Episode #77 Legal Considerations for Special Needs with Jayne M. Wesler, Esq

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 Jayne M. Wesler, Esq., is a licensed clinical social worker and a partner in the law firm of Sussan Greenwald and Wesler. The firm’s practice focuses on the representation of students with disabilities in order to ensure they receive appropriate educational services. She is the published author of four books, including Handbook for Parents of Children with Special Needs: A Therapeutic and Legal Approach, available on Amazon, Walmart, and other locations.



Ms. Wesler hosts a Facebook group for parents of children with special needs: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=parents%20of%20kids%20with%20learning%20challenges&opensearch=1

As a psychotherapist, Ms. Wesler has worked with children and teens in various settings, including both inpatient and outpatient individual and group therapy. As a member of multiple Child Study Teams, Ms. Wesler conducted evaluations, wrote IEP’s, case-managed elementary students, high-school students, and students placed in specialized private school programs. She also developed and facilitated various psychotherapy groups.

Early in her legal career, Ms. Wesler practiced at a large New Jersey law firm where she founded the Special Education Law Section. Earlier, she served as a judicial clerk to the Hon. Clarkson S. Fisher Jr., then presiding judge of the Chancery Division for the Superior Court of Monmouth County, New Jersey.

Ms. Wesler also served as a law clerk for the Monmouth County, New Jersey, Prosecutor’s Office, Appellate Division, where she did a special research project for the Monmouth County Prosecutor regarding the prosecution of cases involving repressed memory of sexual abuse. As a licensed clinical social worker and an attorney, Ms. Wesler is experienced in the fields of special education, mental health, and psychotherapy.

Ms. Wesler has presented continuing education workshops on various topics in the fields of law and mental health, including IDEIA, Section 504 Plans, and the Discipline of Students with Disabilities. She has written a scholarly paper on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and a study in conjunction with the Hon. Thomas N. Lyons, Judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Union County, concerning the proper treatment of cases involving litigants with mental illness.

Ms. Wesler earned her Juris Doctor degree from Seton Hall University School of Law; her M.S.W. degree from New York University School of Social Work in New York City; and her B.S.W. degree, summa cum laude, from Georgian Court University. She is admitted to practice in New Jersey, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

You can learn more about Ms. Wesler at www.sgwlawfirm.com or www.jaynewesler.com

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Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the autism and action podcast. Today we have another very special guest. We have got Miss Jane wessler. She is coming to you all the way from New Jersey today. Miss Jane wessler. Esquire is a licensed clinical social worker and a partner in the law firm of Susan Greenwald and wessler. The firm's practice focuses on the representation of students with disabilities in order to ensure that they receive appropriate educational services. She is a published author of four books, including the handbook for parents of children with special needs a therapeutic and legal approach available at Amazon, Walmart and other locations. Jane, thank you so much for taking time to be here today. I am super excited for our listeners to hear all about what you have to share on advocacy.

Well, thanks for that nice introduction, Tasha. And I'm very grateful that you work so hard, even though your plate is very full, to bring these kinds of broadcasts to your listening audience, because it is invaluable. One of the things I used to tell parents, and still do is there's strength in numbers. And so many times I've had a parent come into my office for a consultation. And they they realize during the consultation, that they're not alone, that there are lots of other parents out there. And it kind of made me sad, because I think what happens is, parenting is hard. We all know that and parenting it. When I got out of law school, I clerked for a judge. It's kind of the finishing touch that you do after law school. Not everybody does. But it does a lot of good things for you. And the judge and I both had children of similar ages. And we used to kick around and say, parenting isn't for cowards. You can't be a parent and be a cat. It forces you doesn't it? So many times I've had mostly mothers tell me that they used to be quiet, they used to be shy. But when when you have a child who has special needs, you can't do that anymore, you've got to step up No, and, and you know, you know very well. And so I think it's really important that parents understand they're not alone, when parents are parenting a child, maybe more than one with special needs, they're so busy, that they often don't have time to get together with other parents, but actually, the law in our country is, is very good, very good law that is protective of students. And, you know, not just because they need to be protected, but they need to be schooled, educated appropriately, so that when they're older, they have the chance to and this is actually written into the law gives me goosebumps, that they had the opportunity to be as independent as possible, to have opportunity for post secondary education, that whatever would be appropriate for them an opportunity for post secondary employment. And that's, that's the state of our union, that is our country, that is what we want for our kids who are different learners and differently abled. So it's very exciting. Um, one of the things that the law does provide is that every school district must have a group for parents of children with special needs. And it's written into the law. So everybody out there, your school district has a group, maybe you're part of it. One of the things that I wasn't a great fan of is often there is school control of that group. And it's really meant for the parents. And so, again, if you're part of a group out there, dear listener, and you feel controlled, you can ask, you know, your director of special services or whoever, to back off a bit, you know, and give you some space and and let the, let the parents talk. And, and it's really important for parents to have support, you have to have support, you have to have people that you can talk to about what's going on, it helps lift the burden off the shoulders, it helps make things happier and more satisfying and helps you be a better parent and helps your child to have a better outcome. So, you know, in preparing for today, it was a pleasure to speak to you about your podcast, and you shared with me that I could talk to your listeners about what was on my heart and mind and I think that it's we're going to come kind of do a crash course on advocacy today. And I know that not everybody can afford an attorney. One thing that parents should know if if they don't already. So listeners, if you haven't heard this, every attorney has to do what's called pro bono work. And pro bono is the Latin term it means for the good. And what it really means is cashless, no payment.

And so all attorneys have to do that. And, you know, when I was a young attorney, I would get these assignments from the local courthouse, and it was sometimes the domestic violence thing, and I would have to go interact with a person who had been charged with domestic violence and whatnot. And, and I did that, but it made sense to me to, why should I be doing the pro bono work for the my clients. And so that's what I, I started doing, I shared with the court, you know, I'm doing pro bono work in this area, and of course, you you have to show that you're doing and prove that you're doing it and, and so if the listeners need an attorney, you can call an attorney, find a good attorney in your area, and ask, first of all, ask, ask for a free consultation. Probably any attorney is going to say, of course, come in for a free consultation, I'm not going to charge you go in, bring all of your documents and and have your questions ready. Because you know, it's it's nerve racking for a parent to go in. And hey, I've had consultations with attorneys for for various things. And even I would get nervous as an attorney because, you know, this is your hour, you've got to convey what what's in your mind and the things that you know, and and share with that attorney, all the pertinent facts so that you get the right opinions. And it's okay to be nervous, you're going to be nervous, no big deal. But just prepare ahead of time, bring in your questions, bring your documents, oh, my goodness, if you're gonna go for a consultation, I used to tell this to parents, I would tell them, my staff would call and remind them and so many times, they wouldn't do it. This is incredibly important. When you're going to go for a consultation, pull together, everything that you've got, for the past two years, at least. attorneys who are facile in this field, can go through documents, I go through documents very quickly, I know what I'm looking for. I've been doing this for almost 30 years. I'm looking for very specific information, please bring your most recent evaluations by the child study team or by private people bring older evaluations like the next most recent because then, you know, I can compare what has what the results were before and what the results were most recently. And, you know, bring the current IEP and bring any other pertinent information. And all of the child study team reports. Every single report, you know, it's the school psychologist, the psychology report, the education or learning, evaluation, the school social worker, psychosocial evaluation, maybe there's a speech and language evaluation, maybe there's a behavioral evaluation, maybe there's a neurological evaluation or an audiological evaluation, or a psychiatric evaluation, bring them all it's not too much. I've had parents we'll bins in. We love that. Bring it because that way you're going to get a more accurate assessment of what's going on and what you can do. So ask for a, you know, a free consultation. Don't be afraid to tell the attorney what you can and can't afford. And if you really can't afford an attorney, ask for a pro bono representation. We would have cases all the time that it was very obvious when repairing couldn't afford something and we we would do so much more than the hours we were required to do and still do that. You know, someone who's serving our country in the military. You can't afford it. That's okay. We're going to give back to you. We're going to represent you. So go have your consultation. That's really important. You know a few other things. One of the things I tell parents is trust your gut and it you know, in in in my Look

Okay, and we're back. So again, for parents who who want to go for a consultation, don't, don't be afraid to go if you can't afford it, and talk to the attorney, but go in and get the attorney's opinion and make sure you bring all of your documents and, and don't be afraid to ask the attorney for, you know, some kind of price negotiation or some kind of assistance and see what you can work out. And, you know, that's one of the reasons that I wrote this book. I know that parents can't always afford an attorney. This book is meant to act as a handbook, to have on hand for parents who have to or are put in this situation of having to advocate for themselves. But one of the things I tell parents in the book is, trust your gut, you're the parent, nobody knows your student better than you do. And if you believe something is happening with your student, if you believe something's going wrong, if you believe that your student is doing better, whatever it is, that's going on, that you are picking up on, trust that you'll be glad that you trusted that there's a reason that our bodies and our minds work in concert to pick up cues from the environment. And it kind of rolls into a conclusion. And that's your brain at work. Do please trust that and, you know, on the other hand, then the next piece of advice is really get expert evaluations. That is where we would often start after a parent came in, I would always want to meet the child unless the child has for some reason placed in a residential program. But parents are so used to their child that they don't always tell you everything. And sometimes a child would come in and and something would be readily apparent that the parent really didn't talk about. And so it's important for an attorney to meet your student. And also for you to get a good expert who can look at all areas of suspected disability, because isn't that what we're supposed to look at. And it's important to have, for a variety of reasons, an expert written opinion. And so it's not, it's usually not cheap. insurance can help but I would caution you, as I caution, all of my clients do not allow the list of providers given to you by your insurance to drive your decision about whom you are going to choose. Because that can turn into a real disaster. And you can end up spending a lot of money, even 1000s of dollars on a an expert report that will get you nowhere. And not only will it get you nowhere, it may preclude you from doing another evaluation. That's a good evaluation. Because when experts administer testing, then that testing can't be repeated inside of 12 months, because you get what's called the practice effect. And the student has already seen these questions as has already been through that and, and so the students going to do better than they than they did the first time. So choose your expert y wisely. I go through that in the book I talk about if your child is presenting with x, here's the kind of expert that you need. So make sure that you are looking at a potential experts resume their curriculum vitae or CV, you want someone who probably has a doctoral level degree who has years of experience and and even possibly one who is a university professor. And the reason I say that is it doesn't mean that someone who doesn't have all those criteria is not going to do a good job. Somebody who has more experience that's good experience is going to be better.

When you go to court if you ever have to and God forbid you you should have to but being prepared makes it less likely that you will have to go because if in fact you end up with in a conflict readers with your school district. If you have ironclad evidence that your child needs something and you have someone who's a Tried and trued tried and true expert, it's more likely that your school district is not going to want to fight you in court. If you did have to go to court, you want somebody who can stand up to rigorous cross examination. And so those are the reason that I say that. Don't be afraid to question experts. So the listeners, you can call people you can ask for, you know, a 10 minute phone conference to talk to them about how they go about their testing, what, what tests do they give? How are they going to assess your child for the various areas in which your child might be having a deficiency where you believe your child might not be operating at his or her level? You want somebody who's going to give recommendations recommendations are very, very important. You want an expert who's going to give written recommendations in a very direct style, you don't want the expert to say and here are my recommendations. Number one, this child would benefit from an IEP this child would benefit from speech and language. No, you have to have the experts say I'm strongly recommending that this child be classified if they're not, I'm strongly recommending that this child have Orton Gillingham instruction four times a week for as Ork for similar frequency and duration as her peers. So you know, when her peers are having reading instruction, so and so should have Orton Gillingham reading instruction, whatever it is that that expert needs to strongly recommend that those things be put into place. You want you want an expert who is purely objective. And so that means you have to look at the source of the experts funding. Are you paying the expert? Have you asked for an independent evaluation and the school district is paying for the expert? Is your insurance paying for the expert? It's probably better if you hire somebody privately. They're going to probably lean toward what you're looking for. But I also would encourage parents, don't be too strong about telling the expert what you think your child needs. Do, tell, do tell, but listen to the expert, experts are going to try to figure out what exactly is going on with your child and put that on paper. And I have had experts fight with me about what what a particular child needed when the parents thought here, you know, you hear this a lot. Tasha, I want my child to have an aid. Okay, why? Why do you want your child to have an aid? parents think, oh, if I can get an aid, everything will be okay. Not necessarily. If your child needs an aid to do X, Y and Z, okay, fine. Really, we want our children to be independent, and we don't want them to be stigmatized. And so if a child can do something by himself, then you want the child to be educated on how to do that. And it's okay to have an aid and some kids do need an aid. There's lots of reasons a student might really need an aid. But don't hang on to something like that, as a life saver. You want to hear what your expert has to say, listen, talk about why and understand. And yeah, you do need somebody to be objective. That doesn't mean that experts don't get things wrong to on occasion, experts. And, and I

kind of had some very interesting discussions about what a parent really felt strongly about. And maybe then the expert decides, you know what, the parent was right in the beginning. So it's a little bit of a minefield for a parent I know it's it's a lot to think about. But But you also want an expert who's fearless and who's not afraid to go into your school district and do an observation and that's really important. You you as a parent have the right to send in an expert into your school district to observe your child in various areas. school districts will try to keep a tight rein on how long an expert is. is going to be allowed in. and school districts do have the right and the obligation to maintain order in their schools. And so of course, it is important for them to do that. So they can't have, you know, 100 experts running amok through the schools. But you have that, right, you can exercise that right, I would say for, you should have an observation in school. These days, some observations are being done in person again, but often they're being done virtually. And that's great. And that can still happen, you want the expert to do the observation prior to meeting the child, because you don't want to have the testing done. And then the expert goes in and, and your kids is turning around going, Hey, there's Dr. So and So how are you? Because that's gonna affect the child's behavior, perhaps you want it to be a typical day. So and then you'll you'll have your expert evaluation in hand, you get the recommendations, then you can ask the school district for a meeting and send the report in advance and say, Hey, I'd really like the opportunity to sit down because I think, you know, Melissa's IEP is not providing her with an appropriate education, I think we need to tweak it. And I encourage parents to get familiar with the law. And the law is a vast sea. So don't try to wrap your head around all of it. But there are lots of resources out there, I would refer parents to my law firms website, there's a lot of resources on there. It's my law firm is sasin, Greenwald and wessler. And you can visit us at SG w law firm.com. And check out the resources read about the law, and get yourself educated. So because that way, you're, you're really going to know what your rights are, and you're going to be able to enforce your rights.

Another cool thing that I tell parents about and and some parents know this, but it's almost staring you in the face, and maybe parents don't even think about it. But you can go on your school districts, website, there, your local school district, go on their website, and click on the tab that says Board of Education. Under that you'll find a sub tab that you can click on that says Board of Education meeting minutes. And this is very educational, you can start with the most recent and go back in time. And if if you have some time, you can read where your school district is spending, it's your money, it's money, you know, the tax money? How many kids are they sending out of district? Where are they sending them to? What private schools are they utilizing? Who have they hired? What other programs have they put into place, unfortunately, and I'm a former child study team member, so I, I was a public school employee, I was very proud to be a public school employee. I think public schools in this country do a fantastic job for the most part. But they do have a lot on their plates. And they do have budgets. And there are often powers that be at the top that really try to hold on to the purse strings. In fact, there is a position, the business administrator which is in direct conflict, it's kind of a check and balance. That person tries to stop the administration from spending too much money. And so there's always going to be a conflict there between the business administrator and the director of special services and the child study team. Sometimes they work well together. Other times, it's very confrontational. And that's good thing to be mindful of. But you can go in and take a look at where your school district is spending money and find out what programs that that there are. And sometimes the parents don't know about the programs. And sometimes the child study team doesn't tell the parents about various specialized classes that are available. So it's important for parents to do their own homework lately, so that they can, you know, have all of those things at their fingertips. Now, at some point we all ask our school districts for something and you Have a meeting with your school district and tried to get the expert recommendations fulfilled in a program. And there are plenty of times where school districts will give you some really great stuff, you know, maybe some big ticket items, some items that you know, are very important for you and for your child. It's rare that a school district is going to give you everything that you want. So it's important to know when to hold them and when to fold them. You know, when are you When are you going to fight? And when are you going to say to the team, you know what, this is great. Thank you so much for meeting with me today. Thank you so much for agreeing to incorporate

all of these things into Zachary's program. And let's go for it. And let's see how it works. I'm with you, we're a team together. And, and let's just see how it goes. Because you don't want to always be fighting with your school district, you're gonna get a reputation as somebody who's never happy, and you don't want that. You know, as an attorney, you may have heard the saying that in real estate, there's three things that are important location, location, and location. And I was told, as a young attorney, that there are three things that are important when you practice law, and those are reputation, reputation, and reputation. And you don't ever want to lose your reputation. And I would say the same thing for a parent, you don't want to get a bad reputation, because then people are gonna think you're the boy who cried wolf, and they're not going to want to listen to you, they're going to roll their eyes when they get a call from you or an email, you don't really want that to be happening. And I actually talk a lot about that in the therapeutic set session, excuse me section of my book, how to how to build alliances with your school district, you know, who's who, in your school district, how to join with those people and join as a therapeutic term how to really become a team member. And I would encourage parents, you know, you do want to do that. And I'm sure a lot of you are doing it already. And you don't need me to tell you, but from my perspective, as a person who has been suing school districts, you know, I've sued pretty much every school district in the state of New Jersey. And I kind of say that with laughter because I don't really like suing people, I don't want to have to I'd rather work in concert with people in cooperation and collaboration with people. In fact, collaboration is the hallmark of the laws of idea. And section 504. Let's not forget section 504, which is a fantastic kind of plan that parents can have, you can get an IEP, you can get a 504 plan. And I can go over the requirements for those of us I think that's important. But I would just encourage parents, if you're giving substantially what you want, then, you know, act as if that you're just going to work together with the school district and go ahead and do that. And who knows, you might be surprised your child might do really well with those accommodations that you have. But if they're not doing well, don't hesitate. And don't wait, because I've heard parents have come to me so many times and said, You know, I talked to my I talked to my teacher in October and again in January, and we had a meeting in February and they said, Oh, you know, Keisha is doing fine, doing fine, doing fine. And then at the end of the year, when they were tested, Keesha wasn't doing fine and had lost a whole year. So don't wait. Don't wait. You know, don't wait advocate. I love that. Don't wait advocate. Don't wait, advocate and be unflappable, you can do it. Do not let your temper get the better of you. Mind, your mind your thoughts. And, you know, your school district may really be doing a bad job, they might be rude to you. They might kick your suggestions to the curb. And you know, could be an egregious scenario. I've seen plenty of egregious scenarios and I could talk to you about them. But we don't want to focus on that we want to focus on positivity. We need a lot more of that in the country at this moment. And it's very important to get what you need to get for your child. How Whatever that needs to happen. And I would always, always, always take the approach in the beginning that it kill him with kindness. Be sweet, Be kind, be firm. Don't go away. But just continue to work with your school district. I've seen parents scream and holler. I've kicked many a parent under the chair for, you know, saying biting remarks and rude remarks, he cannot do that. You have to give what you want to get. And so walk the high road behind the be persistent smile. But don't go away and be insistent, be insistent.

So in general, those are the kinds of things that I think are the most important. But I would be happy to answer any other questions or talk about requirements for five oh fours, or IPS, or anything else taught you that you think's important.

Thank you very, very much. I would love to maybe come back again. And let's do a whole academic section there. I think that would be a wonderful episode, especially going back to school in August. A lot of parents are going to be looking for that advice in that insight. So let's plan on that. Let's get together again.

Let's do that. And that's a great time to be thinking of all those things. And so things are a little bit different at the beginning of the school year than they are later is a great idea. I'd love to do that. Awesome.

Thank you so much. And thank you for taking time to be here today and share with all of our listeners. Guys. This was so valuable today. I hope you check out all the resources on her website, s GW law firm.com again, thank you. My pleasure.

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