October 2017 Volunteer of the Month: Karen Edler

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For a parent, the process of securing appropriate services for a child in school can often be overwhelming, intimidating, and exhausting.  After experiencing this firsthand, Karen Edler has become a powerful advocate for parents who desperately need help understanding and navigating their children’s education rights.

Karen is of counsel at Price Meese Shulman & D’Arminio, P.C.  She has nearly twenty years of education law experience, and has been a volunteer with VLJ’s Children’s Representation Program (CRP), from taking pro bono cases to serving as a mentor for attorneys new to the area of law, since just after its establishment.

Karen obtained her undergraduate degree from Dickinson College and her law degree from New York Law School.  She then worked in several different law firms, practicing in tax law, commercial real estate and leasing, and litigation.  After her children were born, she took time off from work.  When Karen’s son was in second grade, however, he began struggling in math class and needed extra support.  Karen’s experience in trying to obtain services from the school district opened her eyes to a frustrating and confusing process, even when she knew her legal rights.  “I realized how difficult battling a school district can be,” Karen says.  “I thought, ‘What do parents do who don’t have the ability to read and learn the law?  How does anyone survive?’”

Karen returned to work and began taking special education cases to help other parents in similar situations.  In an effort to learn as much as she could about education law, Karen attended one of VLJ’s full-day special education CLEs, which was free to attorneys who agreed to take a pro bono case within the next year.  Soon, Karen began mentoring other CRP volunteer attorneys.

At Price Meese, a law firm of 24 attorneys, Karen handles not only special education matters, but also cases involving general education (including at the college level), school residency, HIB (harassment, intimidation, and bullying), guardianship applications, special needs planning, and disabilities accommodations for both children and adults.  Karen is training two young associates in the hopes of forming an education group at the firm.

When discussing pro bono work, Karen emphasizes the importance of giving back.  “I think it’s a necessity.  We get so many calls from people who genuinely can’t afford our services.  School districts can take total advantage of the parents they believe don’t have the money to figure out their rights.”  Having a lawyer present can make a difference in ensuring that the district complies with the law and provides students with the services to which they are entitled.

Karen recalls one pro bono case in which the student, a freshman in high school, was reading at a 1st grade level.  He had made no progress at all in eight years.  His teachers stated off the record that he needed to be placed elsewhere.  However, his parents were unsuccessful in their attempts to obtain an out-of-district placement for him.  Once Karen stepped in, she was able to get the student into an appropriate school setting, where he began to make meaningful progress.

“Not only is Karen extremely knowledge about education law, but she is so willing to pass on that knowledge to less experienced attorneys,” says VLJ Staff Attorney Jessica Limbacher.  “She is clearly passionate about the work she does, and she makes every effort to share both her enthusiasm and her expertise with others.”

Karen believes it is important for attorneys to have a working knowledge of education law.  “It’s an area of law that the majority of attorneys don’t know exists, but it’s the most rewarding area of law.”  She appreciates that she is able to accomplish something for the students she represents, and her clients are extremely grateful.  “We’re talking about kids and education,” says Karen.  “To me, there isn’t anything more important.”