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Protecting the Rights of Disabled Students in Colorado

Posted by attorney Jessica Peck

Before becoming an attorney, Jessica spent several years of her career as a policy analyst and columnist, where she passionately devoted her time to protecting the rights of students at every step of their education. Today, she co-chairs a panel on educational due process as part of her role as an appointee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission's Colorado Advisory Committee. We hope that you find the guide below helpful. Please give us a call if we can help provide additional assistance.


Across Colorado, thousands of parents live the daily challenge that comes with raising a school-aged student struggling with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. While sending your child off to school can bring at least some level of financial and emotional reprieve, too many parents of special needs children find themselves blindsided by an educational environment ill-equipped—or in some cases, unwilling—to partner in the pursuit of meeting the unique needs of each and every student.

Through this law firm, we have represented clients as young as seven-years-old in the pursuit of protecting their rights as students. I’ve also represented clients facing criminal charges over minor misbehavior. While my firm is actively committed to representing indigent clients for free whenever possible, I’ve authored this report in the hopes that it can help those my firm is unable to represent better understand their rights. Please email us with questions. If we can’t represent you, we’ll do everything possible to try to find someone who can.

Ultimately, these are the most important lessons we've learned after more than a decade spent vocally defending the rights of students inside (and outside) our nation’s classrooms.

  1. We are criminalizing childhood at an unfathomable pace. Skeptical? See this news report about our 13-year-old client, a middle school student diagnosed with multiple emotional disorders. Fortunately, while he was criminally charged for a playground spat that involved no physical contact and had no eyewitnesses, we were able to get the charges against him dropped. Regardless, it’s a disgrace that he was ever forced to step foot in a courtroom over a matter that should have been handled by school administrators.
  2. A criminal conviction or a citation appearing on a student’s school record—even if the student is still a juvenile at the time of the offense—can have a lasting impact well beyond childhood. Many colleges require applicants to report all criminal or disciplinary citations before a student will be accepted. One mistake can cost an applicant a spot at a top university. It can also mean the loss of financial aid. Under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, schools can reveal prior allegations—even if a student had been cleared—to university officials should that student face additional allegations as a college student. This authority runs contrary to conventional legal protections for the accused.
  3. Schools too often refuse to recognize their obligations to protect special needs kids until a lawyer gets involved. Once again, I’ve seen this in my own practice. Parents often come to my firm after they’ve given up on every other strategy.
  4. While schools are safer than they’ve been in 20 years, parents and administrators are increasingly demanding “School Resource Officers" to be present at every school. This is a mistake. The presence of SROs has led to dramatic increases in student arrests over minor offenses. While SROs are tasked, in part, to serve as mentors to students, they spend about half of their time acting as law enforcement agents, facilitating criminal investigations and arrests of students. For a terrific analysis, see the Justice Policy Institute’s “Education Under Arrest: the Case Against Police in Schools."

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