"Study the past if you would define the future." — Confucius (551 BC - 479 BC)
The Parent Information Center of NJ Inc., a private non-profit organization established in 1977 while “special education” was still in its infancy, was formed by a small group of parents armed with nothing more than an unwavering commitment to secure the appropriate educational services their children required. Out of that commitment developed a unique organization that for 30 years offered a seamless stream of service to thousands of children and families of all socio-economic, cultural and disability categories. PIC’s unique model framed all special education issues within the joint perspectives of the law and child development. It’s motto “Each one, teach one...” reflected the focus of the work – empowering families to work more effectively with educators and other professionals to ensure the needs of their disabled children were properly addressed. For over 30 years PIC upheld its’ mission to:
- Apply the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) so that the unique learning needs of children with disabilities, 3-21, could be met without cost to their families.
- Empower parents and families to be joint and equal partners in the educational process.
- Keep the “I” in IEP by always being guided by the individualized needs of the child and not by any single educational philosophy, methodology or policy in its work.
These are the guiding principles that made PIC unique. As America’s first parent information center, PIC has been widely recognized for its successful model of parent training programs and its effective use of nonlawyer services in IEP meetings, mediation and due process hearings through which it developed a large body of case law.
PIC utilized a strong parent advocacy component that would not be controlled by either state or federal agencies. At no time during its history did PIC receive federal or state funding, distinguishing it from all other parent training and information centers in the nation. Self-sustaining throughout its’ thirty years, PIC’s autonomy allowed it to take on special education issues at the local, state and national level that others turned away.
National precedents PIC established include:
- Creation of the first special education parent training programs
- The first certification programs in the U.S. for parents offering professional level training in child development,
IEP writing, testing and measurement, and special education law and practice.
- Certification programs for PIC Consultants and nonlawyer
(NOTE: PIC is the only organization in the U.S. offering
a certification program for its consultants and nonlawyers.
PIC does not use the term advocate for its consultants
in that it does not describe a level of competence. PIC
Consultants and nonlawyers are required to receive extensive
training as well as continuing supervision.)
- Pioneering nonlawyer practice in special education
- Creation of the largest body of precedent setting case
law in the history of special education
- Establishing the venue for 504 cases in New Jersey
- Winning the first 504 litigation in New Jerseys history
- Establishing the right of parents to have free transcripts
of the special education hearings in the 1997 reauthorization
- Establishing privilege of consultant/client communications
- Establishing nonlawyer consultant fees as recoverable
costs in special education proceedings
- Establishing nonlawyer consultant fees as recoverable costs in special education proceedings from the 1990’s until the Supreme Court decision issued in Arlington v. Murphy in 2006 which nullified a parents’ right to recover any and all expert fees in special education proceedings.
- A PIC case was the first to take on the challenge of a parents’ right to proceed “pro se” in civil court in IDEA cases. An adverse ruling against parents in this 1997 Third Circuit case, Collinsgru v. Palmyra, set a precedent that PIC petitioned Congress to take up during the reauthorization of IDEA in 2004. Congress's failure to explicitly address this controversy in the statutory language of the final bill led to a Supreme Court challenge in 2006 (Winkelman v. Parma City.) In May 2007 the Supreme Court ruled on behalf of the parents reestablishing parents right to proceed pro se in civil actions brought under IDEA.
PIC has litigated a wide range of cases over the years. Highlights include:
- The first vocational education case that compelled a vocational
school to accept a student with epilepsy (1982).
- The first Inclusion case (1984) placing a deaf student
into regular classes.
- A later (1990) case placed a student with severe CP and giftedness
into regular education classes. The recognition of the needs
of gifted-handicapped children continued to be addressed
in a 1992 decision.
- A series of residential placements for educational purposes
(without the involvement of Human Services) occurring between
1980 and 1990.
- Hundreds of cases involving dyslexic students were won, resulting
in the creation of the first federal policy statement on
a continuum of placement options for dyslexic students (16
- Precedents in New York state on the nature and unmet needs of dyslexic
students provided the basis for the U.S. Supreme Court in
- The first case recognizing the use of American Sign Language
as the native language of the deaf.
- Establishing the use of neuropsychological assessments to determine disability
- The first case on Applied Behavior Analysis was won by PIC,
as well as the first case involving the methodology of Stanley
- PIC cases overturned New Yorks refusal to permit public
schools to fund a nonapproved placement.
- PIC brought competent representation to parents in Delaware
for the first time, winning every case.
- PIC represented black families, successfully raising the issue
of racial bias as an element of an appropriate placement.
PIC’s history demonstrates it to be the unequivocal leader in special education since the passage of PL-192. During its’ long tenure PIC was a voice for those who needed it most engaging in education and advocacy aimed at improving public policy for all students. PIC’s small but steady voice could always be heard “on the Hill” during each and every reauthorization period. The work of PIC was specifically acknowledged in the halls of Congress when the IDEA reauthorization of 2004 placed nonlaywer representation as a central issue in House bill, H.R. 1350, and by statements made by then Senator Jon S. Corzine on the Senate floor during IDEA debate and found in the Congressional Record. It is only a small sampling of PIC’s advocacy efforts aimed at policy makers that have been archived here.
PIC Participates in IDEA Hearings
Throughout the reauthorization process, PIC staff and parents worked to educate our legislators and policy makers on the implications of proposed changes to special education. Excerpts of some of their testimony are listed below.
US Department of Education Hearings
After releasing their proposed regulations for IDEA 2004, public
hearings were held to gather comments. PIC representatives comprised
of both parents and staff attended the July hearings in Washington
, D.C. Excerpts of some of their testimony is listed below.
New Jersey Special Education Code Changes