Guardian Ad Litem Process
Latrice Knighton is a member of the Sterling Law Offices partner team and an award-winning divorce attorney, life coach, and speaker. She helps clients resolve their problems by using legal techniques and smart tactics learned through decades of experience as well as helping clients by offering the best practical advice.
Patrick Leo works for Walny Legal Group and practices areas as an attorney for parents and a guardian ad litem for children.
A lot of situations that involve a guardian ad litem would be where parents are having problems helping their kids with discipline or behavior at school, or falling behind academically. The parents might get frustrated because they don’t know what to expect from the school or what to do with their child. This situation could be possible with split families due to divorce where communication isn't as common in comparison to a non-divorced family.
Today, the hope is that you get a good idea of what the school should be doing or you should be doing to help your child and when to bring someone like Patrick in to help.
Patrick, what do you do?
“I kind of break my practice into two areas of special education into eligibility and into implementation.”
With eligibility it is sometimes parents coming to Patrick and saying that there is something wrong or there are some kind of challenges. He helps them through that referral process and how to do it properly so that the school district starts to evaluate the student.
Implementation is if the student already has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and things are not going well or if they just have general questions about what should or shouldn’t be happening. Patrick is able to look at the goals and see what is working as well as what is not working in order for things to work better.
Can you explain what an IEP is for us?
“It’s the document that the team (parents, school personnel, etc…) come up together and have a plan individualized towards that child.”
Is it common that the parents have to request an evaluation?
“Under the law, the district has an affirmative duty under their child find mandate. That means that the district knows what's typical or atypical development and if they see a student who is academically struggling or behavior then they can start the process with the parents by contacting them and asking them to do certain evaluations.”
After they determined to evaluate the child what is the implementation phase about?
“The first meeting, we come up with the IEP and sometimes I help and other times I attend. It’s a living document where you constantly go to it and I encourage parents to get to know the document and ask questions because it will just help them along the way with the district.”
Does having one parent go to the IEP meetings versus both (or swapping each parent every meeting) have an impact on what the IEP looks like?
“It definitely does, in the case of divorce. Sometimes one parent will be more involved than the other parent, and the district will start looking at the involved parent(s) to start making those decisions. It does not really depend on how custody is factored, that’s not really how it should be unless there is some kind of domestic violence or restraining order.”
If both parents are involved, would the school get more than one perspective?
“Yes, but there is an eligibility process that needs to take place at the district level. Some times, with behaviors especially, if it is seen at school and only at one home it can affect eligibility because it is only at one home and not recorded in the other because you’re only getting half of the story.”
When would be a good time that people should be reaching out to someone like you?
“Any time that you have a question, I would be happy to look over documents and meet and consult, explain on what I could and couldn't do and any possible outcomes. An IEP meeting can be called at any time so a parent, even without and attorney, can contact a district and say that they don’t think it’s going well. It is not restricted to just a once a year meeting.”
What happens once a child is expelled from a school district?
“No other district in the state will have to take that suit, so their options are very limited. Sometimes with expulsions, getting an attorney involved who knows the process at the very, very beginning is the best route because there are things that can be done to avoid going through the hearing itself which can lead to better options than actually after the hearing.”
References: Patrick Leo