Making a Difference: Clinic Helps Children with Special Needs and Their Families

  • PELE Clinic
    PELE Clinic  The Clinic assists children with special needs and their families with eligibility or Individualized Education Program meetings, discipline matters, mediation, and administrative hearings.  
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Three stories from the 2014-15 school year illustrate how William & Mary clinic students under the guidance of Managing Attorney Crystal Shin, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law, have helped advocate for children with special needs and their families. The Parents Engaged for Learning Equality (PELE) Special Education Advocacy Clinic was established at the Law School in 2009.  The stories appear here with the families' permission; names have been changed to protect client privacy.


In the fall of 2014, the PELE Clinic assisted Alex, a 14-year-old 9th grader diagnosed with ADHD and autism. The PELE Clinic attended his IEP meeting and assisted with the IEP negotiations. The clinic was successful in ensuring that he received the accommodations that he required, including prompting to begin assignments, extra wait time to respond to questions, positive verbal affirmation, tutoring, and social clubs. The accommodations were integral to Alex having a successful school year.

Hilda, his mother, described her experience working with PELE: "I was so happy to be selected [as a client] since my son with autism needed advocacy with his IEP. The public school system can be intimidating, but also feels like a brick wall. I can be very emotional and protective over my son and having clear, rational lead representation also brought well needed mediation. I fully support the PELE Clinic..." 


In the spring of 2015, Jennifer, an 18-year-old with hearing loss, ADHD and a non-verbal learning disability graduated high school. The PELE Clinic had been representing Jennifer and her parents since she was 15. When Jennifer's parents first approached the PELE Clinic, Jennifer had never passed a math Standards of Learning (SOL) test. The PELE Clinic began attending Jennifer's IEP meetings and successfully advocated for an additional disability category (specific learning disability in math) to be added to her IEP, so that she would receive the accommodations she needed. Because of PELE's advocacy, Jennifer was able to pass her math SOLs and graduated this spring with a standard diploma.

Claire, her mother expressed, "with PELE's assistance and everyone stepping up to help Jennifer gain confidence, we have seen her grow leaps and bounds. I am so incredibly grateful for PELE's assistance and cannot thank you enough for your valuable time being spent helping us through this maze. The entire special education process is nerve wracking, but knowing we have PELE available is so reassuring. We are truly grateful to Professor Shin and all the law students for this amazing gift they have given to our family by standing by us and helping our daughter succeed. It is amazing how fast the time has gone looking back at it now, but in the moment it felt like we were trudging through quick sand until we found PELE. Thank you will never be enough and we will find a way to show our gratitude."


In the fall of 2014, the PELE Clinic assisted in a guardianship case for Mary, a 20-year-old young woman with autism. In guardianship cases, a guardian may be appointed by the court for an individual who is incapacitated and unable to care for her own basic needs without assistance. The guardian, if appointed, is responsible for making decisions regarding the individual's personal affairs and must act in the individual's best interests. Mary spoke very few words and depended on her mother for all aspects of her daily living. PELE Clinic student Caleb Stone jumped into this case by reading and analyzing the guardianship code sections, drafting all the court pleadings, and filing the petition and motions. PELE also worked with the Guardian Ad Litem to ensure he had all the necessary information to make a recommendation to the court. Using his third-year practice certificate, Caleb appeared in court and successfully argued the petition, helping Mary's mother successfully obtain guardianship of Mary.

Katriena, Mary's mother, said: "I appreciate the help that was given to me. I had no idea where to start to seek guardianship for my daughter. I appreciate all the students and everyone else who was of help to me."

About the PELE Clinic

The William & Mary PELE Special Education Advocacy Clinic, since opening in the spring of 2009, has been assisting children with special needs and their families in Williamsburg, James City County, Hampton, and Newport News. William & Mary law students are supervised by Crystal Shin, Managing Attorney and Clinical Assistant Professor of Law. Professor Shin and law students offer their services free of charge to families in the community.

The PELE Clinic assists with eligibility for special education services, Individualized Education Program meetings, discipline matters, mediation, and administrative hearings. The clinic is designed to bolster the partnership between families and schools.

Funding for the clinic is provided by an annual Institute of Special Education Advocacy in the summer. This five-day program is co-sponsored by the PELE Special Education Advocacy Clinic, Wrightslaw, and the Oklahoma Disability Law Center. The ISEA conference provides training in special education advocacy for experienced advocates, law students, new attorneys, and attorneys who are new to special education law. 

About William & Mary Law School

Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.