SEATTLE – Education attorney Shannon McMinimee has a rare, 30,000-foot view of Washington state's school system.
Splitting her time between Seattle and her hometown in the Yakima Valley, McMinimee has spent the past nine months trying to negotiate services for children with disabilities in urban and rural districts with widely varying policies on reopening. Since last spring, she's filed approximately a dozen legal challenges against school districts for failing to provide accommodations for students.
"They really run the gamut," said McMinimee, an attorney at Cedar Law PLLC. In some cases, she's had to fight for in-person instruction, and in others, she's had to defend medically vulnerable kids' rights to learn from home.
Though her clients are primarily families now, McMinimee has represented both sides. Her former employers include large school districts such as Seattle Public Schools, whose former racial integration policy she defended in a case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007.
Recently, McMinimee shared advice for families of students with disabilities who may be struggling to navigate school during the pandemic. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What are the first steps parents should take if a child isn't getting the same services or is struggling?
A: If you haven't already had one, ask for an IEP meeting. (IEPs, or Individualized Education Plans, are legally binding documents that show what accommodations a student with a disability is supposed to receive to meet learning goals.) Tell them that what has been going on is not working.
... Then talk with other parents about potential opportunities to ask for the same things together. Look around as to what's happening in the community and see if there's anything available that could be appropriately modified or tailored for your child and ask the school district to support your child doing that. Whether that's spending some time at a Rotary or Boys & Girls Club, or providing a remote paraeducator who's in your child's class to help them.
Q: Who should be the first point of contact?
A: There are day-to-day things that the teacher can take care of. But if it's not something you can work out with the teacher, the principal or assistant principal or vice principal is going to be the person that you talk with, unless you're in a district where they send you to go talk to the director of special education.