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 with special needs. 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.
In addition to my formal education 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.
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.
I 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 requires 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, two such requests were filed and resolved to the satisfaction of the families involved.
In FY 2012, two 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. Two years later, this student has made effective progress and is a kindergartener 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 organiziations and colleagues, I identify and accept 1-2 pro-bono cases per year; I offer reduced rate cases for 40% 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); one attends a private day school, the other a fabulous collaborative. My middle school-aged daughter has significant written expression, reading comprehension, executive function, and math disabilities.
Other personal accomplishments: ordained Deacon in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) (serving as vice-chair from 2000-2006), Board of Directors SpEdWatch (2005-2007), Trainer @ the Early Intervention Training Center (2004-2007), Workshop Presenter to SEPAC’s and professionals, Board of Directors of People Helping People, former Board Member of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus.
Photo credits to Kristin Chalmers Photography.