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Apr 8, 2020

Episode link: Special Education Legal Fund: Can I do this myS.E.L.F. or will I need help?

Today we talk to Christine Lai whose journey as a parent led her to co-found Special Education Legal Fund (S.E.L.F.). We talk about challenges parents experience while advocating for their child(ren) and why they need special education legal services.

You can find Christine at
You can find S.E.L.F. at

Christine Lai, co-founder and Executive Director of Special Education Legal Fund, Inc (S.E.L.F.), an organization providing CT parents in need with the financial support necessary to secure legal assistance in special education for their child or children. In addition, they provide parent training through their Parent Education Program (PEP). Most recently, they have launched a grant program for parents requiring special education legal services related directly to the COVID-19 school closures.

FLASHFORWARD: Christine joins us again later in the series to discuss Barriers to Special Education which you can find here.


TRANSCRIPT (not proofread)

families, special education, child, parents, iep meeting, program, fund, attorney, point, talking, provide, district, teacher, speak, connecticut, support, language, spanish, email, advocating

Dana Jonson, Christine Lai


Dana Jonson  00:03

Hello, and welcome to need to know a Dana Jonson. I'm your host, Dana Jonson. And I'm here to give you the information you need to know, to best advocate for your child. I'm a special education attorney in private practice, a former special education teacher and administrator, a current mom to four children with IPS. And I myself have ADHD and dyslexia. So I have approached the world of disability and special education from many angles. And I'll provide straightforward information about your rights and your schools obligations, as well as tips and tricks for working with your school district. My goal is to empower you through your journey. So if there's anything you want to hear or comment on, you can find me and this podcast at special ED dot life. You can also find me on Instagram at special ED dot life. Or you can email me, Dana at special ED dot life. Now the first thing you need to know is that sometimes I have a bit of a potty mouth. So if your environment isn't ready for that, feel free to pop in your earbuds. Okay, let's get started.



Before we get started, I just wanted to let you know that we had a few technical difficulties in this episode. Now that we are all at home in quarantine, and everyone in my house is on a device and everyone in the world is on the internet. We ran into a few challenges here and there. So a couple of times the audio drops out. And I do apologize for that. But we have a great discussion, and I know you'll enjoy it. Today we are meeting with Christine Lai, who is a co founder and the executive director of the special education legal fund here in Connecticut. And while this organization is Connecticut specific, I think that everything we're going to talk about applies to pretty much anyone ever anywhere. This fund is amazing. It provides funds for families who can't afford it to help advocate for their children. And I would love to see these all over the country in every state, it would be fantastic if this could grow. So Christine, thank you so much for joining me.


Christine Lai  02:11

Thanks, Dana. I'm so excited to be here. Yes,


Dana Jonson  02:14

it's exciting. Exciting times, right? Yeah. So why don't we start by telling me how you got to special ed, legal funds? How did your participation in a start? And then how did it evolve?


Christine Lai  02:28

Absolutely. I have been advocating for my son for the better part of 10 years. And when we first started the process, the thing that I carried away was how difficult it was even for someone who is ideally placed and has resources, it is a really difficult process to navigate. And to get through from start to finish. I think it took about 18 months for my family and I to get from where we were to the place that we needed to be. And that was with constant advocacy, constant emails constantly staying on top constantly showing up at the school randomly and all that stuff.



And it's I love that you say that because I was a special teacher than an administrator than an attorney. Then I had kids, right. And I've been fighting tooth and nail and I've been going through that same process. It's been hard for me and I've got four kids with IPS at different varying levels. But this is my entire background. And it was hard for me. Absolutely no. So I always think, you know, when I sit at that table by myself, and I'm like, Oh my gosh, how are people that don't have a vast working knowledge of the system getting through able to function?


Christine Lai  03:36

Exactly, yeah, it's deadly. It's a totally different language. And it is so hard to really navigate it, particularly when it's overlaid with all of the emotions that come with the situation that your child is having problems, your child is having problems. And that is why you're sitting there in the chair. And so that are personal. It's so personal. So you can't really navigate it. It's very hard. After the process sort of concluded I don't I don't want to say concluded because obviously, it's never concluded it's always ongoing. First thing included. Step one, I thought to myself, this is such a difficult thing for everyone, how can we make this better? And then I had an experience with my babysitter, where, you know, she speaks Spanish as a primary language. And she came to me and she put her IEP on the table. And you know, I said, Okay, you know, we started to go through it. And you know, I was trying to explain it to her. And after a couple of hours, I wasn't getting anywhere. So I'm like, let me just go with you. And I went with her. And it was really kind of astounding what you witnessed at that point in that, you know, and I'm sure you've had that moment too, or, and so at that point, you know, the wheels kind of started turning, you know, what would this look like? What would it entail? Because you know, they're all are obviously families that are falling through the cracks as we speak, the cracks are wider and deeper, and you know, and getting more so, and they were there before COVID-19. They were there before. They were there before COVID-19 on, but they'll be there afterwards, there'll be deeper and wider at that point. But you know, at that point we, I started thinking about what this would look like, sort of functionally. And we created this fund, my partner or Rika, drinkhall and I, who I have known through years of, you know, advocating for my child with autism and her child with developmental delay, decided that this would be a program this would be an organization that provided resources and information to families in need with children in special education. The first tranche of that is the grants program, our core grants program in which we provide grants for families in need with children in special education, to secure the services of a special education attorney to assist them in the advocacy process.



So why don't I want to I want to expand on that and tell me why I'm actually pulling it directly from your website. Why do families need legal assistance when their child is in special education? I have so many people when they ask, What do I do? Versus if I'm a lawyer, the great thanks. You know, I always say I'm a lawyer, and I represent someone with disabilities, like, I try to get it in really fast. Yeah. And people are like, that's the thing, you know, and even parents of children with disabilities are like, really? And so yeah, talk a little bit about why that exists, and why that's so important.


Christine Lai  06:31

We live in a society of limited resources. Okay. So you know, when you're in a school setting, there's limited resources for limited population. And a lot of times what happens with families, particularly families are not aware of what is available, or what is their right, they proceed through the system without the supports that they need. And then their child begins to lag or fail or worse. And then at that point, there comes a time when you know, a family is asking for what is, you know, a legal requirement for their child. And the school is either not providing it, or not providing it to its fullest, you know, ability. And there's a disconnect, really, between a parent, a family and the school district over what the appropriate education is for child, the disconnect obviously comes, you know, and listen, I have sympathy for school districts, because of this, the resource allocation issue that I'm talking about, you are an administrator, so you understand it as well. This is a growing population, where the cost to educate that population is growing. So you know, I get it.


Dana Jonson  07:45

Part of that is identification. You know, I mean, we absolutely I hear people say to me all the time, they're like, Wow, we didn't have all these these disabilities I was growing up, I'm like, Yeah, you did, you just.


Christine Lai  07:57

And you just got to pretend it didn't exist, and they didn't have support. And the children were left to muddle their way through to the completion in the system. But really, when I think about it, our families, our families, where a child has had an IEP for 10 years and still can't read our families, our families, where there is significant significant delays, and a lack of available resources or lack of, or willingness to provide available resources to that family to that child, so the child can achieve a free and appropriate public education, you know, as is mandated by law.


Dana Jonson  08:36

Yeah. And I tell my clients a lot that to the point that you just made, which sometimes it's not to working with your child or trying, yeah, there usually isn't. The team, they just don't have the resources, or they're asking for the resources. And they're told not to ask for. Exactly, yeah. So it's, it's yeah, it's it's a big systemic issue. It absolutely.


Christine Lai  08:57

When I went through this personally, and started to look at the problem on a global basis. Obviously, the bigger issue is that this is not a fully funded civil rights mandate, period, right. But I don't have the capability to solve that I am not smart enough to be able to plug that hole. What I can do is I can help some of these family cracks that we talked about. And that was really the premise of the organization was to provide families that got to a point with the school district, with their child with their child's education, where they could not move any further without the assistance of an attorney. Because attorneys are expensive.


Dana Jonson  09:37

They're very expensive and very aware. And that's always the first question I get from parents whenever I speak to parents and I speak to parents groups all the time, because in my world, my dream would be that any parent that has to walk into an IEP meeting knows what they're doing. That was mine is everything. Yeah, exactly. That's, that's that's the gold ring. And the first question they ask is What if you can't afford an attorney? Or Yeah, what can I do without an attorney and it breaks my heart. Sometimes when I say, I know, you're not going to get what you need without an attorney, you know, and there's actuations, where that's just a reality and trying to find a way to make legal services accessible to families. And sometimes it's just not. And it's solely because of finances.


Christine Lai  10:21

Absolutely. I actually took a whole I have this presentation for this predictive educazione SEL, that we're doing. And I just took this whole section out of it. Because what is the point of me talking about due process? You know, you cannot file for due process without an attorney. So there's no point in me going through a slide about timelines and evidence and the hearing officer, because there's no point, you know, and that is



not a good idea. Yeah, it's not a good idea for parents to do that on their own, even though they can. And I know, that's hard to but I, I tell parents that and I recently spoke with somebody who was saying, Well, I don't care if I win or lose, it's just, you know, I'm taking them to task. And I had to explain to them that you have to understand if you do that, and that hearing officer rules against you, you just set precedent for the rest of us. Yeah. Now we know we have to follow whatever that hearing officer ordered in your case. And so I don't think that's a reason to not go forward. I'll be candid, I'm, I'm of the mindset that we should move forward with, you know, hold school districts accountable any way we can when we can. But let's say you need somebody who knows the system understands the legal system. And as part of it to really make sure you're doing it the right way.


Christine Lai  11:38

Absolutely absolute, because there are implications, there are huge potential consequences. The other thing that I tried to tell parents is that the school district is a co parent with you, if you have child and edgy in special education, you are co parenting your child from the age of three to the age of 21, in some cases, so it's kind of like a divorce, it's like you have to be able to have a collaborative relationship with them. At the end of the day, even if they're like, oh, I can do this. And I can go to the newspaper, and I can do this and that the other thing, I'm like, Yeah, you can. But at the end of the day, what does that leave you with? Your child? Seven, you know, you've got 11 years of dealing with the district.


Dana Jonson  12:29

You know, my dad, I say that all the time. I say, unless you plan does it? Yeah, unless you plan to move, unless you plan seriously and to move to get your child


Christine Lai  12:39

out of you withdrawn from the system entirely, then that's another thing. But otherwise, you have like, blown up this relationship, and it's never going to be the same. It's I choose that option. Like I really do encourage parents to, you know, try as hard as possible to keep that collaborative relationship going. Even though it's it's difficult, and it certainly wasn't something that I was able to do. But in the


Dana Jonson  13:06

end, even when I'm involved, yeah, even when I'm involved, I say parents, you know, let me fight with the attorney. The IEP meeting isn't the time or place, you know, these people working with your fight in the IEP meeting, I will fight in the IEP meeting, but so much of it can be in a different forum, that that's, you know, my goal isn't to destroy anyone's relationships. And I think that, you know, sometimes and I felt this way, too, I have honestly felt this way. I want a pound of flesh. Yeah. Because your child suffered takes, yes. And then it takes a long time to realize and accept that I have to focus on what's right for my child moving forward and put that stuff aside.


Christine Lai  13:41

Exactly. It's really not about you. And it's not a thing, because no one Exactly. You know, no one's winning here. No one's winning, it's about getting the best possible outcome for your child today, and tomorrow, and five years from now and 10 years in, and that's not served by going to the media necessarily. And you know, in speaking about in most cases, in speaking, I mean,


Dana Jonson  14:04

there's a time and place for that there's probably time in places where you have to be careful about that, too. And I do say that to parents, too, I say, Look, I'm all about helping with the press, and when people call on an interview, and that's great, but raising awareness, of course, raising awareness, but let's get what you need for your child. Right. That's my focus. That's where I'm recommending you go. So.


Christine Lai  14:27

So it's been a tremendous journey. You know, we've been in existence for, you know, basically two grant cycles now, two years of giving. And we've been able to provide, you know, over $225,000 in direct support to families in need, who really had nowhere to go, you know, and to secure those educational provements that their children need. So that's been tremendous, you know, kind of along the way, we learned through our outreach to various communities that you know, a lot of the nonprofit Oregon stations and agencies that also serve this population really want to help in this area, but don't have the necessary background. So like I had many conversations with agencies and nonprofits where they would say, this client came to me. And they have an IEP meeting, and I don't know what to do, you know, I don't know what to tell them. So we've been trying to provide with our partnerships with various organizations, some direction and support to those agencies, so they can support their families, when they need that when they have that moment of crisis, or whatever. And that's where, you know, we launched we were able to launch this program predicted edge, Ocasio and SEL assembly, but yeah, it's some it's a great, you know, like I said, you know, this really goes to the this program, for me, goes to the roots of why self was founded, was to support families that you just spoke English as a second language in the special education process, like my housekeeper who had those issues in her, you know, in her own life with her own child. It is a four part curriculum, which was developed by speaking directly with members of the community about what their needs are, what their problems were, what their issues were in advocating for their children in the school system. So we constructed a curriculum based on that we construct a curriculum that focused on sort of real world ways to solve problems in the moment. Obviously, there's background on laws and history, and, you know, and everything like that, but really what these families need, were tips on what to do in the moment, what to do when, when the interpreter doesn't show up for meeting what to do when the general education teacher isn't available, even though they were on the invitation, you know, things like that, what to ask for that you are entitled to have translated documents,



you have a document handed to you in the middle of a meeting and asked to sign it exact. How do you respond to that and preserve your rights? Because sometimes, you know, parents will say to me, I didn't understand it. So I said, No. And I said, well, great, but now you've relinquished some rights. So right, how do we how do we feel that, you know, how do we educate families and the agencies who are educating families about that? What is the moment about what to do in the moment? So this program, that's so you're working with agencies or families directly,


Christine Lai  17:28

so we work with agencies, you know, basically what we do is we partner with various nonprofit organizations, we launched at building one community and Stanford in December, which was a great partnership for us. And we provide this bilingual education we provide the teaching staff, and the end of the curriculum is a mock IEP meeting, where the families can practice the knowledge that they've learned, hopefully learned during the session. And then there's a short q&a Consult with a special education attorney, which I hope you'll be able to participate in, once we've gone back live with, you know, in person teaching models. And, and so we provide that to the agencies. The agencies are responsible in this partnership for, you know, reaching out to their clientele, because they know that online, this curriculum who needs this service, and we provide the simultaneous interpretation, the curriculum is presented in English and Spanish. And really, it's, it's been a tremendous, it's been really tremendous to, to do this. We've partnered with as I said, building one community, the Boys and Girls Club and Stamford, ableist in Stamford, which we had to shut down kind of midstream because of the social distancing. And in the later spring slash summer, we are going to bring this program to make the road in Bridgeport, as well as Domus and the Stanford public schools, we'll be doing a session as well knock on wood, assuming that, you know, the the health crisis the sides. Um, so we're really excited to continue to expand this, you know, the Fairfield County area, and just continue to bring this knowledge to a community that, you know, that really is lacking.


Dana Jonson  19:10

That's really amazing. I had a client who a pro bono client that I took in, I was halfway not halfway through probably about 15 minutes into the IEP meeting before I realized that my client didn't understand what's going on. And I had been able to speak to them both via email on the phone and in person and get the impression that they fully understood. And what was happening was they understood enough to get me to a place where I thought they understood and I was, you know, we're in the IEP meeting and I can't remember what I think a question was asked and I thought I don't understand why she's nodding her head.


Christine Lai  19:47

Nod your head Yeah, exactly. Hey, I


Dana Jonson  19:48

was I we need to take a break. Something something's going on here. And, and you know, never dawned. Sometimes parents are reluctant because they want to damage the They won't demonstrate that they


Christine Lai  20:01




Yeah, exactly. And that's not what an interpreter does. It's not. And I hate that, you know that parents feel that anyone feels that way. But that's not about, you know, you're not done because you don't know English, you weren't raised with it. We don't expect you to


Christine Lai  20:17

break. And you're not done because you don't understand special education law. Oh, my gosh,


Dana Jonson  20:21

yeah, exactly. Exactly. No, no one's brains were


Christine Lai  20:26

raised. No, it's true. It's, you know, and it goes further than the language because obviously, families are entitled to an interpreter, if English is not their first language, even if they speak a little English. And if they speak enough English to get around, you know, you still are entitled to it. Because it's obviously a totally different legal way of thinking. I also find that what you're saying goes to families not being not being comfortable or being afraid to, you know, to stop the meeting and to ask questions, like, so many of the families that, you know, I've met in this program through preeto, don't understand what the goals are, you know, they're like, I don't know what these are. I don't know what these goals are. I don't know what they mean. Because when we started this program, I thought, this is going to be a special ed 101 curriculum for Spanish people, you know, like that


Dana Jonson  21:17

for Spanish, that there's a 101.


Christine Lai  21:21

There's a one a one. And then I realized that it wasn't that it wasn't that at all, you know, it's a little bit it's obviously it, it encompasses special education law and the beginnings of it. But so much of it is about communicating. And, you know, and understanding


Dana Jonson  21:35

and well, and that's something that you're right, not all, yeah, that's something I talk to parents about all the time, I actually do a whole presentation on that. And it's about communicating with the school district. And one of the huge things that I've seen, and I'm sure you see this, because when somebody's when there's a when English isn't your first language, there's probably a cultural difference as well. And I see the the perspectives, right. So I had a case where the parent is saying, you know, they're never giving me data, I don't understand what's going on. And then I have the teacher say, I don't understand I give her the data every time she asks, you know, and that is creating the riff. And it's only a matter of perspective that is taken or, you know, if I have a parent who feels like how they show their I don't know, if it's gratitude, or what have you to the to the teacher for helping, and the teacher feels like they're overbearing. Yeah, I think there are cultural differences that play into that. And both sides have to be aware, but there are ways to communicate, if you save the teacher, you didn't teach my child to read versus my child has an on grade level, that sends two different messages to the me it's a totally different way of speak, it's a different tone. And if you don't have the language skills, you may be saying that without realizing how aggressive it sounds.


Christine Lai  22:44

Yeah, exactly, exactly. I tell parents all the time, part of the problem. And this is not just for ESL families, but this goes for all of us, is part of the time what happens is we think about the school like we would a person and how do you communicate with a person, you speak to them directly? So then you go to the school, you say the teacher, my child is having problems with this? And the teachers like, Uh huh. And then they go back to their 25 Other kids or whatever. And maybe they write it down, and maybe they don't. So a couple of weeks go by, and nothing has happened with your particular child, you go back to the teacher, you repeat what you said before? And the teacher says, oh, okay, yeah, whatever. And nothing still happens. And at this point, you as a parent, are getting agitated, because you've made your concerns known. So you think to the school several times, and nothing has happened, but to the school, you know, you haven't let them know anything, because you haven't done it in writing. And


Dana Jonson  23:42

writing, it didn't happen.


Christine Lai  23:44

It didn't happen. Exactly. Yes. You know, I was talking to this group and saying, you know, it's kind of like going to the DMV. And if you walk up to the DMV in Norwalk, and you say to the guy that's holding the door, I need to renew my driver's license, are you gonna get a driver's license? No, you have to go and stand in line number one, and then fill out a form and line number two in line number three in line number four. And that's how you get from point A to your renewed driver's license. But that guy at the front door isn't necessarily going to telling him that isn't going to get you anywhere in the process. So that's one of the things that we try to talk about a lot of the time is respecting that process. And understanding that process requires a different type of communication than you might be familiar with. And although it seems obtrusive and weird, to necessary to email your teacher every time that you want to make a request or ask for something or make an observation, that is the appropriate thing to do. And that helps you down the road not only create a record of the communication that happened, but also you know, remind you of what you've done in what you what communications you've had over time. So that's part I mean, you know, so much of this is just talking about the way to come You indicate with the school district in appropriate way, so everybody knows where everyone is. Which is even harder if you don't speak English. Exactly, exactly.


Dana Jonson  25:08

There'll be I can't, I can't imagine how overwhelming it's so hard,


Christine Lai  25:12

you know, I'm like, You need to get an email address, you need to have an email address, you need to use the email address, you need to respond to emails, you know, and that


Dana Jonson  25:22

save emails you


Christine Lai  25:23

need to save, you know, exactly, print them out and put them in your binder, you need to have a binder, you know, so, you know, as we started doing this, you know, I realized there were so many things that were very hands on that we could do like creating this binder, like setting up email accounts, all of these things, I send them emails and have them respond to Me so they can get used to that, you know, that dialogue on the email, they can you get used to checking it. And all of that is part of this sort of new communication process that families have to learn if they're going to be successful in the process. And so that's been part of this, as well. But we've been really grateful to Fairfield County's Community Foundation for their support in this and their additional support in the launch of our COVID-19 Fund, which is going to go live, I think next Monday.


Dana Jonson  26:11

Yeah, so that's brand new.


Christine Lai  26:14

That's brand new. We're super COVID COVID are really excited for that. Because, you know, I mean, as you know, we've noticed that there's a vast disparity in the way different districts are interpreting different things. So everyone seems to every one is brewing a different way. Some districts are having meetings, some districts are not. Some districts are doing therapy on zooms, some are not. It's really


Dana Jonson  26:43

there's a district that is actually I won't say the district, because it's usually difficult district, but they're actually sending people for a couple of kiddos who are very impaired, and they have staff who are willing to go to the house and do their jobs. And it's amazing that the staff is willing to do that, and that they're doing that. And then I have other districts that are saying, Oh, I'm sorry. No, we're not. We're not running any IEPs until this is over. So yes, there's no such thing as special ed until COVID-19 is over and I'm thinking, how on earth did those two people read the same guidance? That was


Christine Lai  27:19

waiting for the state guidance, you know, that says what we're supposed to do? I'm like, you're interpreting this in an entirely different way than the district. It's the next town over, you know, yeah, you see my


Dana Jonson  27:31

air quotes when I say guidance, but yeah.


Christine Lai  27:36

I got that. So it is, it is really astounding. So I mean, given all of the sort of the questions, because obviously, this is a brave new world, for everybody. And I do applaud the teachers and educators, you know, in technology support staff, that have in the space of weeks, taken a model that has existed for hundreds of years, and tried to transition it to an entirely different model. And I do applaud that


Dana Jonson  28:03

this model of education. Yeah, I mean, with the exception of special education, because that's newer, but our school system, the model was developed in like, 1900. Exactly. That's when the model was developed. The bells between classes were to train children to get used to the noises in a factory. That was the purpose of bells. Isn't that purpose of belts? So yeah, the face of education is going to change forever after this. How?


Christine Lai  28:32

I don't know it needed to, but I'm hoping it changes in the right direction. But I agree with you, I'm just blown away by teachers who are home with their own kids and doing this and trying to figure out a new system. And the kids are and I really, everybody is truly doing their best. And I'm saying the parents know, it's hard when you go into this with a dispute, because you are already not happy with your district. And now this is harder, but this is how you Yeah, and now this is harder, but we're genuinely everyone's doing their best. And, you know, it's just it's unprecedented. But anyway, I'm sorry. So go back to your program, where you guys are doing? Yeah, so the Fund, the COVID-19 fund is for families. It differs from our you know, our core fund, because the COVID-19 fund is for families who are experiencing either a delay, or in the in the development, the maintenance, or the delivery of their IEP that relates specifically to the COVID-19 issue. I mean, this fund is not for family that they're looking for an outplacement for their child or they are facing a manifestation hearing because of their child's disability or whatever. It's not for that those are families that should continue to look to our core fund for support. These are for families that they have a an you know, an independent educational evaluation scheduled, but it was cancelled and there's no prospect for it to be rescheduled because the COVID-19 crisis. This is for families that are You know, struggling with the delivery of the services for their very impaired nonverbal child with autism and that child's increasingly difficult behaviors, and how they need to deal with that, you know, that's really what this fund is for, and for really trying to help families, because the language is so vague, because, you know, around circumstances, that it is allowing for the interpretation to be, you know, as we've seen, done in many different ways by many different districts, so


Dana Jonson  30:32

we're really talking about Yeah, and so I was just gonna say, you know, we were talking about that as attorneys and advocates actually, just yesterday, because these terms have not yet been defined. Right, right. unique circumstances and to the maximum extent possible, yes, those terms have not yet been defined. Yeah. So you know, that's adding to the constraint. But you're right there a lot. And there's some students out there and me I have some clients whose kids are doing better. This is actually, in certain circumstances, some of the services are coming across really well through this virtual way. But I have others that can't access it at all. Yeah, and absolutely, no, and that's what your fund is where they


Christine Lai  31:08

can only access it with a paraprofessional of which their mother is not, you know,


Dana Jonson  31:13

right, exactly. I mean, that's what I mean that they that they're not able to access their education through whatever form they're trying to do it. And that's where we need to focus I think, are really, you know, I'm asking parents, if, if you're doing okay, then then be okay with doing okay, right


Christine Lai  31:29

now, that's not okay, for the long run. But for today, being okay, it's okay. Because there are some who aren't. And we have to focus on the ones who aren't and bring the attention to them right now. Right, and trying to give definition to these terms and conditions, and trying to map out what it's going to look like in Connecticut, in Westchester, in New York, you know, all over the country, and you know, and how that's going to play out. But I really appreciate you and giving me the opportunity to talk about this, because you think about it all the time. But as we emerge out of this, you know, obviously, as you said, Education is going to change vastly. I just hope that we are able to, you know, with this fun with the support of others, who are you know, in this fight along with us, that we're able to keep the gap from widening for students and special education as a result of this crisis. That's really my our primary goal with this with this fund at the moment, and that


Dana Jonson  32:25

you guys have been amazing. You guys have really been amazing. I mean, this fund is fantastic. And it's wonderful for parents and you know, who don't have the funds, who can go to the main fund or apply for that, for people who are for parents who are in Connecticut. Thank you know, that program sounds like it's for me. How would they get to it? How do they access both of your funds and your the other program?


Christine Lai  32:51

Right, so the core program, the legal assistance program is open to Connecticut residents and Westchester and residents of Westchester County, so people that are considered think that they might be in an applicant for that program, our families with a child that has a current IEP, they have gross adjusted gross income of below 300% of the federal minimum poverty line. And as I said, our residents of Connecticut or Westchester County, the COVID-19 fund, because it was launched in partnership with Fairfield County's Community Foundation, applies to families in Fairfield County only, it applies to families that also have an IEP also sit below 300% of the federal minimum poverty line, and as I said, are having an issue with the development, delivery or maintenance of their IEP because of the COVID 19 crisis. But all those families who are interested should email me at Christine at spared legal And to inquire, and then we have a brief pre screening, after which I will supply an application if it's appropriate.



And I will have that information in the show notes for this podcast. So if anyone is driving and unable to write that down, feel free to go back to the show notes and all of the contact information will be there. What about your program and I don't speak Spanish and so I'm not going to try and pronounce the name of it. Do it. I won't do it justice. But I barely do. Jeff, for parents. What how would people inquire about that?


Christine Lai  34:17

So projected to educate you on SEL right now is on hold because the in person teaching Oh, right, right, right. I'm sorry. You know, it's not enough. But we are going to put the program online in sort of a sort of a truncated form. We're going to put the Spanish piece online hopefully within the next week or so. And I can provide a link for that when it's when it's available. Our website is www dot sped legal And we also have plans to expand that to a version in Haitian Creole and hopefully some other languages as well. We'd like to be judges I think it's six languages in total. I always like when I count them I get comfy. I'm like I'm like Portuguese, Spanish, Polish, Chinese, Haitian Creole and what That's the other one. But that's our that's our sort of long term plan. Those are languages that have need in the state of Connecticut and obviously elsewhere. And so we're hoping to at least in the absence of being able to be in person, in communities with this information provided online in that in that format, so stay tuned for that. We hope to get that up and running pretty soon.


Dana Jonson  35:21

Oh, that's going to be amazing. Well, you know, and my last question is something to this, and they're in another state, and they say, Wow, this is fantastic. And we absolutely have to figure out a way to make that happen here. Would they also reach out to you and email you and say, apps? Can you help me talk to me,


Christine Lai  35:40

I'm happy to have a dialogue with anyone who wants to start this in their own state. I mean, I still, you know, figuring out what I'm doing myself. You know, like, you know, I get calls from, you know, from California, like, how do I do this? And I'm like, You know what, when I figure it out, I'll let you know. I mean, I really am just, you know, flying by the seat of my pants at this point.


Dana Jonson  36:00

And, you know, you are what I refer to as a supermom, and we have super dads too, so no one take that personally. But you know, your parents, you



are a super parent, exactly. You know, somebody who, who had a child went through this system, and recognize the need for other parents and made something happen. And it's just, it's really amazing, because I don't know if you know this, but a lot of I've been practicing in Connecticut for 15 years. And that entire time, a lot of us been talking about, well, if I win the lottery, or I get free time, we need to create a special ed, what do we call Legal Defense Fund, that's what we're calling it.


Christine Lai  36:39

That's what we started out calling it like, we were a special education, Legal Defense Fund. And the and the, you know, and it was like, you know, it was like special education Legal Assistance Fund. And my husband was like, you know, that's a terrible acronym. Like, he's like, isn't anything, you know, why don't just call it special education, legal fund, that's self that's much better. And much better than SEALAB. Or he'll defer whatever it was before the night.


Dana Jonson  37:09

So funny, because that's what we're thinking to. So then when this appear, we're all like, oh, my gosh, this is so amazing. And it really is wonderful. And you guys are really changing the lives of parents and families. Because the only way we can change the system is from parents, it has to come from the parents. And it's not the only way we have, you know, seek of Connecticut. And there are other organizations like that, who are really working hard in the legislative component, yes, but they can't do their work unless we're doing ours too. And so, you know, parents from the bottom up holding school districts accountable, understanding their rights, I find that so many issues happened, because there's a misunderstanding that would have never turned into something major had someone known what they were doing. Exactly. And now the relationships destroyed the the educational programs on hold, you know, all those components. So for parents to be able to access attorneys for when they came, and even if everyone's doing everything they should be doing, we're still going to have disputes, it's still going to happen. That's just a reality. And so and that, and those disputes, they should not be accessible only to people who have money, period, the end period. Yes, exactly. So I thank you so much for everything you're doing. And thank you so much for joining me and explain to everyone your programs and what's out there. And again, this is Christine Lai. And she is from special education legal funds, which is here in Connecticut, which you can find at sped legal And you can find Christine at Christine at fed legal And all of that information will be on the show notes so you can go look it up. And Christine, thank you for joining me. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for joining me today. Please don't forget to subscribe to this podcast so that you get notifications whenever new episodes are available. You can also find this podcast on his website at special ED dot life. You can follow me on Instagram at special ED dot life or you can email me at Dana at special ED dot life. I want to know what you want to know. So please reach out with your comments and questions. And I'll see you next time here on need to know with Dana Jonson Have a great day