IEPs: Individual Education Plan or Incredibly Exasperating Plan

Individualized Education Plans (hereinafter IEPs) are critical for the educational progress of children with disabilities. An IEP as defined under 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1) is a “written statement for each child with a disability” that includes information regarding the child’s current education level and performance, annual goals, progress reports on the child’s ability to meet those goals, lists of services and resources in place to be provided to the child, and a description of the extent the child will participate with nondisabled students in classes and activities.

The Supreme Court case, Endrew v. Douglas County School District, decided earlier this year should have had parents dancing in the streets. It held that to meet the obligations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), IEPs should be created with the goal of educational progress for a child with a disability in mind. The broad focus of IEPs encourages children with disabilities to become thriving students by increasing access to resources and educational goals. However, the Endrew case, while well-intentioned, did nothing to help parents and guardians of those children with disabilities understand the IEP so that they may ensure that their children are getting access to the resources needed for them to thrive.

IEPs are written in highly technical language, making it difficult for the average parent to understand. As a result, the fiercest advocates for these children are potentially excluded from doing so, simply because they cannot understand the document. Moreover, these parents are forced to spend hundreds of dollars to hire an advocate to navigate them through the IEP process. When it comes to one’s child, most parents are willing to do anything for them and may be prohibited when crucial documents are drafted with such highfalutin and technical language that they cannot fully comprehend.

A parent or guardian knows their child better than anyone. They know what will allow their child to succeed. They have probably been to every doctor and therapy appointment. They have probably researched their child’s particular disability in depth. They have spent years developing strategies and learning what steps to take in order for their child to succeed, but are precluded from advocating for their child simply because of a piece of paper they cannot understand. This piece of paper has such power. It determines a child’s access to resources over the course of the school year.

One concerned parent of a child with autism noted:
They are written in legal language and terminology that most parents do
not understand. Parents tend to assume that the school automatically
knows what the children need and just sign off on the IEPs due to the
language. Additionally, if parents have questions regarding the
document, the school tends to send the message that it’s inconvenient to
take time to over things in a broken down or simplified way. Frankly,
many parents put too much trust in the education administration because
of the jargon used. And not to say that all school systems fall into the
category of doing what’s best for their bottom line, but that’s been our
experience.
-Brittney Effler

Brittney Effler is a mother to a three-year-old boy on the autism spectrum with childhood apraxia of speech about to begin pre-school. He may be on the spectrum, but he is capable of doing just about anything when given the correct resources. A parent knows best, but without being able to assess what an IEP is actually providing for a child, how can a parent advocate zealously for a child? For a child on the spectrum, every resource counts. It could mean the difference between verbal and non-verbal, socializing and making friends, or even gaining a level of independence that every child is entitled to no matter what disability they may have.

The spirit of the Endrew case cannot be achieved for as long as IEPs remain inaccessible to the majority of parents and guardians. The responsibility is on the parents and guardians to advocate for their child to ensure their child makes progress and does not plateau, but they cannot do so if they do not understand the document that states how the school system plans on achieving success for each and every child.

New Bedford Opioid Forum Keynote Speaker Emphasizes Community as an Approach to the Opioid Epidemic

On October 2, 2017, the New Bedford Whaling Museum hosted “Finding Solutions: a Community Opioid Forum.” The forum was intended to provide an opportunity for law enforcement officials, medical workers, and community members to converse about the problem of opioid addiction in Massachusetts. The keynote speaker, Mr. Michael Botticelli, is the current Executive Director of the new Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine at Boston Medical Center. As a person who struggled with addiction himself, Mr. Botticelli talked about significant challenges to recovery, and stated that the ultimate cure to the addiction crisis is community. He identified multiple factors which helped create the problem of opioid addiction, and ways that the same entities who helped create the problem can help solve it.

One of the sources of the problem which may also provide solution is healthcare workers. Mr. Botticelli described the impact of the prescription drug market on today’s opioid crisis with a stark statistic: in 2012, enough opioid-based pain medications were prescribed to provide every American with a bottle. Today, however, safe prescribing practices and use of non-addictive alternative pain management methods have significantly cut down the amount of opioid medications being prescribed. Aside from these safer prescription practices, Mr. Botticelli advocated for earlier intervention at hospitals and by healthcare providers when it becomes apparent that a patient has a drug or alcohol addiction disorder. He stated that the idea of reaching “rock bottom” before treatment can begin is part of the problem. Healthcare workers should strive to identify problems before there is an overdose to provide more effective treatment and potentially diversion from the criminal justice system. Mr. Botticelli said that a person with hypertension is not told to wait for treatment until she has a heart attack, so waiting for people with drug addiction disorders to reach their most severe state prior to treatment is hypocritical.

The failure of the criminal justice system to provide treatment options in lieu of incarceration has also exacerbated the opioid crisis, but Mr. Botticelli stated that the criminal justice system is also the most common source of referrals for the treatment of drug addiction disorders. Although the New Bedford Opioid forum focused largely on the diligent work of local law enforcement and healthcare workers, it is critical for legal minds to remember that they can make a difference too. Many of the issues faced by people with addiction disorders are the everyday issues of marginalized populations, but exacerbated by a chemical dependence. As zealous advocates, lawyers should remember that beyond preventing their clients from succumbing to eviction, criminal liability, and other legal maladies, they are also in a unique position to be able to determine whether their client has a drug or alcohol problem. Zealous advocacy is not merely solving a client’s discrete legal problem, but helping the client find solutions to remain out of trouble.

In sum, Mr. Botticelli is one hundred percent on point in emphasizing community. Drug addiction disorders have impacted New England for long enough. Every person in nearly every profession can find a way to make a positive change, even if it’s only in their attitude.

UMass Law Review Hosts an Immigration Law Symposium

Immigration has become a divisive issue for our nation. At the end of 2016, NBC news identified immigration as one of eight issues that would shape politics in 2016. After the election of President Donald J. Trump, immigration became a hotly debated issue as the President threatened to withhold federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities. The problem is that sanctuary city is not defined in law. Nonetheless, it prompted hundreds of cities and towns, including several in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to offer “sanctuary” for immigrants who came to this country illegally. These cities vowed not to prosecute otherwise law abiding immigrants. Meanwhile, President Trump moved quickly once in office to institute a travel ban barring refugees from seven Muslim countries for 120 days and suspending travel from these countries for 90 days. The order was effective against foreign visitors and permanent U.S. residents. A day later, a federal judge in New York issued an emergency stay of the order allowing for the release of travelers with visas at U.S. airports and stopping deportations of travelers. Following this, several states took legal action against the President claiming that the ban will cause “irreparable harm.” On February 3rd, a federal judge out of Washington issued a temporary restraining order suspending the ban nationwide. On February 9th, the Ninth Circuit of Appeals heard the appeal and refused to reinstate the travel ban arguing that the government had not shown that irreparable injury would be caused by the stay.

The back and forth continued in March as the President signed a new executive order, but it met a similar fate at Federal District Courts in Hawaii and Maryland. Then a few weeks later, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge ruled that the order was justified. The order is currently in limbo right now but it is very possible that it may go before the Supreme Court.

As a result, the University of Massachusetts Law Review has decided to take on this topic for our annual law school symposium. The event entitled, The Immigration Symposium: Beyond the Wall, is scheduled for April 6th from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event will not only discuss the legal intricacies of this complex topic but it will also mark the American Bar Association’s Law Day which focuses on the 14th Amendment this year. It will also mark a milestone for the University: the 15th anniversary of the Immigration Law Clinic, which provides free legal assistance to individuals with immigration matters.

The event will start with a light breakfast at 8 a.m. This will be followed by an alumni panel from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. featuring local immigration attorneys who graduated from the University of Massachusetts School of Law and participated in the Immigration Clinic. At 10 a.m. the discussion will continue as we zero in on the topic of sanctuary cities featuring Sheriff Hodgson, Mayor Curtatone of Somerville, Councilwoman Emily Norton of Newton, and Sarand Sekhavat, the Federal Policy Director for Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. This has been a hotly debated issue in Massachusetts and has made headlines in both the Boston Globe and the New York Times. Mayor Curtatone, most notably, being one of the first mayors to announce that his city would be a sacntuary city and forego federal funding if it came down to it. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials like Sheriff Hodgson of Dartmouth, Massachusetts shot back saying we should prosecute illegal immigrants to the full extent of the law. The panel promises to be lively as well as informative and balanced.

The third panel of the day (11:30-12:30) will feature three subject matter experts on the Middle East and refugees discussing issues surrounding the travel ban. We will talk to immigration attorney Subhan Tariq about practicing in the field as a Muslim attorney. He will also weigh in on the legal implications of the travel ban. We will also check in with Dr. Joseph Roberts of Roger Williams University. Dr. Roberts is a Middle Eastern expert who will discuss the implications of the travel ban in an international context. Lastly, a representative from the Massachusetts Bar Association will join us to discuss local efforts to overturn and challenge the travel ban.

The keynote speaker at the event will be former Congressman Barney Frank. Congressman Frank will weigh in on both the President’s policy on sanctuary cities and his recent executive orders concerning immigration. He will discuss the future of our nation and immigration as well as some of the circumstances leading up to President Trump’s immigration crackdown. Congressman Frank will speak at 12:45 p.m. Then the event will conclude with lunch and refreshments.