The Administration Policy of Family Separation at the Border is Morally Abhorrent—and Violates IDEA, ADA Laws

The following statement concerning family separation at the US/Mexico border was released yesterday by the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA).

Statement Calling for a Halt to the Practice of Separating Children from their Parents

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) exists to protect the rights of children with disabilities.  The Administration’s inhumane and intolerable practice of separating undocumented children from their parents, who know the children best and who speak their familial language, ensures that the rights of children with disabilities are not protected. All children impacted and interned have rights under federal law. Children with disabilities are covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, yet the system in place that forces separation does not allow for full disclosure and understanding of what needs such children may have nor does the current structure allow for the identification of suspected disabilities as required by IDEA and Section 504. Equally as disturbing is the fact that separation is occurring when the research is clear that such forced separation causes complex stress in these young victims.  Such toxic stress results in physiological changes in the brain which can disable a child’s ability to learn, alter the physiology of a child’s developing brain, and inhibit the performance of daily activities such as thinking, reading, and learning. COPAA calls upon the Administration to halt the practice of separating families now and work immediately to find humane and legal means to address the immigration challenges we have at our nation’s border
— Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), June 19, 2018

COPAA is a national advocacy organization promoting the legal and civil rights of students with disabilities and their families. The Law Offices of Regina Skyer & Associates are proud members of COPAA, and our firm’s partner Jesse Cole Cutler is a board member.

If you are looking for ways to help families separated at the border, the Texas Tribune has published a comprehensive list of respected organizations who are engaged in that work and the form of assistance they are seeking.

Speaking Out Against Gun Violence and Bias in Our Schools

In the days following the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, we were heartened to open The New York Times and see a full-page, open letter signed by the heads of hundreds of independent schools throughout New York State, including many of the wonderful special education schools our clients’ children attend. Titled “Heads of Schools Speak Out Against Gun Violence,” the joint letter called upon our President and Congress to enact common sense gun law reform.

Unfortunately, rather than doing the hard work of reforming gun laws, Congress is looking at legislation like HR 4909, the Students, Teachers, and Officers Prevention (STOP) School Violence Act, which would set aside funds for grants to public school districts and private schools for the installation of new school security infrastructure, coordination with law enforcement, and the development of anonymous reporting systems, among other measures.

Evidence-based research has consistently demonstrated that increasing policing in schools does not make the school environment safer. Further, HR 4909 does not meet obligations under civil rights statutes, including the IDEA, to guarantee that students receive fair treatment, equal protection, and due process rights. The fact of the matter is that people with disabilities, including the mentally ill and those with emotional disturbances, are much more likely to become victims of violence than to be its perpetrators. Measures that criminalize our students, particularly those for whom behavior is a concern, inappropriately exacerbate the biases already operating against them.

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, of which we are a member, has issued two statements on this topic since the Parkland tragedy: one calling upon Congress to fund the creation of strong therapeutic programs for children who need intensive services and to finance training in positive, trauma-informed techniques to resolve behavioral challenges, and a second statement in opposition to HR 4909. We stand in agreement with both of these statements.

These are not partisan issues. We must put aside tribalism and find common ground to protect our children and teachers from gun violence without needlessly contributing to bias and discrimination against our most vulnerable students and without turning our schools into prisons.

HR4909 has already passed in the House and been delivered to the Senate for consideration. You can contact Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand to share your opinion about HR 4909.

Skyer Law Attends Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates National Conference

by Greg Cangiano

Last week, two partners of our firm, Diana Gersten and Greg Cangiano, attended the 19th annual conference of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) in Dallas, Texas. The conference was attended by 550 parents, attorneys, and special education advocates from across the country.

We try never to miss the annual COPAA conference; we always want to learn more from our peers about how to better serve our families. We also get a chance to catch up with members of our esteemed bar—not only to compare war stories, but also to discuss developments in special education law and policy. COPAA is a critical national organization, and we have blogged before about why we think special education parents should consider joining its ranks.

As you can imagine, the focus of this year's conference was quite political, and many of the panels focused on how to best support our families in the climate created by the current administration in Washington. We attended relevant and important workshops, such as “School Vouchers and Students with Disabilities: Examining Impact in the Name of Choice,” “The Independent Educational Evaluation- Roadblocks to Getting a Truly Independent IEE,” and “Refusing the Diploma: What to Do When Your Student in Not Ready to Transition to Post-Secondary Life.” 

We took a lot of pride in the fact that the “The Top 40 Chart-Topping District Court Decisions of 2016” panel featured a number of winning decisions that were handled by our office. We are always grateful and humbled to be able to contribute to the betterment of students with disabilities by creating good legal precedents. Celebrating our successes is important. 

We left with our spirits raised, our curiosities piqued, and our bellies full with good ol’ southern grub. 

Why Parents Should Join the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA)

Lately, whenever we blog about an important legal or policy development, we receive emails from clients wanting to know: What can I do? 
One organization that parents can join to get more involved in affecting public policy is the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA). COPAA is the only national organization of attorneys, advocates, and parents that specifically focuses on the educational rights of students with disabilities. In addition to many invaluable member-only resources, like sample documents and other advocacy tools, discounts on COPAA’s informative webinars, access to COPAA’s moderated listserv, and an online peer-to-peer network for parents, COPAA actively engages in public policy work, fighting every day to protect the civil rights of special education children. The Law Offices of Regina Skyer and Associates, L.L.P is a proud member of COPAA.
Some of COPAA’s current public policy priorities include safeguarding the IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA; protecting the IDEA funding formula; ending discrimination against students with disabilities in voucher and charter programs; and creating more opportunities for students with disabilities to transition to post-secondary life. (See COPAA’s Policy webpage for more information on their public policy priorities.) COPAA also opines on critical issues impacting special education from political appointments to rules changes and legislation, and writes amicus briefs (which assist a court by offering information on ongoing cases) for impact legislation.
For more information about how to become a member of COPAA, please see their website.