OXFORD, Miss. — The ACLU of Mississippi, in partnership with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Disability Rights Mississippi, and Oxford-based law group Frye Reeves, PLLC, will hold a FREE Special Education Workshop and Clinic on August 8, 2023, at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. The event is scheduled from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. and will feature three sessions: parent and advocate panel discussion; CLE training; and legal consultations.
The workshop was planned in response to numerous requests from parents asking for assistance with protecting their child’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under the law, students with disabilities are entitled to an individualized education plan (IEP), which is considered the primary means of ensuring they receive a free, appropriate public education, as required by law.
“This workshop is the first in a series of events designed to empower parents in raising their voices to advocate for their children and equip more advocates with the necessary information and tools to hold schools and school districts accountable,” said Claudia Smith-Hyman, senior staff attorney at ACLU of Mississippi.
Mississippi ranks near the bottom nationwide in the number of state complaints and mediation or due process hearing requests for cases related to special education. From 2020-2021, the national average for filings was 32.2 per 10,000 students with IEPs, while in Mississippi there were a total of 18 due process hearing requests statewide, averaging 3.4/10,000. This is directly related to the lack of attorneys and advocates available to assist families statewide.
“The Children's Team at Disability Rights Mississippi (DRMS) felt the need to get involved in the coalition because parents around the state aren't even aware their children's rights are being violated daily,” said DRMS staff attorney Andy Robinson. “We want every parent in the state of Mississippi to know exactly what they should expect from schools and the full extent of their child's educational rights.”
Kevin Frye, of Frye Reeves, LLC said neither his education nor law degree was enough to prepare him to navigate special education services. “It was only when I needed these services for my own son, Nathan, and began to navigate this complicated system, that I realized how difficult it must be for the average parent.”
The goal of the workshop is to support families in understanding their legal rights and to provide access to legal professionals who can answer specific questions.
“Special education lies at the nexus of several SPLC programmatic goals, including ending the criminalization and institutionalization of Black and Brown youth,” said G.C. Barnett, Senior Staff Attorney for Children’s Rights at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC.) “This special education workshop and clinic is part of a broader campaign to promote and encourage legal and policy changes that level the playing field for children with disabilities. We hope to curb and eventually end the sort of exclusionary discipline practices that ignore children’s disabilities and disproportionately impact Black and Brown children. Ultimately, we want to create greater interest and capacity within the bar for special education work while empowering children and families through instruction and representation.”
Individuals interested in attending the workshop should pre-register online HERE. Lunch and childcare will be provided to participants at no cost. Dates and locations for additional special education workshops across Mississippi will be announced in the fall.