolnestled in the affluent neighborhood of the Pacific Palisaides convert to a charter, should Los AngelesUnifiedSchool Districthave cause to be concerned.  Marquez has been the school to wealthy West side children since 1955 when the school first opened.  In 1993, it was one of the first schools to convert to a charter as Californiawas passing charter school legislation.  Since its conversion, the school has continued to flourish and in 2007, it began a technology program that includes wireless access in all classrooms and laptop computers for students in first through 5th grade.


Marquez has set the bar high and to walk the halls of the school, one would find it hard to believe that it was once a part of the mammoth LAUSD.  If  charter school organizations like Green Dot Charter have their way, schools like Marquez will become the norm rather than the exception.  At the end of February, LAUSD settled a pending lawsuit with Green Dot Charter, charter school parents and the California Charter School Association. Two lawsuits were filed in May under a state law that calls for public school campuses to be “shared fairly.”


The settlement agreement requires the school district to inventory all properties and work directly with charter schools to find space on or off campus to accommodate their programs. The settlement was approved by four of the seven LAUSD board members.  Those dissenting members voiced their concerns over the district’s lack of space for district operated programs.  As a result of overcrowding within the district, many teachers do not have assigned classrooms and actuall have to transport their instructional materials and teaching aids in a cart from location to location due to classroom shortages.


Charters are independently run public schools that are formed as a result of specific legislation passed byCalifornia in the early 1990s.  FollowingMinnesota that passed the first charter legislation in 1991,California folowed suit.  According to anLos Angeles Times article, LAUSD now oversees 125 charter schools with 47,000 students, more charters than any school system in the nation. About a dozen are in district-owned facilities. These include three of the 10 small high schools operated by Green Dot Public Schools.


If Charters are independently run public schools freed from many provisions that govern other schools, including adherence to union contracts and district curriculum.
Currently, 143 district schools operate on a year-round schedule, and 42 have a shortened school year. Even after the district completes a $12.6-billion school construction program, adding about 165,000 seats, officials say some schools will remain overcrowded.


At newly constructed district schools, officials have rarely considered charter school needs, except in rare cases when seats are left over. And no existing school was to be significantly hindered by a charter. Moreover, the review of available space was partly an honors system, with principals disclosing whether or not they could house a charter school.


Over the last decade, charter schools have operated out of churches, high-rises, warehouses and portables slapped down in parking lots. They are supposed to model academic innovation, but officials also saw another benefit.


“Charters could go into storefronts,” said board member Julie Korenstein, who voted against the settlement. “They were increasing space so our [traditional] schools would become less overcrowded. Putting them back on our campuses does just the reverse.”


L.A. Unified now oversees 125 charter schools with 47,000 students, more charters than any school system in the nation. About a dozen are in district-owned facilities. These include three of the 10 small high schools operated by Green Dot Public Schools, which filed the lawsuits along with PUC Schools, six charter parents and the charter association.


“In other cities, people offer facilities if we come,” said Green Dot founder Steve Barr. “We should be looking at this strategically — together.”


The settlement aims at that goal, substituting a five-year plan for a cumbersome, almost ad hoc process that gives charter schools little advance notice on availability, and then guarantees space for only one year. The agreement, which leaves many details to the future, relies much on good faith.


Negotiators for the charter schools said they made numerous concessions and that the terms of the agreement do not represent their view of state law. Board member Yolie Flores Aguilar said the settlement protects “our schools from staying on or going back to [year-round schedules], making sure we don’t bus kids out of their neighborhood or put students back in portables.”


Charter advocates said they expected the agreement to open up many more new and existing campuses to charter schools, which is precisely what critics worry about.


“This is the kind of thing that makes everyone in the school business crazy,” said Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards Assn. Charter schools are “the interlopers here. They land from outer space, get kids to sign up and now they say, ‘We want special accommodations made for us.’ ”


The agreement still needs the formal approval of other parties to the suit, including parents and the boards of the charter schools.



Respect, Not Admiration the Key to Success for Female Executives


By Areva D. Martin, Esq.


As strange as it sounds, being liked and accepted by your peers and your subordinates can actually obstruct your ability to manage and lead in the workplace.


Women managers and executives who aspire to higher levels of management or those who are already in leadership roles know that being liked often precludes being respected.  And it is the latter – respect – that gives a leader the power to set priorities, galvanize employees and move people and processes forward.  In the absence of respect, a manager or supervisor is rendered impotent.


Unfortunately, women in the workplace are often looked at and treated as mothers, nurturers and caregivers.  Consequently, they become the dumping ground for almost every employee and his or her issues and concerns.  Some women find themselves spending countless hours counseling employees and helping them with both work and personal issues.  This can lead to enormous popularity.  You can see a steady stream of individuals flowing in and out of their offices; almost as if the executives are baking and giving away warm chocolate chip cookies.  In some workplaces, this admired executive might as well be called “Mrs. Butterworth,” she is considered so sweet.


Although those employees may feel completely comfortable sharing their personal issues and concerns with the executive, something strange happens in the process of these intimate discussions.  The executive believes that by being a good listener and providing a shoulder for the employees to lean on, she is being a good manager.  Wrong.


The saccharine qualities that help the executive win the office popularity pool will hold her back when she attempts to lead.  Those same employees who flocked into her office will be resistant to her attempts to manage them.  Too late, she learns that those qualities that made her a source of support for the many employees are not ones that motivate them to follow her directives.  This phenomenon completely undermines the executive’s effectiveness and sadly, it is her own fault.


The befriended employees view the helpful executive more as a confidante and peer and less as a leader.  And although these same individuals may develop a certain degree of admiration for the executive, it is not a professional admiration which translates into loyalty and commitment.  It is not the appreciation that results in peak performance from team members.


The Mrs. Butterworths of the office are often left wondering why the same group of employees who have spent hours conferring with her on any number of matters are not performing and in some cases, are actively undermining her work and efforts.
Women leaders need to be clear: being liked is not tantamount to being respected.


And employees respond differently to leaders they like as friends, versus those they respect.


Some executives are fortunate enough to earn both the respect and admiration of their subordinates; however, for those not so fortunate, being respected is the key to strong and authoritative leadership.


Another twist in the being respected versus being liked dilemma is the male executive.  Individuals in the workplace are constantly comparing female executives to males.  Although this gender-based thinking is outdated, it is a reality women have to address.
Men do not typically play the role as counselor and caregivers in the workplace.  They are very careful about setting appropriate boundaries and not allowing themselves to step out of their role as superior, boss, manager or leader.  They maintain a safe and appropriate distance from their subordinates, recognizing that if clear lines of demarcation are not established and maintained, it can be close to impossible to lead a team or direct a process with authority. To be successful, women have to do likewise.


This does not mean that women have to “act like” men or completely ignore that part of their personality that is naturally nurturing.  Nor does it mean that women executives can not be sensitive to the needs of their employees.  It does, however, mean that women must understand the need to set appropriate boundaries in the workplace if they desire to lead with influence and power.


When women fail to set boundaries with subordinates, they will find themselves perpetually relegated to the ranks of the stereotypical “soft and ineffective female” leader who is incapable of ascending to the highest ranks of senior management.  It is imperative that females who are in – or who aspire to – leadership roles avoid the Mrs. Butterworth trap.  To ensure that subordinates and peers interact with them in the context of their authority, they must perform the tasks of strong leaders, not those of caregivers and nurturers.


Becoming an expert in her field, developing new ideas, solving complex problems, motivating peers to perform at ultimate performance levels and gaining recognition by industry peers for raising the bar in terms of performance and profitability are the hallmark activities directly tied to being respected. Ironically, women will find that once they gain the respect of both men and women in the workplace, they will also gain their admiration.


The Secret to Getting More from Your Job

The Secret to Getting More from Your Job


By Areva D. Martin, Esq.


Earning enough to live on during these hard economic times means working longer hours, doing the work of two (or even three) people, all for the same salary as before—and that’s if you’re lucky! Many are working more than one job and some are simply without any income or prospects whatsoever.


If you are fortunate enough to be employed, count your blessings. And rather than saying “woe is me” because you are working so hard, take a page from those who learned valuable lessons during the Great Depression and today are among the wealthiest Americans because, when the going got tough, they learned how to work smarter and find opportunities to thrive in the midst of a total financial meltdown.


Let’s imagine, for instance, that you work in corporate marketing, where previously you were only responsible for advertising campaigns. Now, thanks to “staff reorganization,” you have the added responsibility of event planning and management. After you’ve cancelled your fun weekend plans and eaten dinner at your desk for two weeks so you can prepare for a corporate retreat, you may feel like you are Cinderella left home while everyone else goes to the ball. But, take heart—this is an opportunity to “earn while you learn,” adding important skills to your portfolio and ultimately making you much more valuable when the downturn ends.


Whenever you are asked to assume new responsibilities outside your sphere of expertise, consider enrolling in a class or workshop to enhance you skills and make you an expert in your field. Many courses are free or low-cost, available over the internet, through community colleges, extension courses, industry groups, manufacturers and professional associations. You’ll be surprised at how soon people regard you as an authority!


Always with extra responsibilities comes the opportunity to widen your empowerment circle as you meet new business colleagues and associates. This can happen on the job, especially as you partake in new assignments, or in classes with other working professionals. Take advantage of these encounters by exchanging information, collecting business cards and projecting a positive, “can-do” attitude.


In my book, Journey to the Top, I recommend that women promote their new skills and responsibilities inside their organizations, within their industry or field, and to the general public. This can be done on your company’s website, in its newsletter, in association newsletters and in the general press.


Always check in with your supervisor and others on the chain of command before conducting outreach activities. Some supervisors want the spotlight for themselves. In this case, help him or her move up by featuring your supervisor prominently in your awareness outreach; when she is promoted, you’ll be first in line for the job!


Here is a simple three-step guide to creating a “buzz” about yourself—or your event or project. In this example, let’s pretend you are the event coordinator written about above. (Again, be sure your supervisor is on board before launching any self-promotional activities!)


Write a pre-event press release announcing the event you are coordinating. Use a professional template; give the names of key speakers, expected attendees and what the event is about. Release to appropriate media outlets, including internal newsletters/websites.


Take photographs at the event and do a post-press release touting the event. Remember to have your photo taken with a key attendee. Post the release and photos on your company’s website and send electronically to clients and colleagues.


Keep copies of all press items and add them to your portfolio. Any press you get is an endorsement of your new talents!


These hard economic times can have a silver lining—but it takes persistence, hard-work and a good attitude. Welcome new assignments or responsibilities for the opportunities they are. In the short run, these new duties may mean longer hours and more time at the office, but in the long run they can mean bigger bucks and greater opportunities for advancement and growth.


This is the not-so-secret formula followed by successful executives in better economic times—they simply work harder and smarter, while accomplishing more than those around them.  Keep your focus at work and your eyes on the prize—the corner office, bigger and better benefits, and the joy of being part of the solution. Follow an action plan like this one and you will be one step closer to the career and lifestyle of your dreams.


The Sky Is Blue Every Day

The Sky Is Blue Every Day


From sun up to sun down and sometimes even in my dreams, I’m reminded of the daily struggles my son faces. He sees the world differently than most children, but the same as so many other children who are just like him. My son has autism.
As I mother, I desperately want to protect him. I want his struggles to go away. I don’t want the world to view him as being different or abnormal. I want him to be just like every other child, but the reality is that his disorder is here to stay. The reality is we live in the world of autism.


There is no cure. There are still so many unanswered questions. There is, however, hope — hope that with more advocacy, more research and more compassion for children with special needs, we can improve our knowledge and understanding of autism. Slowly, steadily, we are making progress, but we still have a long way to go to break down barriers and build up resources.


Once a year, society’s eyes and ears are opened to the world of autism as skyscrapers turn blue, mayors around the country proclaim awareness and organizations host a multitude of events in recognition of a disorder that at one time was completely misunderstood and swept under the rug.


Many advocates would say that once a day, week or month has been dedicated specifically to your cause, great strides are being made. I would agree but when national diagnosis rates continue to rise and underserved communities continue to struggle with access to affordable care, it’s even more important to remember that our attentiveness needs to be tuned in every day of the year, not just throughout the month of April.


Autism now impacts one in 50 children. And while recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control are good indications that our nation is becoming more attentive to autism spectrum disorders, there is still much ground to cover.
As the head of a leading autism advocacy organization and having worked with more than 30,000 families in just a few short years, I have witnessed first-hand the lack of attention to this developmental disability by healthcare providers, insurance companies and public officials.


It’s crucial that as a society, we realize that even as the rate of this developmental disorder rises, the rate at which minority children are ignored and pushed aside is even more disconcerting. Research continues to show that minority children are diagnosed nearly two years later than their Caucasian peers. While we may be unaware of a cure or definite causes, we do know that an early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve a child’s outcomes and development progress.


The autism epidemic continues to take a toll on children and families across the U.S., especially families in underserved communities. It is time that we take action to ensure every child in need receives access to quality care and the life-long benefits of an early diagnosis and intervention. It’s time we took action throughout every month of the year. Let the sky remind us that autism awareness must be every day for even when it rains, the sky is still blue somewhere.


And while I recognize the struggles my son endures, I also realize that his diagnosis has allowed us to better understand ourselves. And, although as a parent I never want my child to suffer or struggle in life, I wouldn’t change him for the world. For every struggle he has, he also has an abundance of joys. He is mine. He is beautiful. He is autistic.


Originally Published on The Huffington Post.


When A Child Needs Extra Help to Succeed in School

When A Child Needs Extra Help to Succeed in School


By Areva D. Martin, Esq.


As parents, we often wonder, “where does the time go?’’  The earliest years move at warp speed and before we know it, our children are ready for kindergarten.  Tricycles are traded in for backpacks, lunch pails and school books.


For many parents these changes mark the exciting fist steps of a long journey towards independence.  However, for some the prospect of a child entering school is filled with anxiety because months – even years – before the child reaches pre-school age, his parents have observed their child is different.


Perhaps by age three, the child is not talking; or perhaps he isn’t responding to his name. Still another child may not be engaged in appropriate play with peers.  Without knowing exactly what is wrong, parents know their child is not developing typically.


Parents who find themselves in this position should not dismay.  Over 30 years ago, Congress recognized the importance of providing an appropriate education to all children – including those that may have cognitive, physical or emotional disorders which impact them in the classroom – by enacting the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  These federal laws provide opportunities for students who qualify to receive an education that meets their unique needs.


Specifically, under IDEA, students with certain disabilities are entitled to a “free appropriate education” or FAPE.  This process begins with an assessment or evaluation of the student to determine his disability.  The federal law actually identifies a list of qualifying disabilities, such as autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and learning disabilities, among others.


If a parent or a teacher believes a child is having difficulty with understanding course materials, interacting with peers, or generally participating in school, then a written request should be made to the principal of the school of attendance.  Within 60 days of receiving the request to assess, the school district must conduct assessments and schedule a meeting with the parents and all professionals involved with the assessment to decide whether the child is eligible for special education or accommodation under IDEA or any other federal law.  This meeting is termed an individual education program (IEP) meeting.  At this meeting, the assessment report is provided and discussed.


The IEP team members include the parents and anyone invited to attend the meeting by the parents (including attorneys, advocates, doctors, family members and supporters). At the IEP meeting, parents can present assessments from any number of evaluators, including private physicians, therapists, tutors or assessors.


The IEP team must decide if, without additional support, the child will be able to participate in the classroom curriculum.  Depending on the findings contained in all of the assessments presented at the IEP meeting and any other relevant information, the team may decide that the student’s needs could be met by providing a student with assistance through a series of modifications including preferential seating, providing extended time for the completion of assignments and providing shortened assignments if necessary.


If the team concludes that a student can be assisted with simple accommodations, the team may decide that the child should receive a 504 Plan determination, which does not require a student to be eligible for special education.  A student provided reasonable accommodations under a 504 Plan is not entitled to an array of services that are available to him under IDEA.  For example, IDEA provides eligible students with a full compliment of related services and a special classroom setting.  Students might be entitled to transportation to and from school, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, counseling and communication devices.  Neither “related services” nor special educational settings are available under a 504 Plan determination.  Hence, if a student has more involved needs, a 504 Plan may not be appropriate.


Once the IEP team decides whether the student requires special education or a 504 Plan, the team has to decide appropriate placement for the student.  Some of the options include assigning the student to a general education class or – at the opposite end of the spectrum – placing him or her in a small class comprised only of students with disabilities, commonly referred to as a “special day class.”  Additionally, the team has to decide what, if any, additional services may be appropriate to allow the student to obtain an appropriate education.


Although the law provides children with disabilities with an appropriate education, it does not obligate districts to provide students with the best education.  This often leads parents and districts to disagree on what is appropriate.  Disputes range from whether or not the child is in need of services to what the appropriate services are to address the child’s needs. These disputes are often resolved at the school level.  However, on some occasions, parents have to challenge decisions of the school district by filing a complaint with their local state agency.  Such disputes may result in a hearing before an administrative law judge, who decides the issues based on oral and written evidence presented during the hearing.


The key to obtaining the best possible education for a child is for parents is to be aware of any issues and to discuss their concerns with trained professionals including medical doctors, psychologists, educators and if necessary, trained therapists.  Being aware of any potential issues and addressing them at the earliest opportunity assures students the greatest opportunity for success in the school setting.


Women: Challenges and Choices in Leadership and Multi-tasking

Challenges and Choices in Leadership and Multi-tasking


By: Areva Martin, Esq.


Career woman, mother, community member, wife, caregiver – as women, we’ve always had to wear many hats at once and juggle not only the details of our lives but the minutiae of others’ lives as well.


This balancing act is extremely difficult and often the frustration caused by not being able to do everything as perfectly as we’d like to do spills over to the workplace where the “to-do” pile only seems to grow.  How can a woman determined to become a leader manage to get everything done and master new challenges while doing so? Simply put, we must approach our long-established ability to multi-task in a new way.


Multi-tasking is definitely not about trying to do it all, either in the work place or home.  Nor is multi-tasking trying to be a “jack of all trades.”  Many women think that in order to be effective in the workplace, they have to know everything about everybody and every situation at all times.  This is impossible to accomplish without becoming the proverbial “office busy-body.”  Some situations are simply not the province of the leader.


There may be someone in your downline (those under you) who should be informed about the situation, but leaders do not need to be intimately involved in every situation.  Simple principles of economics tell us there are opportunity costs associated with everything that we do; every project that we become involved in and every piece of information we allow to occupy space in our brains.  What starts out as an innocuous question about a workplace incident can quickly turn into a lengthy meeting or series of meetings on topics that can best be handled by someone else.


This is perhaps one of the most difficult things for female leaders to learn.  The art of  saying“NO” is key to success.  A firm “NO” isn’t just a refusal of a request, but it is the act of knowing how to set appropriate limits and priorities so that the majority of your time is spent on higher level thinking – activities and projects that move your organization forward.  Both men and women in the workplace have a way of placing myriad demands on leaders and managers, particularly women.


While it’s important to have rapport with your subordinates, women managers and leaders are more likely than men to become involved in the personal affairs of their subordinates.  Some will spend hours counseling and providing advice on everything from the best school for an employee’s disabled child to how to calculate an employee’s mortgage payment.


Women must learn that multi-tasking is about prioritizing and learning to complete those tasks that provide the foundation for the completion of more tasks.  It is not about completing absolutely every task presented to you. Often, our agenda is developed by someone other than ourselves.  A typical example of that is the executive who goes through the trouble of using an elaborate system of schedules and calendars including computer software programs, blackberries, trios and palm pilots, yet dispenses with every planned activity at a drop of a dime.


A phone call, a co-worker’s crisis, a family member or any number of things that happen in a day distract female executives and make them work off-task.  Some women spend their entire day working on someone else’s agenda and responding to one crisis after the other.  Others have no plan, and at the end of the day, have absolutely no clue about how they spent most of their time.  Still others are engaged in a series of activities, most of which are disjointed and fragmented.  These individuals find themselves frustrated at the end of the day because although they have been busy, they feel as if they have gotten nothing accomplished.


Working smarter not harder takes training and practice.  Identify critical tasks that allow you to produce the objective outcomes by which your leadership will be judged.  If you are the senior vice president of marketing and your ultimate responsibility is to increase your company’s market share for a particular product in a certain demographic, then you need to identify those upper level tasks that allow you to accomplish that, such as creating a strategic marketing plan.  Chart exactly how much time you spend in each day on that plan versus any number of other activities that could be more easily delegated to someone else on your team.  If you are not spending the majority of your time on that plan, you are not managing your time in a way that maximizes your leadership potential.


Women can’t expect to be effective leaders without first mastering time management skills.  How you will be judged in the workplace, your ability to produce desired outcomes and to move your organization forward is linked to being able to identify the critical success factors of your organization.  Prioritize your time in order to ensure that the majority of your time is spent on those factors, and not the million of other tasks that have a way of monopolizing most of your time.


Worlds Richest Man Makes Education His Business

What Happens When The World’s Richest Man Makes Education His Business


By Areva D. Martin, Esq.


Its music to the ears of some families throughoutLos AngelesCountythat billionaire Bill Gates, through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is making public education his business.  Recent reports that the foundation has committed to funding at least 10, and maybe more, new charter schools in the Los Angeles area may bode well for families whose children attend some of the poorest performing schools in the County, but it is not so clear that Bill Gate’s generosity is so well received by the beleaguered Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), its Superintendent, David Brewer III and its newly appointed Board.


The District which claimed victory a month ago in its battle with Green Dot Charter over control ofLockeHigh School, in the predominantly African American and Latino community ofWatts,CA, is seemingly resistant to the billionaire’s near missionary zeal to create institutions of learning which are outside the reach and purview of traditional school boards and superintendents.  To date, the foundation has invested more than $1.7 billion in education initiatives, a large portion of which has been used to create charter schools.  The Gates Foundation has financed schools throughout the state including ones in Watts, South Los Angeles,OaklandandEast Palo Alto.


Despite LAUSD’s affinity, or lack thereof, for charter schools, the reality is that they have become a permanent part ofCalifornia’s educational landscape.  More than 200,000 students throughout the state attend charters and that number will continue to grow as more dollars pour in from big foundations and philanthropists like Eli Broad and Gates, who has committed more than 12 million dollars this year alone to LA based schools.Californiawas the second state in the country to pass charter legislation in 1992.  Those laws were recently amended in 2002.  And in 2003 and 2004, legislation was passed to make the acquisition of school sites easier for prospective charter organizations.


In California, a charter school may be started and operated by individuals or organizations from outside of the traditional school district system.  They are granted a “charter or contract” usually for 5 years, from a school board or the state. The schools are generally exempt from most laws that apply to regular public school, so administrators and faculty have considerable autonomy in designing programs that meet the students’ needs.  The schools cannot charge tuition nor may they discriminate in terms of their admissions policies. InCalifornia, charter schools receive state and local funding in a per student allotment based on statewide averages, dependent on the grade level of the students.   They also receive considerable private funding from foundations such as the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walter S. Johnson Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.


Leaders of the charter movement including Steve Barr, CEO and Founder of Green Dot Charter, one of the largest operators of charter schools in theLos Angelesarea, claim emphatically that charters are the best and most viable alternative to schools in low-income areas like South Los Angeles andEast Oakland.  According to charter proponents, charter schools are able to cut through red tape, offer innovative educational programs, provide new options to families and promote healthy competition for traditional public schools.  Opponents argue that charter schools are no more effective than traditional public schools, that they may exacerbate racial segregation, that they create fiscal strains for school districts and the that too many of them are unreliable operations.


Policymakers and educators may continue to wrestle with and debate the effectiveness of charter schools, however, parents of students at schools like Locke High andJeffersonHigh Schoolin South Los Angeles are fed up with business as usual and are supporting the efforts of Barr and the vision of Gates.  Several years ago, parents of students atJeffersonorganized and collected 10,000 signatures at supermarkets and churches endorsing the division of the school into several smaller charter schools. Nearly 1,000 parents then marched from the school site with Barr to deliver the petition to LAUSD’s headquarter after negotiations with district officials about overhauling Jefferson broke down. LAUSD refused to relinquish control over the school, which has one of the highest dropout rates in the district and which received national media attention a year ago because of violence on its campus.  However, the district did approve the opening of five new charter schools in the area, which draw students from Jefferson.


Microsoft, Windows 2000, Windows Vista; from revolutionizing the way the entire world communicates to building the most utilized software on the planet, it is clear that when Bill Gates takes on a project, he gets results.  And although Superintendent Brewer claims that he supports alternative schools, the district has not been willing to convert any of its low-performing high schools to charters despite petitions from parents in the case ofJeffersonand petitions from tenured teachers in the case of Locke.
Notwithstanding, Green Dot and other charter organizations with the help of Gates are pushing the Los Angeles educational establishment to move beyond traditional public schools, which history has shown are often entrenched in an unresponsive and slow to change bureaucracy.


Green Dot may have lost the battles at Jefferson and Locke, but the charter movement is far from dead.  Moreover, it is clear that LAUSD better bring its “A” game to compete with the likes of Gates and the other billionaires who have stepped up to the plate and are making the education of African Americans and Latinos in the Los Angeles community a priority.


Areva D. Martin, Esq. is Managing Partner of Martin & Martin, LLP, selected as one of LA’s Top Black Law Firms in 2007.  She practices education law, with an emphasis on special education, employment law and general business litigation.  Martin, an author and syndicated columnist is a regular legal commentator on radio and television.  To contact her visit or call 213-388-4747.