Voluntary Code of Ethics
For Special Education Advocates
This Voluntary Code of Ethics was composed by a group of active Special Education Advocates, all of whom are members of The Council of Parent Advocates and Attorneys (COPAA), a national voice for special education rights and advocacy. COPAA’s primary goal is to secure effective and appropriate educational services for children with disabilities, and to protect their educational and civil rights.
COPAA’S membership is comprised of special education attorneys and advocates, and parents whose children receive special education services. The purpose of this Code is to provide a set of principles which Special Education Advocate members of COPAA (Advocates) can use as a guide for their work, conduct, and decision making. This Code is voluntary and is intended only as a guide. Each Advocate who chooses to use this Voluntary Code should apply and interpret these guidelines within the bounds of state law in his or her state.
As a member of the
Council of Parent,
Advocates and Attorneys,
I abide by the COPAA
Voluntary Code of Ethics.
Special education advocates are committed professionals who help parents secure free appropriate public education for their children
with disabilities. Advocates promote dignity and respect for every individual with disabilities by promoting vigorous enforcement of state and federal civil and human rights laws.
Special Education Advocacy is a profession comprised of a diverse group of people who work as independent private consultants or under supervision of a licensed attorney or in a law firm; in a public interest law center or other nonprofit organization; or under the auspices of a parent training and information center or advocacy center. Advocates may work in a paid or voluntary capacity. An Advocate has knowledge and expertise concerning special education and its applicable federal and state laws and works within the bounds of these laws. An Advocate protects the civil rights of children with special needs, their rights to due process, and their rights to equal access to equitable public school education. An Advocate remains current with applicable regulations and special education issues through continuing education and training.
a. Serve as an Advocate’s guide to
b. Help parents make informed choices
about engaging advocacy services.
c. Instill public confidence in the integrity of
Advocates and the roles they fill.
Advocates who voluntarily subscribe to this Code are expected to follow the Code’s ethical principles as a guide for proper professional conduct. This Code does not create disciplinary rules, and is not intended to be used to sanction Advocates.
This Voluntary Code is intended to:
1. Works within the limits of his or her competence.
2. Informs a client when the Advocate is not competent to handle a
matter or any portion of a client matter.
3. Is candid concerning the Advocate’s knowledge and skills.
4. Continues his or her special education advocacy education by
successfully completing 12 hours of continuing education courses
annually. Continuing education courses may be obtained through
private or non-profit vendors, bar association continuing legal
education courses, paralegal courses, State Department of
Education courses or seminars, civil rights or disability rights
organizations; professional associations of attorneys or advocates;
or other continuing education courses or programs related to
special education practice, advocacy, negotiation, or mediation.
5. Is knowledgeable with regard to the regulations of the jurisdictions
in which they work or in which their clients are located.
6. Provides competent assistance. Competent assistance requires the
special education knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation
reasonably necessary for the assistance required under the circumstances.
7. Exercises reasonable care.
I ETHICAL PRINCIPLES – Competence
II ETHICAL PRINCIPLES – Responsibilities to the Client
1. Helps clients make informed decisions about appropriate educational services by
providing clients with relevant information.
2. Helps clients articulate their concerns and desires for student's educational needs.
3. Makes full disclosure to every individual involved with a matter that he or she is
not licensed to practice law and cannot give legal advice.
4. Handles matters in a timely manner and without undue delay.
5. Educates clients about special education law and regulations, and helps them
become more skillful and effective advocates.
6. Maintains regular contact.
7. Treats clients and others with dignity and respect.
8. Secures a written agreement for services with clients before performing any
9. Obtains a client’s permission before discussing the client’s matter with anyone
other than the client, and adheres to any Federal or applicable State
10. Maintains client records, keeps client information confidential and, unless the
client has agreed in writing otherwise, makes arrangements to return or destroy
records belonging to the client at the conclusion of the client’s matter.
11. Discloses that an advocate-client privilege may not exist, and that the Advocate
must comply with any court or hearing officer or administrative law judge
orders, and may be required to comply with lawfully-issued subpoenas.
12. Maintains and shares information regarding local, state, regional, and national
resources for parents and students, and information regarding current trends
and practices in special education, as well as a referral list of professional contacts.
13. Provides culturally and educationally appropriate services.
III ETHICAL PRINCIPLES – Conflicts of Interest
An Advocate will:
1. Disclose all potential conflicts of interest. An Advocate is obligated to place the
interest of the client ahead of any personal interest or personal gain, and to disclose
all facts in any situation where a potential conflict of interest may arise.
a. An Advocate will at a minimum, inform potential clients of any employment
affiliations, financial or professional interests that may be perceived to bias
recommendations, and in some cases, decline to provide services where the
actual or apparent conflict of interest is such that it may fairly be concluded
that such affiliation or interest is likely to impair professional judgments,
result in personal gain, or impede advocacy efforts in any way.
2. Make referrals and placements to service providers based solely on the needs of
3. Refrain from accepting or giving anything of value for the recommendation of
advocate services to others
IV ETHICAL PRINCIPLES – Communication
An Advocate will:
1. Never knowingly mislead others in the pursuit of a client’s matter.
2. Pursue ethical means to solve an issue or produce a particular outcome.
3. Present claims that are truthful and can be substantiated concerning the Advocate or
the Advocate's service or the services of another advocate.
4. Communicate with others in a fair and civil manner.
5. Maintain as confidential all information about the client which is provided to the
Advocate by the client, will use such information solely for advocating on behalf of
the client, and will not disclose such information to any third party except (a) with
prior authorization from the client; or (b) as otherwise required by law.
6. Maintain and preserve client records in a manner that complies with applicable state
law or rules of professional conduct governing client records for the Advocate's state
in which his or her office is located.
V ETHICAL PRINCIPLES – Professionalism
An Advocate will:
1. Adhere to all applicable laws of the jurisdiction(s) in which the Advocate works or in
which the client is located.
2. Review relevant records and information prior to effectively offering specific assistance.
3. Attempt to resolve special education disputes utilizing IEP meetings, mediation and
resolution meetings, as described in the I.D.E.A. and the Advocate’s state special
4. Manage his or her professional office and financial affairs in a manner that conforms to
generally accepted business and financial practices.
5. Treat all parties subject to a dispute with candor, fairness and civility.
© COPAA (2008)