COPAA, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, is having its annual conference in San Antonio, Texas this weekend. This national nonprofit offers extensive resources for parents and others who are trying to help their own or other children obtain special educational services from their public school system. Its stated mission "is premised on the belief that the key to effective educational programs for children with disabilities is collaboration -as equals- by parents and educators."
We've written a bit about COPAA before, but it is such a helpful resource that we want to spread the word about the information and supports it offers. The scope of issues COPAA deals with range far beyond the learning issues faced by the families with whom we work. They include children with physical and emotional difficulties, as well as those on the autism spectrum. But the laws that govern all of these students are the same -- the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
COPAA members communicate with one another through two separate listservs -- one for attorneys and one for parents and lay advocates. The listservs allow parents, advocates, and attorneys to seek guidance about specific issues that they are facing and to offer information about best and worst practices they have encountered in their local area. New court decisons impacting education are quickly shared, and COPAA maintains an archives with forms, court cases, and legal briefs that can be accessed by its members. This is not an organization for school attorneys or school employees; COPAA specifically excludes such individuals from membership.
One feature we often utilize when working with families from far flung parts of the country is the "find an attorney" feature, which lists attorneys throughout the country who focus on special education law. Take a look at the COPAA website and bookmark it for future reference. And if you will be anywhere near Texas this coming weekend, you might find the COPAA Conference a good way to spend your time.