The Office of the County Counsel, Probation Department and Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) have joined forces with the Morrissey-Compton Educational Center, Inc., and Legal Advocates for Children and Youth (“LACY”) to comprise the Educational Rights Project ("ERP"). ERP works to ensure that dependents and wards of the juvenile court are enrolled in and attending the appropriate school program, which can include receiving a free appropriate individualized educational program.
The Office of the County Counsel, along with its ERP partners, provides a number of services to families involved in the juvenile court, such as: 1) training social workers and probation officers to identify and advocate for children in need of special education services; 2) supporting parents throughout the special education process by training them of their right to access and secure free services for their child, and in some cases, assigning an educational advocate to provide additional assistance; and 3) providing ongoing training for the juvenile court professionals on educational issues to increase awareness and promote a proactive approach to tackling dependent and delinquent children's educational challenges.
The County Counsel's Office works collaboratively with the schools, various county departments and the courts on systemic issues which have hampered access to services. The office has obtained court orders which allow county schools to release educational information to county agencies, drafted forms which assist in the exchange of information, revised parental consent forms, streamlined the procedure for obtaining and appointing surrogate parents and educational representatives, advised the Judicial Council on pending legislation, and along with other ERP members, serves on a variety of county committees devoted to serving the needs of children with special educational needs.
As of January 1, 2004, ERP has served over 2,000 children. During 2003 over 750 new cases were opened and over 200 cases had ERP advocates assigned to help children and families. Children referred to ERP qualified for special education services in nearly 90% of the cases in which an assessment or re-evaluation was requested.
The Educational Rights Project will continue to remove barriers which have prevented children of the court from succeeding at school and to build bridges between children, their families and the schools. If you would like to learn more about ERP or volunteer to be an advocate, contact Avril Vazquez at (408) 491-4200.
The following are examples of cases and issues which the Educational Rights Project has resolved:
During this school year, a twelve year old boy who was reading at the first grade level was referred to ERP. While he had previously been tested for special education, he was found ineligible for services. An advocate was assigned to the case. She attended an IEP meeting to discuss the test results and found that the child had been tested in English despite the fact that Spanish was his primary language and he had been enrolled in an English Language Development class for the preceding five years. Also, the advocate discovered that the child was on medication for major depression and the school had not considered this fact in finding him ineligible for services. Upon the advocate's request, the boy was retested and reconsidered for services. Unfortunately, during the testing, the principal had the student transferred out of the school and placed in a community school. Through the efforts of the advocate, the student was placed back at his original school, found eligible for special education and placed in a classroom for emotionally disturbed students. The minor is now doing extremely well.
A young boy who was monolingual in Spanish had been tested to determine if he qualified for special education services. Despite his low scores, he was found ineligible for services because of his lack of attendance. After an advocate was assigned to the case, the school district agreed to complete additional testing and subsequently found him to be eligible for services under the "other health impaired" category due to his epileptic seizures. The student was assigned to a Special Day Class with a one-on-one aide to assist him with his English language difficulties. However, before his program had been fully implemented, the school attempted to expel him for a behavior incident on campus. It was agreed that he would be put on home tutoring until his program was fully in place. Subsequently, the boy has returned to school, has been regularly attending his Special Day Class with the aide, is doing very well and making progress both academically and socially.