by Eliza Schafler
Eliza Schafler is an MHAS Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP.

Labor Day is over, the summer is behind us, and most children are back in school. As the attorney in our Behavioral Health-Legal Partnership (BeHeLP), this means an increase in the number of children and families seeking assistance with special education and school discipline.

As the 2014-15 school year begins, I have already seen a diversity of legal needs. One mother came to BeHeLP because her child had health problems that were impacting his concentration and behavior in school. Another came to us when her child, who was already receiving special education services, was unlawfully moved into a specialized classroom without her consent. A father was referred to BeHeLP because his terminal illness was affecting the mental health of his children and distracting them from learning. Yet another mother arrived with stories of her child, who had been bullied and was facing school discipline for fighting back. The stories go on, and this is only the start.

Part of the mission of BeHeLP is to provide legal representation when there is a need for special education services. Another part of our mission is educating parents and caregivers about their legal rights and the special education process; after all, they, not us, will be their children’s advocates throughout their young lives and into adulthood. This balance of assistance and empowerment will be the key to success as we work to support students and their families this fall.