Advocate vs. Attorney

Presence of an attorney at IEP meetings is “strongly discouraged” by the United States Office of Special Education Programs because it “could potentially create an adversarial atmosphere at the meeting, which could interfere with the development of the child’s IEP…”(U.S. Department of Education,1998). While attorneys have knowledge of law, they often do not have backgrounds in education or hands-on experience working with children with special needs.

As an advocate, Julie knows and understands state and federal laws and is able to bring professional, hands-on experience from the Special Education field to the table. This combination provides the ability to keep meetings non-adversarial and child centered!

An Advocate…

  • Represents the best interests of the student in the educational process.
  • Has a working-knowledge of State and Federal laws pertaining to children with special needs and can inform parent/guardians of their rights. If need arises, she will research a specific legal issue or case that is pertinent to a child’s education program.
  • Suggests appropriate services, programs and accommodations/modifications to meet the student’s individual needs.
  • Can provide classroom observation reports.
  • Helps interpret the meaning of assessments and reports to parents, and explain their significance to the child’s educational needs.
  • Helps parents put requests in writing.
  • Prepares parents for the IEP/504 meeting. This could include interpreting and prioritizing support materials, proposing goals and objectives, and providing/rehearsing strategies for the meeting.
  • Reviews all special education documents, including files, assessments, report cards, observation reports, ect. prior to IEP/504.
  • Accompanies parents to IEP, 504, and any other relevant school meetings to provide advice and assistance.
  • Reviews IEP documents before you sign them.
  • Drafts letters, responses, complaints and written requests to school and district officials.
  • Empowers and educates families (parents and students!) to strengthen their own advocacy skills.
  • If you are ready to take your case to due process, an advocate can help advise you on the strength of your case and make referrals to local special education attorneys if need be.

Who Does a Special Education Advocate help?

A Special Education Advocate assists families of children with any learning concerns. Some students have needs that are already identified, whereas other parents will seek advocacy support in helping them identify issues that may be affecting their child’s learning. Common examples of Learning Concerns:

  • Learning disabilities and processing disorders (math, reading/writing)
  • Speech and language deficits
  • Hearing or Visual Impairment
  • AD/HD and Sensory Disorders
  • Autistic spectrum
  • Behavioral Issues and Emotional disorders
  • Physical disabilities
  • Chronic illnesses
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Intellectual Disabilities

How do I get started?

Since each student is unique, the process will be unique as well. Generally, you will first be asked to fill out an Intake Form, giving relevant background details on your child and family.

Then, the needs of your child will be assessed. Additional documentation will be requested as needed.
After reviewing these documents, Julie Hagy-Hancock, MS, will collaborate with you on a Success Design Plan for your child. From there, the implementation begins!

You can contact Julie Hagy-Hancock, MS, at or (757) 692-3528 to start the process. Your initial consultation is free.