Jan 26, 2021
It can be very difficult to watch any child struggle with learning, connecting with peers, or with understanding information that is presented in the classroom. It’s particularly painful for parents to watch their children struggle in these ways. This is why I am so excited about this episode with our guest Leejanice Toback. This episode is all about what parents can do when they see their child struggling. Who do you reach out to and how? We are going to dive into that today with Leejanice.
Leejanice Toback is an Educational Attorney and member of the ChildNEXUS professional community. In today’s episode, she describes her journey from being an Assistant District Attorney, a Defense Attorney, a Trial Attorney, and ultimately finding her passion with the help of her son as an Educational Attorney. Her wide range of knowledge and experience combined with her personal mission to help parents and students has proven to be an abundance of crucial information in this episode.
[2:57] - A lot of people think that Special Ed Law is all about children, but Leejanice clarifies that it is actually kind of a brutal type of law.
[4:10] - Leejanice started her career as an Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn, New York, and describes the beginning of her path to a trial attorney.
[5:40] - While finding the right place for her, she tried her hand at being a defense attorney and relocated.
[6:07] - It was when her own son was having difficulties that she started seeking services and was not finding any help.
[7:12] - Leejanice had no idea there was such a thing as an Educational Attorney until this experience with her son and making connections with an organization called TASK.
[8:21] - She then partnered with a Special Ed Attorney and completed over 6 months of apprenticing with her, studying Sattler’s Assessment of Children, and trying cases.
[9:53] - Leejanice shares a story of a parent who was unintentionally sabotaging her child’s educational services.
[12:49] - Leejanice explains the school district’s responsibility and when and how you should notify them to request an assessment for Special Education.
[14:18] - It is important to note typical versus atypical difficulties for the age of your child.
[15:49] - You need to be specific when describing difficulties to initiate an assessment with the school district.
[17:12] - Refusal to attend school is also something to note. Leejanice explains why and what can be done for a child who shows school refusal.
[18:54] - Whatever initial contact is made when requesting an assessment should be documented and copied so parents have a record of it as well. The district will then send an assessment plan for parents to complete and send back.
[19:31] - The school district has 60 days to perform the assessment.
[20:38] - Whether or not the child will qualify for services depends on the tests they use to assess. Leejanice considers testing an art.
[21:13] - No matter where your child is, the district will hold an IEP. As a parent, you can refuse parts of the IEP.
[22:40] - Can a school or school district refuse to perform an assessment if they don’t see a need for it? Leejanice explains what happens in this case.
[23:40] - If this happens, Leejanice suggests waiting till a later time to request another assessment. Sometimes, it is difficult to prove the need for services in Kindergarten, for example.
[26:03] - When children are in Kindergarten and First Grade parents may get more pushback. Leejanice says to never retract a request for an assessment even if the school or district asks you to.
[27:10] - Leejanice shares the story of a client of hers that she represented from first grade until high school. She could not get her qualified for services until she was in third grade.
[28:54] - We know that early intervention is very important and will show better outcomes, but sometimes there is a delay in assessment and services.
[30:44] - Sometimes, the problem is not observable enough for the school to push for an assessment. This may result in a 504 plan rather than an IEP.
[31:52] - Classroom expectations are very high and some consider them not to be age-appropriate.
[32:41] - In order to receive services for a Specific Learning Disorder (SLD), there has to be a visible discrepancy between the child’s cognitive ability and their work. In Kindergarten, students may not have enough work to show this discrepancy.
[34:35] - Leejanice tries to get an IEP for Speech and Language as early on as possible.
[36:50] - When kids are struggling in Kindergarten, these are students that will likely struggle socially as well.
[37:41] - The child’s needs determine the amount of push back a parent or Educational Attorney applies.
[38:48] - No matter what school your child is placed in or that you choose for your child to be placed in, no school will be perfect for each child because every child is so unique.
[40:19] - If a child does not receive an IEP, you can request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) which is something that you have to ask the school for. If the school agrees to grant one, they will give you a list of professionals you can use for a private assessment.
[41:42] - Sometimes an IEE will result in the evaluator agreeing with the initial assessment.
[42:34] - If the IEE evaluator does not agree with the initial assessment, another IEP meeting will be called and the evaluator will be included to present findings. If the school district still does not offer services, an attorney will be necessary to file due process.
[43:49] - If parents get a private evaluator who is a neuropsychologist, like Dr. Wilson, the child will often receive a diagnosis if he/she meets the diagnostic criteria for a disorder.
[44:42] - Leejanice states that there are certain districts that are extremely cooperative and onboard working as a team for the needs of the child.
[46:56] - Any parent who feels that there is a problem, should request an assessment. There’s no cost and no time limit on when to request. There’s no reason not to.
[48:30] - Leejanice shares her experience of discovering her son has Autism and how the school was not supportive at that time.
[49:58] - When Leejanice’s son was in second grade, the school decided to give him mental health therapy. Leejanice shares this experience.
[53:50] - Leejanice’s passion to help others comes from her past frustrations with trying to get support for her own child.
Leejanice Toback’s background is as a trial attorney. She began her legal career as an Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn, New York. Thereafter, she changed her focus to civil trials involving negligence and product liability. It was not until her son was having difficulties in school that she learned there was such a thing as an Educational Attorney. Just as many of the other devoted parents, she tried to soak up everything there was to know in the quest to educate her son. She took many courses at TASK and through the state of California. She then partnered with Joan Honeycutt, Esq. one of the early leaders in the field of special education law. As a special education teacher, principal, and college professor in reading, Joan guided Leejanice through the study of reading, writing, and other disabilities. She insisted that Leejanice study Jerome Sattler’s Assessment of Children until she was well qualified to understand how the selection of tests impacts the result. They went to hearing successfully in many cases combining Joan’s base of knowledge with Leejanice’s trial skills. Every day, Leejanice draws upon her knowledge of the law and her understanding of special education to help her clients. She views every student as her own child and is proud to do whatever is necessary to enable them to receive a free and appropriate education.