by John Darer
"To what extent, if any, can you represent your disabled child's rights, as a non-lawyer, pro se in a federal court action brought pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA")?
If you live in Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, or Puerto Rico, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that you may represent your child's IDEA rights at every stage of the process.
If you live in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, or Tennessee, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that you cannot represent your child's IDEA rights and must retain an attorney. If you cannot find or afford an attorney, your child's case will be dismissed - and you may be prosecuted for Unauthorized Practice of Law. See Jacob Winkelman, et. al. v. Parma City Schools.
The United States Supreme Court will soon clarify when a non-lawyer parent of a disabled child may file a lawsuit, without a lawyer, to enforce the child's rights under the IDEA and hopefully resolve the split betwen the Circuit Courts. Oral argument is scheduled for February 27, 2007.
Special Education Advocates Pete and Pam Wright "find it unlikely that Congress intended to put parents who attempt to proceed pro se at the even greater disadvantage of preventing their suits from going forward at all", have built an excellent website highlighting the major issues in Winkleman. You can access it here
Education Week Article October 4, 2006 here