Educational Advocate and Consultant
phone: (781) 308-4577
Connect with me on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Special-Education-Advocacy-and-Consultation-Laurel-Collins/321203274340
First and foremost, I’m a mom of children, all special, three with special needs and one who have a typical learning profile. Second, I love my job. I help students access supports and programming they need to be successful learners. I am grateful parents entrust me to partner with them to support their most most cherished gifts: their children.
My career as an educational advocate began in 2005. Until the 2010-2011 school year, my work focused mainly on preschool and elementary students, most with autism spectrum disorders. I am experienced, however, working with students with Down syndrome, anxiety and emotional disabilities, ADHD, and medical conditions which impact learning such as epilepsy. In recent years, I have successfully expanded my practice to a small, but growing, group of middle and high school clients. As they grow up, my practice varies, but I am not an expert in 18-22 year old transition services.
In addition to my formal education (BS and M.Ed) and certification, I have received extensive training through Wrightslaw and have served as a trainer for both the Federation for Children with Special Needs and the Early Intervention Training Center. I worked as a consultant at the Early Intervention Training Center, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and the Federation for Children with Special Needs. One such contract included the design, implementation, and finally the assessment of a workshop geared to families of kids transitioning out of Early Intervention. This training, Continuing the Journey (with Margaret O’Hare, through the Federation of Children with Special Needs) was then developed into its current form, given to each and every family preparing to transition out of Early Intervention in the state of Massachusetts still.
Currently, I provide tailored trainings to a variety of SEPACs and parent groups, have presented at conferences (BAEYC, Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress), and consult to two private day schools. More recently, I have been working with 3 school districts to provide professional development on how to effectively partner with families and make the IEP process a more meaningful and collaborative one.
Some of the major accomplishments of my career involve both private and public day school placements and appropriate, effective inclusion support for students in their home schools. I have secured, sometimes in tandem with special education attorneys, and other times working alone, day school (private and public) placements and am highly experienced in mediation and the BSEA process, even representing the needs of a child for a family who simply could not afford an attorney in a 5 hour hearing at the BSEA, winning a settlement for the family, as well as helping other navigate the hearing process. I believe every child deserves a free, appropriate, and meaningful education.
I also help parents obtain necessary programming allow their children to access and thrive in inclusive settings.
Families come seeking different outcomes. I help them find, define, and obtain what supports their son or daughter require based on his or her unique needs.
Writing and filing due process hearing requests to assist parents and helping support them at pre-hearing conferences and in settlement talks are unique skills I bring to the table as an advocate. I have a near 100% success rate with hearing requests I have submitted. In 2012-2013, five hearing requests led to comprehensive settlement agreements after attending settlement meetings, pre-hearing conferences, or hearing proceedings. Since the summer of 2013, seven such requests were filed and resolved to the satisfaction of the families involved.
In FY 2012- present, four of my cases were granted “Expedited Status” by the Bureau of Special Education Appeals, a designation given to very few cases, with the moving party having to prove the child is without an available special education placement. In one instance, I successfully argued that the long-term bullying experienced by a student was so detrimental that she was unable to access her district’s educational program and required alternative placement. In another, a preschooler with autism had been denied services because he was found to be “untestable” and had missed nearly a year of special education services he was entitled to. In negotiating a comprehensive settlement agreement, not only did he receive immediate placement into an appropriate program, but a comprehensive array of compensatory services for the educational programming he had been denied. Seven years later, this student is making effective progress with supports in a full inclusion classroom.
I endeavor to support parents in gaining more advocacy skills and increasing their knowledge of the laws and regulations governing their children’s educational services. If and when an advocate or attorney is no longer in the picture, it is my hope that the parents are able to advocate for their children effectively and without being afraid to speak up. I believe that creating positive and respectful partnerships between parents and school teams leads to best outcomes for students.
Many parents are unable to pay an advocate. In collaboration with professional organizations and colleagues, I provide pro-bono work for low income, often immigrant, families 25% of my time; I offer reduced rate cases for 30% of my clients when there is a true need. I believe every child deserves the support of an advocate and that protecting the special education rights of children is truly a civil rights issue.
I am the parent of four children, three with Individualized Education Programs. My oldest two children have complex disabilities (autism and mitochondrial disorder/emotional disability/medically fragile); both attend or attended private day schools, the other a fabulous collaborative. My high school-aged child has emotional disabilities.
Other personal & professional accomplishments: ordained Deacon in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) (serving as vice-chair from 2000-2006), Board of Directors and founding member of SpEdWatch (2005-2007), Trainer @ the Early Intervention Training Center (2004-2007), Workshop Presenter to SEPAC’s and professionals (2004-Present), Board of Directors of People Helping People, Autism Speaks Walk Committee (2004-2019), Autism Speaks Walk Committee Mission Moment Chairperson/Parent Walk Chairperson 2017 and 2018, delegate to the Massachusetts Democratic Party state convention (multiple years including 2018), was the impetus behind my district becoming more autism friendly and designating April as Autism Awareness Month, including lighting the Common/center of town up blue (2018) through work with the Mayor, City Council & School Commitee, and former (then and still youngest ever) Board Member of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus.
Most recently, invited as a presenter to a working group at the Board of Higher Education in Massachusetts. Volunteer for two domestic violence agencies and our local “soup kitchen”, and SEPAC/PAG Chair at a collaborative, just as examples. 25%-40% of my practice caters to reduced rate or pro bono families. My goal is to share my knowledge with as many families of color, where language is an impediment, as I can. Special education is a civil right. I’m trying to do my part.