Patricia Howey has supported families of children with disabilities since 1985. She has a specific learning disability and became involved in special education when her youngest child entered kindergarten. Pat has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who have a variety of disabilities and she has used her experience to advocate for better special education services for several of them.
Pat is a charter member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), serving on its Board of Directors from 2000 through 2003. She has been a Commissioner on the Tippecanoe (County) Human Relations Committee, a graduate of Leadership Lafayette and Partners in Policymaking, and a member of the Wrightslaw Speakers Bureau. She has been on the faculty of the College of William and Mary Law School’s Institute of Special Education Advocacy since its inception in 2011.
Pat has an A.S. and a B.A. in Paralegal Studies from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, where she graduated magna cum laude. She is an Indiana Registered Paralegal and an affiliate member of the Indiana Bar and the American Bar Associations.
Pat began her advocacy career as a volunteer for the Task Force on Education for the Handicapped (now InSource), Indiana’s Parent Training and Information Center. In 1990, she opened her advocacy practice and served families throughout Indiana by representing them at IEP meetings, mediation, and due process hearings.
In 2017, Pat closed her advocacy practice and began working on a contract basis as a special education paralegal. Attorneys in Indiana, Texas, and California contracted with her to review documents, spot issues, draft due process complaints, prepare for hearings, and assist at hearings. In January 2019, she became an employee of the Connell Michael Kerr law firm, owned by Erin Connell, Catherine Michael, and Sonja Kerr. Her duties have now expanded to assisting with federal court cases.
Welcome to the podcast. Let's talk sped law, a podcast dedicated to discussing special education rights of children with disabilities. I'm your host and special education attorney, Jeff forte. Now let's talk to bed law.Speaker 2:
Hi everyone. This is attorney Jeff forte and I am back here for another episode of the national podcast. Let's talk sped loss . So glad that all of you can join us. I'm pleased today to share with you our special guest , Pat Howley . Uh, Pat Howie has led the charge over the last , uh, several , uh, years up to 25 years , um, in leading the charge as a non attorney in special education advocacy. And we're here today to learn about Pat's journey to empower other parents to take on the many roles and hats that Pat has had throughout her tenure in the special education community, from parent to advocate to instructor to paralegal, and from all of those perspectives, the journey that she's had in the role of helping on a national basis, families with children with disabilities. Um , Pat, I'm going to want , I want to give you the floor. I want you to introduce yourself to our audience. Please.Speaker 3:
Well, you've done a pretty good job. I think I paid you well.Speaker 2:
Okay .Speaker 3:
Well, number one, I always introduced myself as a mom. That is the most important job that I have. It's the most important role I've ever had. Um, and like most advocates and many parent attorneys, that's how I started out. I started out as a mom of a child who was in special education, who wasn't getting the services she was entitled to. And uh, fortunately for me, I was, I had several mentors that helped me along the path. These were people who had kids who didn't have the benefit of even being able to be in special education because they were, they were disabled before the law was even initiated. Can you hear me, Jack?Speaker 2:
Yes, we can hear you just fine, Pat. Yeah.Speaker 3:
Okay. Cause my earphones made a noise and sometimes they show , I've been on, I've been on the zoom calls now for almost two hours, so I didn't know if their batteries were, were running down or not. Um, but, but anyway, I was very fortunate to have some other moms too that you had kids older than mine who led me along the way. Um, so that's how I started out. I started as a mom , uh, went to unfortunately had to go to a due process purity with our own child in 1987, ended up in federal court for attorney's fees and about 1990, I believe. I guess we get the decision in 1990 so it must have been around , um , a couple of years before that because it was before the statute of limitations of two years or one year, whatever state you're in. Right . I was [inaudible] fortunate in that the attorney that handled our due process hearing and with Coke cancel in the federal court case, allowed me to help him prepare for the hearing. He'd never done a hearing before, even never . He had , uh , two kids with disabilities and had never done a special education hearing. So he allowed me to , uh , prepare exhibits, marking exhibits, prepare for that hearing. One day I walked in his office and he handed me a book on legal research and he said, here , we're learning how to do this. And so , um, he involved me in the process along the way and that's what actually developed my love for the law.Speaker 2:
So, so Pat, so you, so you started into this journey as you, as you mentioned during your introduction as a mom , um, and for many parents out there, you know, what we find obviously in, in our special ed community is that , uh, parents literally get involved from the, you know, from the mom or dad perspective first. What, at what age? Um, if you don't mind me asking, what age did you find out that your , um, that one of your children did have had a disability? Was it early on , um, during their, you know , adolescent years during education? Or was it more when they were older?Speaker 3:
Well, this is going to make me sound really dumb, but when my daughter was in kindergarten, was her entry into special education. And at that time I did not realize she even had a disability. I just thought she had this connective tissue disorder. I didn't even know what disability was. So when she was in kindergarten, when her first [inaudible] developed that IEP had one goal, and that goal was that she would successfully complete the requirements of kindergarten, and I thought it was a wonderful goal. That's what I wanted her to do right now I look back on that and I think, wow, that's what we call an upscale goal.Speaker 2:
Right, right, right.Speaker 3:
The end of the year comes and she didn't fulfill it, so, oops , I guess, I guess there was something wrong with that goal. Yeah . That was a wonderful goal. I mean, when I talked to parents today, parents today are so much more sophisticated and so much more knowledgeable and so much smarter than I was when my daughter first entered special education. I didn't even know I was going to an IEP meeting. I thought it was a parent teacher conference. I thought it was a little odd that the speech therapist was there. Um , a year later, I found it a little even more odd to find out that my daughter had a speech IEP, that she had not received the one minute of speech therapy throughout her whole kindergarten year.Speaker 2:
Wow. And back then we didn't even have the resources at our fingertips. Google and , uh , the, you know, the internet and , and the manuals and the books on this. Uh, so you were really starting this rather in, you know, unchartered waters, so to speak, where you, where you really had to learn this as a parent on your own with not, not too much of a manual or a guide.Speaker 3:
Oh , that we , there was , there were no books, there was no rights. Wow. There was, well , as a matter of fact, there obviously was no internet for most people. I live in the middle of the cornfield. I still wouldn't have very good internet need to zoom meetings. Did, they will use up two thirds of my empire abroad internet speed tires put up for the whole time. So I still don't have it. But no, we had no resources. Um, I actually met Pete and Pam right back in. Well , I can't remember the exact year, but for those of you, or as old as I am, I met him through a thing called comp . You , sir . You ever heard of copy sir?Speaker 2:
CompuServe? No . Enlight enlighten me. Enlighten the younger folks on the, on the, on the audience.Speaker 3:
It was the very first , um, well the , the only thing you can compare it to, it was the very first internet thing. And, and I had a computer at the time, or you picked up your telephone and you put it on this little thing and then you dial the number and you put connected to the internet through your phone and green and white. I mean, you know, we didn't, it was not color. It was all words. There were no graphics on it. And I actually met Pete and Pam through a conversation on copy serve .Speaker 2:
Wow. Um, so you mentioned PA , uh , Peter, right? Pete, right . And Pam. Right. Um, who are true, Goliath [inaudible] , um, of, of the special education law community on a national front , um, publishers of rights law. Um, so why don't you take us through how you started to get involved with the rights law group and you know, kind of empowered yourself from parent to almost paralegal in your child's own case with an attorney into the role of , um, an instructor through rights law , which is where we had the pleasure of, of meeting each other,Speaker 3:
correct? Yeah. Well, like I said, I met Pete, Pam, way back in the days before we even had the windows . What does , does an operating system didn't even exist at that time and wouldn't for a couple of years. I communicated with them off and on. I actually used to get it and publish a national special education newsletter called footprint. And I asked them to submit it if I could use some of their articles. And that's how I got to know Pete and Pam. Um, in 1999, Pete called me and said, there's going to be a meeting that you're going to want to go to. And I said, okay. Um, and I, well , tell me about the meeting. And he said, well, he said, it's a brand new organization and it's called, it's called the council of parent attorneys and advocates. And they're gonna have their first meeting in Orlando, Florida in I believe it was 1999. And that actually at that meeting was the first time I actually met Pete and Pam face to face, but we needed to state it over the years. Um, so I met them, also met a lot of the parent attorneys from around the country, a lot of the advocates. Um, and like I say , that was my first actual face to face meeting with Pete and Pam. And they asked me to look at some of the books that they were looking at publishing and give some comments on them along with several other people throughout the United States. And then when they published the book from emotions to advocacy, they asked if I would like to be one of their speakers to present using that book . And at first I said, well, I don't think I can do that. And they said, why not? And I said, well, because I can't tell your stories. And people would Pat me and he said, well, you have stories of your own. That's what you need to tell. You need to tell your own stories, not ours. And so that's, that's how I became on the speakers Bureau for rights law. And I've done that now since 2005.Speaker 2:
So just to go back to what you mentioned about the council of parents, advocates and attorneys, which for many of our audience listeners no more commonly referred to as Copa . Um, Pat Howley , you were one of the very first members with Pete, right to help launch and charter the 2,500 strong membership of Copa .Speaker 3:
Yeah, I was on the , uh, Pete and I think Pete was on the first board of directors along with a lot of the, the older pioneers met Colin , uh, Valerie Vaniman. Um , and here the actual founder of Sova was Jim Rosenfeld. Yup . Yup . Jim Britt was the founder, the executive director until, I think it was about 2001 and then he went to the university of, he became a law professor at the university of Washington law school. Um, but he was the founder. There's a lot of misconceptions about who actually founded Copa. It was Jim Rosenfeld, Pete and I and some of the other people who were on the first board of directors. But if it hadn't been for Jim, there wouldn't be a Copa.Speaker 2:
Wow. So during this process, where did you, where did you start to evolve and change from the, you know, the parent role of advocating for your own child's IEP to , uh, to, to more of a larger role as an advocate for, for fellow parents of children with disabilities. Was it during that time that you got involved with peed and CopaSpeaker 3:
and , no, it was actually before that. Um, actually our hearing was in 1987 we got the decision in 1988 , uh, and during that time time and the attorney, that was our attorney for the hearing, I worked with him on cases. I assisted him at hearings. I helped him prepare. I was actually working as a , a paralegal for Kim and 1990 I represented, I assisted a parent who represented herself in a hearing and from 1990 until the Aaron's case, a Delaware, I represented parents in due process hearings here in Indiana because there were no attorneys, there were no attorneys doing that and I'm not an attorney, but I was better than nothing. Right. So that's , I actually evolved into an ad and you know, word gets around, most advocates become advocates because they were successful in getting their own child services more get around and she was able to do this call where maybe she's been helping you. So , um, that's , that's how that started. And I've worked as an advocate actually until, well, I've got my degree in paralegal studies in 2001. So , um, I worked really hard to get my paralegal degree. And about three years ago I decided to cope with my practice. I set out letters to all the attorneys in Indiana. At that time, I think there were four and I said, I'm closing my advocacy practice on, I'm going to work. They contracts only in the area of special education. And within three months I was overwhelmed with attorneys. I was working for four attorneys in Indiana, attorney in California. This time last year, I guess it was maybe about a year and a half ago. Then I was offered a position as a special education paralegal at Hollingsworth exhibit, which is the time that's where Catherine Michael worked. She and two of the other partners now started their own firm called canal Michael Kerr in Carmel, Indiana. So I'm now a special education paralegal there. They just opened the room. That's what they did.Speaker 2:
That's great, Pat. Um, so really the, the, the, the roles in which you've changed , um, have really all focused on, you know, getting back to where you said, you know, when you introduced yourself that first and foremost you're , you're a parent first. And really that's what , uh , served as the catalyst for, for you getting into this as, as a profession, as well as into helping other children. Um, you know, I, I'd love to talk with you briefly about your role as an instructor because obviously your success in working with your own daughter and with your clients both as an advocate and a paralegal is one thing, but really on a systemic level , um, you have helped to mentor and educate other people other up and comers that are interested in this area through your work with , um, the rights law speakers Bureau as well as with the college of William and Mary law school. Can you talk with us and our audience members a little bit about that?Speaker 3:
In about 2008, I believe Pete and Pam were adjunct professors for the special education class at the college of William and Mary. And they actually asked me to come in one day and present to their special education attorney class, which I did. I did a presentation that , let's say a keynote that I've done several times called a walking through fire, which actually is what parents of kids with uh , special needs who are in special education do every day of their lives. They walked through fire and some of them come out and skis on the other side. Some of them are destroyed by the fire. But anyway, two years later than Pam called me to ham , right , called me and she said , Pat, we're thinking about starting that special education Institute in the summer and we'd like for you to be one of the presenters. And so obviously I said, yeah. And so 10 years now, I've been a presenter at the college of William and Mary law school Institute of special education advocacy and I'm to think we have anywhere from 30 to 70 students that year. So we've trained a lot of attorneys and advocates. So , um, anyway, it was designed for advocates after the first year when we had attorneys who were writing and wanting to get in. And so we opened it up to attorneys, new to special education, new attorneys and law students. And since then, since the second year, our classes have been met with advocates and attorneys because we feel it's very important for advocates to be able to network with attorney, for them to be able to work with attorney for them to follow the same ethical codes that attorneys do. Cause that's one of the things that we really, really, really try to focus on is ethics because there are no standards of ethics for advocatesSpeaker 2:
and now and now you're continuing and your role as a paralegal as well as , um, as well as in your instructional services for , for Wrightslaw , which is, which is after 40 years of experience in educational advocacy, you're, you're really , uh , you're paying it forward by helping the next generation.Speaker 3:
Yeah. Because I don't know if a lot of people know this, but every instructor at the Institute volunteers their time. None of us get paid to be there. We donate a week of our time to teach things to novices, advanced advocates, new attorneys. It's just, that's how we pay it forward.Speaker 2:
Well, ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us for our episode with Pat Howie . Uh, the many roles that a non attorney can lead in the charge with special education advocacy from parent toSpeaker 1:
the kit to instruct her to paralegal. Pat Howie , thank you so much for joining us today and for the folks that are listening, stay tuned for the next episode of let's talk sped law next week. Thank you.