How to Read the Wright Book

Even if you are brand new to education advocacy, you have probably already heard of Wrightslaw.  Developed by Attorney Peter Wright  and his wife, Psychologist Pam Wright, Wrightslaw is an incredible source of information on special education law and advocacy.  Their books, website and trainings are renown.  Last week I was able finally to attend a one-day intensive special education advocacy training by the incomparable Peter Wright.  He spoke to a sold out audience of parents and professionals from around New England at the Sturbridge Host Hotel.

There is no question that Peter and his wife, “wrote the book” when it comes to special education advocacy.  One of the perks of the training was receiving updated versions of their classics, From Emotions to Advocacy, Special Education Law, and All About IEP’s.  These books are awesome resources for any parent or advocate.  I strongly recommend owning and reading From Emotions to Advocacy for all parents of children with special needs. You may not need to read it three times, as Peter insists in his training, but once is a must.  It can be a real game changer for anyone struggling to work with a recalcitrant school district.  Special Education Law is also an excellent source of federal and state statutes with commentaries provided by Wright.

It was wonderful to hear Peter Wright talk about his own background as a child with dyslexia and a host of other learning challenges; the atrocious and common mistakes of those involved in his early education; and his extraordinary route to becoming a successful trial lawyer.  His comments on and descriptions of his court cases, including ones heard by the Supreme Court, were fascinating.   He is a marvelous storyteller with a wealth of experiences.  Unfortunately, he shared only a smattering of cases throughout the day, touching on the highlights, and moving on much too quickly.

About, 90% of the training was spent thumbing through the tables of contents of his books, highlighting chapters and laws, making notes in the margins and being  instructed to go back and read the text later. This was a tedious process and done much too quickly for many audience members.  I don’t write in books. I consider it a sacrilege. Besides, I learn better by writing things down.  Fortunately, I had my laptop, so my notes are legible and I can share them with you here.  I confess, after four hours I stopped taking notes on books and just listened for new information.

These are Pete Wright’s directions for highlighting the most essential information and making notes in Special Education Law, 2nd Edition.  You may want to wait for the next edition of Special Education Law as several changes are expected in the immediate future including the outcome of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, currently before the Supreme Court.  The meaning of an “appropriate” education is again on trial this week.  You can also view and/or download the federal regulations at Mass Department of Education or by topic at wrightslaw.com.  Massachusetts State Regulations are available at Mass DOE.   Of course, the page numbers will be different.  Wrightslaw also posts updates to their books online.  (Numbering/lettering refers to chapter and statute sections):

Chapter 5: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004

Highlight these 5 Key Sections and Listed Subsections & add notes in margins:

1400 Findings of the Law (page 45)

  • (c) Economic self-sufficiency

1401 Definitions (page 49)

  • 3 Child with a disability (page 49)
  • 26 Related Services
    • NOTE: Designed to enable a child to benefit from special education.
  • 29 Special Education (page 55)
  • 33 Supplemental aids and services: provided in regular ed classes

1412 State Responsibilities and “Catch All” Statute (page 71)

  • (a)(1)(A) FAPE
    • (3) Child Find  (page 72)
      • NOTE:  Children are not required to be classified by their disability.
    • (5) LRE (page 72)
      • NOTE:  as close to home as possible
    • (10) Private Schools and reimbursement for placement.  (PAGE 73)
      • NOTE:  Parents must reject placement in writing 10 days prior

1414 Evaluations, Eligibility Determination, Individual Education Programs, & Educational Placement

  • (a) Evaluations, Parental Consent, and Reevaluations (page 92)
    • (1) Initial Evaluations (page 92)
      • NOTE:  Within 60 days of consent or Mass timeline (30 school days Eval, 45 for IEP)
      • NOTE:  Consent for evaluation is not consent for services
    • (2) Re-evaluations at least every three years (page 95)
  • (b)Evaluation Procedures (page 95)
  • (c) Additional Requirements for Evaluations and Reevaluations (page 97)
    • NOTE:  Don’t use discrepancy formula to determine LD.  May use research based intervention  RTI (Response to Intervention) as one component only.
    • (5)Determining non-eligibility (page 98)
      • NOTE: age out, graduate, or by re-evaluation
  • (d)Individualized Education Programs (page 99)
    • (1) Definitions (page 99)
      • (I) IEP Statute 1414(d) (page 99)
      • (II) IEP Regs 300.320 -300.328 (page 245)
      • (III)Mass Regs 603 CMR 28.05 (page 269)
  •  (e) Educational Placements (page 106)
  • (f) Alternative Means of Meeting Participation (page 107)

1415 Procedural Safeguards (page 107)

Attorney Wright offered several additional nuggets of wisdom throughout the day.  Here are a few:

  • Be prepared. Bring binder with all records chronologically organized.  (See my blog on September 1, 2016, After the Fall, for more info on getting organized.)
  • Keep a handwritten journal. (Computerized records can be altered)
  • Learn how to read test scores and to understand the bell curve.
  • When reading test results, ignore the evaluators’ conclusions. Look at the numbers.
  • You can’t compare different editions of the same test. Re-test with the earlier edition if necessary.
  • If scores are on the fringe, check for birthdates that may place the child at the edge of an age range.
  • Recommends reading Getting to Yes: Negotiating Without Giving In by William Ury, available on amazon.com
  • Join COPAA (Council of Parents, Attorneys and Advocates).
  • Wrightslaw will soon release new book on 504 Plans and the Americans with Disabilities Act. (ADA)
  • Google scholar is a great online search tool for finding court cases on special education law.

Overall, I’m glad I attended the training.  It was a valuable refresher course, covering as it did such a wide range of special education law.  I left feeling confident that I know my stuff; but aware that I need to bone up on a few areas like bell curves and tests and measures and to commit some critical federal regulation and state statute numbers to memory.  I was powerfully reminded of the purpose of special education and our task as parents, advocates and educators:  to work together to ensure that every child receive an education designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for the future.  One that includes further education, employment, independent living and, now, by law, economic self-sufficiency.

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