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Pennsylvania Bar Association and County Bar Associations Provide Information for Parents and Guardians Wanting a ‘Voice' in Their Exceptional Child's Education

HARRISBURG (Oct. 6, 2014) – The Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) and 25 county bar associations are launching a statewide informational campaign, “Have a Voice in Your Exceptional Child's Education," which provides parents and guardians an overview of the special education rights of students with disabilities and mentally gifted students.

"A parent or guardian who knows or believes a child has problems learning or is mentally gifted often has many questions about the steps that must be taken to ensure that evaluations are properly completed and, when needed, educational programs and services are put into place to best support that child," said Francis X. O'Connor, PBA president, during a news conference at the state Capitol Rotunda.

"In Pennsylvania, there are educational rights in place designed to protect children who have mental and physical challenges that hinder their development. There also are education rights in place for children with outstanding intellectual and creative abilities. In creating this campaign, the PBA felt it important to provide some basic information to parents and guardians about these rights, how the assessment processes to identify disabilities and giftedness get started, and where parents and guardians can turn when they need more information," O'Connor said.

"Although there are many educational rights in place for parents of exceptional children, unfortunately, many parents are either unaware or simply overwhelmed by the process," said Stephen J. Jacobson, vice chair of the PBA Legal Services for Exceptional Children Committee, and founding member and managing partner, Connolly, Jacobson & John LLP. “Our law firm specializes in working with families of children with special needs and we are thrilled this campaign is being initiated by the PBA. Initiatives like this help broaden the awareness of parents to the multitude of resources available to them and, more importantly, help their exceptional children get the educational support they need."

"All children must have access to a high-quality, effective education that prepares them for adult life in the community," said Gabe Labella of the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania.

"Children with disabilities are no different. They are entitled to be educated with their non-disabled peers in inclusive settings with the supports and services they need to thrive and be prepared for postsecondary education, employment, and independent living. DRN looks forward to working with the PBA as we embark on this important venture."

As part of the informational campaign, O'Connor said that the state bar and participating county bar associations are distributing brochures titled “Education Rights for Students with Disabilities" and “Education Rights for Mentally Gifted Students." To receive a free copy of the brochures by mail, contact the PBA toll-free at 1-888-799-4557. The brochures also are available at no cost on the association's website at www.pabar.org.

The campaign is funded by the PBA and a grant from the Pennsylvania Bar Insurance and Trust Fund. It is the 12th in a series of statewide public education efforts waged under the direction of the PBA Community and Public Relations Committee. Previous campaigns have addressed such issues as wills and estates, identity theft, credit issues and child support.

Joining O'Connor, Jacobson and Labella at the news conference were Marie Webb of Pittsburgh, chair, PBA Community and Public Relations Committee; Michelle Christian of Yardley, member, PBA Community and Public Relations Committee; and Robert H. Davis Jr. of Harrisburg, member, PBA Community and Public Relations Committee.

Local bar associations participating in the campaign include the Beaver County Bar Association, Berks County Bar Association, Butler County Bar Association, Centre County Bar Association, Chester County Bar Association, Cumberland County Bar Association, Dauphin County Bar Association, Delaware County Bar Association, Erie County Bar Association, Fayette County Bar Association, Lackawanna Bar Association, Lancaster Bar Association, Lawrence County Bar Association, Lebanon County Bar Association, Bar Association of Lehigh County, Lycoming Law Association, Mercer County Bar Association, Monroe County Bar Association, Montgomery Bar Association, Northampton County Bar Association, Schuylkill County Bar Association, Washington County Bar Association, Westmoreland Bar Association, Wilkes-Barre Law and Library Association and York County Bar Association.

The PBA Legal Services for Exceptional Children Committee is serving as a partner in this year's effort. In addition to its involvement in the informational campaign, the PBA Legal Services for Exceptional Children Committee develops programs that educate lawyers on current legislation and/or regulations affecting exceptional children and their families, and it studies, reviews and make recommendations concerning legislation and regulations affecting exceptional children and their families. It is one of the more than 50 PBA committees and sections dedicated to improving the practice of law in Pennsylvania.

Founded in 1895, the Pennsylvania Bar Association strives to promote justice, professional excellence and respect for the law; improve public understanding of the legal system; facilitate access to legal services; and serve the 27,000 lawyers who are members of the association.