The Paralegal Studies Program faculty members are a diverse group of legal professionals. A great example is Sande Shamash, Director of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago’s Legal Advocacy Program (run through Jewish Child and Family Services) which has provided affordable Special Education legal services to thousands of families for more than 20 years. Shamash has devoted his career to working with children and families. He started in 1993 as an Assistant Cook County Public Guardian and Attorney, successfully representing over 800 children alleged to have been abused or neglected. Since then he has worked for Illinois Department of Public Aid in various capacities, including Chief Judge. He has also served as the first ever Executive Director of the Tourette Syndrome Association of Illinois, Inc. Shamash joined the Paralegal Studies Program in 1996 and taught Commercial Law for several years. He also serves as a member of the program’s advisory board. Shamash is bringing his expertise in special education law to the program with a new course to be offered in Spring 2014, LAWA L34/PARA 334 Introduction to Special Education Law.
In his current position with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Shamash along with staff attorney, Marissa LaVette, advocate for students with special needs in local schools. Most of their special education cases involve getting school districts to provide adequate education for students with special needs. The specialized field of Special Education law can be expensive. “Thanks to JUF and JCFS, we’re one of the very few programs I know of that can work with low-income families,” said Shamash. “Our services aren’t free, but we use a sliding scale and might charge a client anywhere from five dollars an hour to $350 per hour. “ According to Shamash, at a full rate, fees for a family could approach $50,000-$100,000 if a case has to go to a hearing. “It’s nice to be able to do my job for the client and know that fees won’t preclude us from helping,” said Shamash.
Shamash’s new Introduction to Special Education Law course is geared towards giving paralegal students an overview of special education law and practice, and the unique role paralegals can play in this exciting field. Shamash finds that special education is a growing and underserved area of law. It is derived from a mix of federal and state law, the United States Constitution, statutes, regulations, administrative procedures, and state and federal judicial decisions. In the new course, students will learn the core concept of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, that requires a “Free and Appropriate Public Education” in the “Least Restrictive Environment.” They will learn how to develop an individualized education program (IEP). In addition, students will study how Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a civil rights law, can be used to protect all students and their family against discrimination in education. Students will become familiar with the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) and how it establishes educational rights. Finally, students will learn about the importance of paralegals in special education law and their ability to both participate in and impact cases. “Special education law is one of my passions. I am excited to be teaching the new Introduction to Special Education Law course because I can share that passion and knowledge about this unique and important area of law with students and soon to be paralegals, ” said Shamash.
Leading the Legal Advocacy Center’s efforts to represent students with special needs are attorneys Sande Shamash (l) and Marissa LaVette.