Call To Action: NJ Supreme Court Seeks Parent Feedback on Opinion 56

If you are a parent of a child who receives special education services, your ability to fight for your child might be in danger because of a recent opinion from the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law (Committee). However, you can stop the opinion from taking away your ability to fight for your child by writing to the Committee by November 16, 2020. 

The Committee released Opinion 56 on September 30, 2020, that makes it more difficult for advocates who are not lawyers to help special education students in Individualized Educational Program (IEP) meetings and mediation conferences. Opinion 56 states it would be unethical for non-lawyer advocates to “represent” students or “speak on their behalf” in IEP meetings and mediation conferences. 

Opinion 56 would harm students with disabilities because there are not many free and low-cost legal services available to help parents navigate the special education process. Over the years, non-attorney advocates have helped parents - many of whom do not have strong educational backgrounds or even speak English - in IEP meetings and mediation conferences that can be frightening. The fear of violating Opinion 56’s unclear language would discourage the use of non-attorney advocates, thus giving school districts another advantage over parents.

As a result of protests, the Committee suspended Opinion 56 to allow for the public to make comments on its impact until November 16, 2020. If you want to submit your comments based on your own experiences as a parent and/or advocate of a student with disabilities, you may mail them to: 

Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law  Attention: Carol Johnston, Committee Secretary  Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex  P.O. Box 970  Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0970 

If you prefer, you may e-mail your comments to [email protected] instead. Please understand that no comments may be submitted anonymously. 

Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to Disability Rights New Jersey at [email protected].