Archive for the ‘Civil Rights’ Category

Dealing with Cerebral Palsy: A Resource for Parents and Family (Part II)

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

In Part I of this series I provided a basic introduction to dealing with cerebral palsy.  I also provided Maryland parents with a comprehensive list of places that are able to assist parents.  Today I will discuss educating children with cerebral palsy and, as always, I will provide you with a list of places to turn if you need help.

Educating your child

The thought of educating any child is a daunting topic.  Educating your special needs child can present a variety of challenges and pitfalls.  It is unlikely that any singular blog post could ever cover every facet of educating your special needs child.  What I can do, however, is provide you with an introduction to the topic, its terminology, and finally give you a list of resources that you can turn to for additional help.

As we introduced last week, children that have special needs that impact his/her ability to learn at school often qualify for an Individual Education Plan.  An IEP is a legal document created to ensure your child’s teacher, staff and administration understands his learning and other limitations and utilizes the best practices to ensure that he gets the education that he/she deserves.  An IEP is federally funded and falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or “IDEA.” IDEA entitles your child to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) designed “to meet unique needs and prepare for employment and independent living” (20 U.S.C.A. 1400(d)(1)(A)).  Just as every child is different, every child’s IEP should be different.  Here are some of the accommodations that can be included in your child’s IEP:

-classroom accommodations, e.g. special table

-curriculum modification

-speech and/or occupational therapy

Be forewarned, anecdotally, many parents have reported that obtaining an IEP for their child has been difficult.  Be not dismayed, a document binding the school to provide your child with the specialized attention that he/she needs is invaluable.  Please utilize the resources listed below to assist you in getting all necessary help for your child.

When it has been determined that your child has a mental or physical disability that impairs his learning, the school will set up an IEP meeting. An IEP team is formed and includes:

-Your child

-Parent or guardian

-A district representative

-A special educator

-Other teachers who will be involved in your child’s education

You and the IEP team will meet to discuss your child’s specific needs and goals for the school year. Steps will be outlined as to how your child will be accommodated each day in the classroom. A progress report should then be sent to you periodically to demonstrate that your child is indeed meeting her IEP learning goals.

Lastly, keep in mind that if your child does not qualify for an IEP, he/she may qualify for a 504 Plan, a document legislated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 504 Plans are less specific than an IEP and, unfortunately, do not have the legal teeth that an IEP has. Another alternative is to try to qualify your child for an Other Health Impaired (OHI) plan. An OHI is like a “last resort” document for kids who are denied a 504 Plan or an IEP. Essentially, OHI status was created to satisfy parents who insist that their child needs documented assistance in school.

Not sure where to turn?  Below is the up-to-date contact information for agencies in the District of Columbia and Maryland that can assist you.

Parental Support:

UCP of Washington DC & Northern Virginia
1818 New York Avenue, NE, Suite 101
Washington, DC 20002
Phone: (202) 526-0146
Fax: (202) 526-0519
3135 8th Street NE
Washington DC 20017
Phone: (202) 269-1500
Fax: (202) 526-0159

Office on Aging
441 4th Street, NW, 9th Floor
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: (202) 676-3900

Regional ADA Technical Assistance Agency
ADA and IT Information Center for the Mid Atlantic Region
451 Hungerford Drive, Suite 607
Rockville, MD 20850
Phone: (301) 217-0124 (V/TTY); (800) 949-4232 (V/TTY/Toll Free)

Capitol Area ADAPT
Marcie Roth
Phone: (410) 828-8274; (410) 821-1157
Fax: (410) 828-6706

The Cerebral Palsy Ability Center (CPAC)
2445 Army-Navy Drive, 3rd Floor
Arlington, VA 22206
Phone: (703) 920-0600
Fax: (703) 685-2819

State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council
DC Developmental Disabilities Council
Department of Human Services/801 East Building
2700 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, S.E.
Washington, DC 20032
Phone: (202) 279-6085

Easter Seal Society for Disabled Children & Adults, Inc.
Metro. DC, Northern VA, & MD
4041 Powder Mill Road
Calverton, MD 20705
Phone: (301) 931-8700; (800) 886-3771 (Toll Free)
Fax: (301) 931-8690

Goodwill Industries Greater Washington
2200 South Dakota Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20018
Phone: (202) 636-4225
Fax: (202) 526-3994

Family Voices Washington DC
Gail Johnson
Phone: (301) 470-0256

Programs for Children with Special Health Care Needs
Health Services for Children with Special Needs Clinic
D.C. General Hospital, Building 10
19th & Massachusetts Avenue, S.E.
Washington, DC 20003
Phone: (202) 675-5214

CHIP Program (health care for low-income uninsured children)
DC Healthy Families Insurance Program
4601 North Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22203
Phone: (888) 557-1116 (Toll Free)

Learning Disabilities Association of Washington, DC
1848 Columbia Road, NW, #45
Washington, DC 20009
Phone: (202) 265-8869; (410) 396-0518

The Arc of the District of Columbia, Inc.
900 Varnum Street, NE
Washington, DC 20017
Phone: (202) 636-2950

Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute
801 Buchanan Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20017
Phone: (202) 281-2774

State Mental Retardation Program
Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities Administration
Commission on Social Services
Department of Human Services
429 O Street, N.W., #202
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: (202) 673-7678
TTY: (202) 673-3580

American Association on Mental Retardation
444 North Capitol Street NW, #846
Washington DC 20001
Phone: (202) 387-1968; (800) 424-3688 (Toll Free)
Fax: (202) 387-2193

Programs for Children and Youth who are Blind or Visually Impaired
Visual Impairment Unit
DC Rehabilitation Services Administration
810 1st Street, N.E., 9th Floor
Washington, DC 20002
Phone: (202) 442-8628

Special Format Library
District of Columbia Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
901 G Street, N.W., Room 215
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: (202) 727-2142
TTY: (202) 727-2145

American Foundation for the Blind
11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300
New York, NY 10001
Phone: (212) 502-7600
TTY: (212) 502-7662

DC Early Intervention Program
717 14th Street, N.W., Suite 1200
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: (202) 727-5371

Mayor’s Committee on Persons with Disabilities
810 First Street, NE
Room 10015
Washington, DC 20002
Phone: (202) 442-8673
Fax: (202) 442-8742

D.C. Vocational Rehabilitation Agency
Rehabilitation Services Administration
Department of Human Services
810 First Street, NE, 10th Floor
Washington, DC 20002
Phone: (202) 442-8663

State Job Training Partnership Act
Department of Employment Services
500 C Street, NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: (202) 724-7100

Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
D.C. Congress of Parents and Teachers
Hamilton School
6th Street & Brentwood Parkway, NE
Washington, DC 20002
Phone: (202) 543-0333
Fax: (202) 543-4306

The National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education (NCPIE)
P.O. Box 39
1201 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 822-8405
Fax: (202) 822-4050

Parents’ Special Education Service Center
Phone: (202) 471-4272

Special Olympics District of Columbia
900 2nd Street, N.E., Suite 200
Washington, DC 20002
Phone: (202) 408-2640
Fax: (202) 408-2646

Nation’s Capital Handicapped Sports
P.O. Box 1546
Olney, MD 20830-1546
Phone/Fax: (301) 208-8949

Washington D.C. Education Resources:

Chief State School Officer
District of Columbia Public Schools
The Presidential Building
415 12th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004
Phone: (202) 724-4222
Fax: (202) 724-8855

Office of State Coordinator of Vocational Education for Students with Disabilities
Vocational Transition Services Unit
Walker Jones Elementary School
1st and K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: (202) 724-3878

State Department of Adult Education
Public Schools Vocational and Adult Education
1709 3rd Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002
Phone: (202) 576-6308
Fax: (202) 576-7899

Department of Education: Special Education
Division of Special Education
DC Public Schools
825 North Capitol Street, N.E., Suite 6100
Washington, DC 20002
Phone: (202) 442-4800

State Coordinator for NCLB (No Child Left Behind)
Division of Special Education
DC Public Schools
825 North Capitol Street, N.E., 6th Floor
Washington, DC 20002
Phone: (202) 442-4800

Branch of Exceptional Education/BIA
Mail Stop 3512, MIB Code 523
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 202040-4000
Phone: (202) 208-4975
Fax: (202) 273-0030

Maryland Education Resources:

Carol Ann Baglin, Assistant State Superintendent
Department of Education, Division of Special Education
Early Intervention Services
200 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201-2595
(410) 767-0238

Query:  Have you obtained an IEP for your child?  Did you have any opposition from your child’s teachers or school administrators?

Sneak Peek:  Next week (Part III of this series) we will provide Educational Resources for Parents in Maryland and present critical medical information that parents of CP children need to be aware of.

IEP’s: Stand Up for Your Child’s Rights – Be Their Best Advocate

Monday, March 14th, 2011

IEP File Folder from

Recently I wrote a blog about the general difficulties facing parents who are raising a disabled child. This week I want to address one of those specific guidelines – ensuring a quality and appropriate education for your child. For many children with disabilities, they cannot meet the traditional school criteria because of either mental, physical or other special needs. For such children, an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, is a crucial step. What is an IEP? As the name implies, it is a written education plan that is specifically tailored to your individual child rather than a general plan used for all children. Keep in mind that an IEP is not something that your disabled child may be entitled to. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that IEP’s be developed for all students with disabilities.

Who creates an IEP? For every child, there is an IEP team which generally consists of the following people – the parents, the child’s teacher, the child’s special education provider, a public agency representative and perhaps other providers such as physical therapists. Depending on the age of the child and the specific disability, the child may also be part of the team. I want to emphasize that while the IEP team is filled with so-called experts in education and disability, the most important person on the team is the parent. There are two key points to keep in mind:  1) you, as the parent, are the best advocate for your child; and 2) never be afraid to stand up to the experts.

On the first point, I encourage you to read as much as possible and become informed on the subject, e.g., what new laws are coming out, what new technologies may be available. Only that way can you truly become an advocate for your child. There are a number of excellent sites on the Internet that give a wealth of information (see links below).

Parents of disabled children tell me that they have learned the hard way that there is only one person who truly cares what happens to their child – and that is the parent (or parents as the case may be). It is easy to go into an IEP meeting thinking that the administrators and teachers have your child’s best interest at heart. That’s not necessarily the case. While these people may be caring and decent people, they have other interests to consider – budgets, time constraints, other students, etc. You are the only one who is truly devoted to getting what is best for your child. Also, you are the one who knows your child best.  Just like when you go into a pediatrician’s office and describe your child’s symptoms and behavior, the same is true when attending an IEP meeting. You have interacted with your child more than anyone else. You see changes, skills, abilities (and disabilities) more than the folks who only see your child at school.  Share your knowledge and make sure the IEP team gets the benefit of your expertise as a parent.

On the second point, it can be difficult as a layperson to question those whom we see as experts. We have all been trained to defer to those with more experience. Unfortunately, some “experts” have been trained to talk down to others. A small personal story — years ago I took my grandmother to the doctor for a small skin rash. The doctor said it was psoriasis. I asked him how he knew it was psoriasis and not eczema, a similar skin condition. I will never forget his answer. “Because,” he said, “I’m a doctor.” He may as well have said, “Shut up and don’t question my expertise.” If someone on your IEP team ever adopts such an attitude with you, stand up to that person and demand answers. It is your child whose future is at issue, not the teacher’s.

As for resources, the rise in awareness of disability and IEP’s has created an entire field of special education law. Not that you need an attorney to obtain an IEP, but you should be aware of your child’s legal rights. One excellent resource that comes highly recommended from parents is, which contains a wealth of information on disability law and special education.

No doubt a number of you have had to deal with IEP issues for your child. What has been effective for you in terms of getting the best plan for your child? What hasn’t worked? What legal entanglements have you run into? What advise do you have so that others may benefit?

Some Source References:

For general information on IEP’s (and one with a special focus on Maryland), I would recommend the following sites:

Maryland State Department of Education

National Center for Learning Disabilities

Schaffer v Weast (a summary of the Supreme Court’s decision on burden of proof in IEP matters)



Baltimore Abortion Ordinance Declared Unconstitutional – How Did We Get Here and Why?

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Pro-Life and Pro-Choice Advocates

Last April, we posted a blog regarding a Baltimore City ordinance, which required local crisis pregnancy centers to post signs in their clinics disclosing that they did not offer abortion or birth control services if, they in fact, did not offer such services. Because of this requirement, many clinics chose to post separate notices informing the public about clinics that offered abortion services. Consequently, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court, seeking to have the ordinance declared unconstitutional.  One of its arguments was that the City should be prohibited from compelling speech by requiring the clinics to post signs.

On January 28th, 2011, District Court Judge, Marvin Garbis, ruled that the ordinance violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and, as such, is unenforceable. In his opinion, Judge Garbis wrote: “Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is ‘pro-life’ or ‘prochoice,’ it is for the provider — not the Government — to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods.” According to the opinion, “[t]he Government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, require a ‘pro-life’ pregnancy-related service center to post a sign as would be required by the Ordinance.”

The dynamic of this litigation is fascinating, revealing nonsensical and unpredictable aspects of the abortion debate.  One could argue that the original passing of the ordinance was fueled by an underlying “pro-life” attitude.  After all, why would the City require clinics that don’t offer abortion services to publically state that they don’t offer abortion services? My personal opinion is two-fold: 1) to discourage individuals in need of abortion services from seeking abortion services, and 2) to reveal to the public the number of clinics that don’t offer abortion services in order to paint a picture that the public is generally pro-life (this is particularly true because the ordinance did not require clinics offering abortion services to post notices that they offered such services).

Interestingly, the ordinance backfired. Some of the clinics required to disclose that they did not offer abortion services chose to inform the public about other clinics where abortion services are available. There is nothing wrong with that, right? Well, apparently the Archdiocese did not think so, and, in my personal opinion, here is the real reason why: As soon as it became apparent that many of the clinics could simply choose to post notices about other clinics, which offered abortion services, it also became apparent that the ordinance was de facto prompting free advertising for abortion services all over the city.

I can’t imagine that the Archdiocese was too thrilled about that. Hence, the litigation ensued and the opponents of the ordinance prevailed on an argument, which is commonly and usually made by the “pro-choice” side of the abortion debate. At the heart of Judge Garbis’ opinion is the notion that the government should not legislate morality or religion. On January 28th, the Archdiocese and other “pro-life” groups prevailed on an argument, which has undermined and discredited the “pro-life” position for decades. How ironic!

Have you have been following this litigation in Baltimore City? What are your thoughts? Was Baltimore’s ordinance misguided or spot-on? Will Judge Garbis’ decision be reversed or upheld on appeal?

Photo from

A Social Networking Lesson for Parents: Think twice before you hit 'send'!

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

It’s amazing how people continue to find new ways to get into trouble with social networking.

Photo by Davin Lesnick

Just a few years ago, a parent might get into trouble with his or her teenager by reading the teenager’s diary. Such domestic misdeeds seem almost quaint by comparison to what some parents are now doing on the Internet.

As reported by the ABA Journal and others, a mother in Arkansas has been convicted of harassing her own teenage son via the popular social networking site Facebook. While the mother and her teenage son had an admittedly difficult relationship before this (the teenager had lived with his grandmother for years), the teen never suspected that his mother would go to such lengths in her ongoing battle with him.

Denise New logged onto her son’s personal Facebook account after the teenager apparently left his account open on his computer. Perhaps many parents can appreciate the temptation of peering into their children’s online activities given such an opportunity. This mother, however, was not motivated by concern over her son’s well-being or even simple curiosity. Instead, Ms. New intended to post phony messages on his site purporting to come from him. For example, after the two got into a physical altercation and the police got involved, the mother posted a message on her son’s Facebook account (again pretending she was her son) essentially bragging that he had intentionally started the fight and called the police on his mother. Cell phone messages played in court corroborated that the mother was posting such phony messages. In other messages left on his site, the mother expressed regret at ever having a child and repeatedly used foul language. Putting all of this together, the court found that this conduct constituted harassment of the teenager. The mother was sentenced to 30 days in jail (suspended) along with probation and parenting classes.

As a reminder to all of us in this new world of social networking, the trial judge offered some sage advice:

“We live in a world now where what used to be said between two people or in a parking lot, now you hit a button and hundreds, maybe millions, of people can hear what you do,” he said. “It makes it maybe even more important for a person to think before they act because the amplification can be tremendous.” (Source: Arkansas Online)

Like it or not, we all now have the ability to broadcast information — even highly personal information — to the world.  Apparently, some of us are still struggling with deciding what information should be broadcast and what should be kept to ourselves.

Appeals Court: Ex-Prosecutor Can't Be Sued Over His Work on Terror Case – News – ABA Journal

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

From the ABA Journal comes a report (Appeals Court: Ex-Prosecutor Can’t Be Sued Over His Work on Terror Case – News – ABA Journal) about a ruling from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirming in part (the dismissal) and reversing in part (the denial of a dismissal) rulings by the lower court in a civil action brought by a previously charged criminal defendant against a former prosecutor for allegedly failing to disclose exculpatory (Brady) information.

This decision (provided in full by the court) is a fascinating and informative analysis of the law of immunity for federal prosecutors from such actions (a Bivens-type claim).  While the full facts and findings of the court are too long to report here, I commend to your reading the full decision of the court.

Here are some of the essential allegations of the civil complaint:

On August 30, 2007, Koubriti filed the present action. In his complaint–which named Convertino, Thomas, and Ray Smith8 as co-defendants–Koubriti seeks relief pursuant to the Fifth Amendment and Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of theFederal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).  Koubriti requested $9,000,000 in compensatory damages plus punitive damages arguing that: Defendants violated his Fifth Amendment Rights by maliciously and intentionally withholding exculpatory evidence and fabricating evidence contrary to Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963), prior to and during his prosecution for the offense of conspiracy to provide materials for or resources to terrorists contrary to 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and 2339(e). The complaint then sets out the following claims with respect to Convertino’s liability:

Defendant Convertino while acting in an investigative type role withheld exculpatory evidence or fabricated evidence in the Plaintiff’s criminal case by:

  • Failing to turn over photographs of the Queen Alia Hospital or ordering that they not be turned over to the Defendant or presented to the Grand Jury;
  • Failing to disclose that none of the Defendants could establish which site or sites the sketches established (if either) after their respective trips to Jordan;
  • Ordering or directing Defendant Thomas not to memorialize any of the ten to twenty interviews of Yousif Hnimssa [sic] prior to the Second Superseding Indictment being issued;
  • Failing to disclose the Opinion of Air Force OSISA Goodnight to the Grand Jury or Plaintiff concerning the alleged Incirlik Air Base sketches.

While the details can be a bit confusing without reading the entire opinion, suffice it to say (for the sake of brevity), this civil action was brought to seek redress for the prosecutor’s actions, which led to his government employment termination, criminal charges against him ( he was acquitted) and a bar investigation (which did not lead to any licensing charges).

If you are considering bringing (either as a plaintiff or an attorney) such a lawsuit for non-disclosure of Brady materials, you would be well advised to read this decision and the cases cited in it – first.