Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates
The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) is a national American advocacy association of parents of children with disabilities, their attorneys, advocates, and related professionals who protect the legal and civil rights of students with disabilities and their families. COPAA has more than 1,800 members in 50 states and the District of Columbia . COPAA was founded by S. James Rosenfeld in 1998 and is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
COPAA's mission is to level the playing field for parents of children with disabilities—through access to resources, information, and a network of professionals—so parents may collaborate as equal partners with school districts on their children's individualized education programs. COPAA focuses on the rights of children who receive special education, and who are served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and other statutes. This includes working to ensure that children with disabilities receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). COPAA endeavors to improve the quality and quantity of legal assistance for parents of children with disabilities. COPAA does not represent individual parents but provides a network to assist, train, and inform parents, advocates, and attorneys. COPAA also provides a directory of special education attorneys and advocates. Advocates are nonlawyer professionals who work with parents to advocate for appropriate educations for their children with disabilities.
COPAA was formed in 1998 and works to:
- Enable parents to work more effectively with school personnel to plan and obtain effective educational programs for their children with disabilities;
- Encourage more attorneys and advocates to undertake representation of parents of children with disabilities in their efforts to plan and obtain effective educational programs;
- Provide advocate, attorney, parent and other professional COPAA members with the practical resources, training, and information they need to obtain appropriate and effective educational programs for students with disabilities;
- Provide an annual conference to train parents, advocates, and attorneys in advocacy and litigation techniques;
- Enable members to network and share information and legal resources.
(Membership in COPAA is not available to attorneys who represent, or individuals currently employed at greater than 50 of income by, education agencies receiving federal or state IDEA funds unless an exception is granted by the Board of Directors.) COPAA offers a national conference each year, topical webinars, and online training for advocates and new attorneys to further its mission of training attorneys, advocates, and parents.
In addition, COPAA files amicus curiae briefs with the courts in cases of national significance. COPAA has filed amicus curiae briefs with the United States Supreme Court in Schaffer v. Weast (2005), arguing that school districts should bear the burden of proof in IDEA cases because of their greater resources; Winkelman v. Parma City School District (2006), arguing that pro se parents may represent themselves in IDEA cases in court; and Board of Education of New York v. Tom F. (2007), arguing that parents may seek tuition reimbursement under IDEA for a child who has been denied a free appropriate public education (FAPE) but who did not previously receive special education services from the school district.
COPAA is a strong voice in Congress regarding policy and legislation affecting the educational and civil rights of children with disabilities. For example, COPAA has advocated with states to override the Schaffer v. Weast decision and place the burden of proof on school districts, which the organization believes to be more equitable and fair. COPAA has also worked to support the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act, which would enable parents who prevail in IDEA cases to recover their expert witness fees. According to COPAA, few parents can afford the thousands of dollars needed to pay qualified medical, educational, and technical experts in IDEA cases.
In 2016 COPAA published the report "School Vouchers and Students with Disabilities: Examining Impact in the Name of Choice" showing the variance in state programs and cautioning of harms to students and their families when they are forced to relinquish rights.
In 2009, COPAA published the Monograph, Unsafe in the Schoolhouse: Abuse of Children with Disabilities, written by Jessica Butler. It documents 180 incidents in which children in special education were subject to restraints, seclusion, and other abusive interventions. Ms. Butler's Monograph also makes recommendations to Congress to adopt legislation that will protect children with disabilities from abusive practices. Unsafe in the Schoolhouse was one of two reports included by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in its national report on restraint and seclusion. Unsafe in the Schoolhouse was also cited by the national media, including National Public Radio, and Education News. In 2008, COPAA had issued a Declaration of Principals Opposing the Use of Restraint, Seclusion, and Abuse of Children with Disabilities. The Declaration expresses the view the use of restraints, seclusion and aversive interventions as part of educational programs for children with disabilities.
Furthermore, COPAA provides a variety of tools on its website, including a comparison of IDEA 2004 and IDEA '97.
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