Child Advocacy

The Gibbons Child Advocacy Team is committed to addressing the legal needs of children and their families. The Child Advocacy Team, led by Mary Frances Palisano, a parent herself, provides sound, practical advice in the areas of Special Education Law, School Discipline, Bullying, Student Rights, and Juvenile Delinquency and Criminal Matters. Our lawyers possess the knowledge and experience to resolve disputes through negotiation, mediation, or litigation before the Office of Administrative Law or state or federal courts. Our clients can expect to receive personal, hands-on representation when they need it most.

Areas of Focus

Special Education Law

Understanding and navigating the complexities of the special education system can be a confusing and overwhelming experience for parents of children with disabilities. Although every child is entitled to a free and appropriate public education, a child’s needs are not always met. Gibbons Child Advocacy attorneys understand the struggle that parents face and have a passion for helping children who are most vulnerable. Our attorneys counsel parents and guardians in their efforts to secure the necessary educational services, support, and accommodations to which their children are entitled as a matter of New Jersey and federal law. Our Child Advocacy Team believes that parents should be fully informed of their children’s rights, and, when disputes arise, parents rely on our team to help them secure the necessary services, whether in district or by way of out-of-district placements.

Our attorneys provide a multitude of services, including:

  • Advice relating to eligibility and testing
  • Advice relating to Individual Education Plans (IEP) and Section 504 Plans
  • Attendance at IEP meetings with child study teams
  • Mediation and due process hearings in the Office of Administrative Law
  • Assistance with private school placements

Gibbons Child Advocacy attorneys are committed to helping families in need secure the right solution for each individual child.

School Discipline

Disciplinary action can threaten a student’s ability to learn, thrive, or even continue in an educational environment, regardless of the student’s level of achievement. Understanding New Jersey law and procedures relating to the discipline of students can be an overwhelming experience for parents, because there are numerous sources of law governing student discipline, including decisions from the New Jersey Commissioner of Education and the state Board of Education, as well as individual codes of conduct within schools. For students with disabilities, additional requirements of the federal and state special education laws come into play.

Under New Jersey law, a student may be suspended or expelled for “good cause,” which includes, but is not limited to, any of the following conduct:

  • Continued and willful disobedience or open defiance of authority
  • Stealing or damaging school property
  • Occupying or causing others to occupy the school building without permission
  • Possessing, using, or being under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol in the school building or on school grounds
  • Harassment, intimidation, bullying, or injuring another
  • Conviction or adjudication of delinquency for possession of a gun on school property, on a school bus, or at a school function
  • Violation of academic honor code or code of conduct

If a child has been accused of misconduct that could lead to a suspension or other discipline, parents will want to know how to best approach the discipline process and protect their child’s rights.

Disciplinary action can have an immediate impact on a student’s ability to earn a degree and have a long-term impact on a student’s ability to obtain suitable employment. Suspension and expulsion can also mean lost months of school and loss of tuition. The Gibbons Child Advocacy Team can provide legal support and counseling for all disciplinary proceedings and appeals relating to discipline matters.

For special needs students, our attorneys can help ensure that the child is protected through a manifest determination, modification to the IEP, or functional behavioral plan to address the child’s behavioral challenges. The Gibbons Child Advocacy Team is committed to helping children and their families through this process and ensuring that procedures and laws to protect students from arbitrary and wrongful discipline are followed.

In addition, if a child is a victim of another student’s behavior through bullying or otherwise, our Child Advocacy Team can also help parents navigate the disciplinary process from the opposite perspective, to assist them in ensuring their child is safe and protected.

Juvenile Delinquency and Criminal Matters

Accusations forming the basis for disciplinary action may in certain circumstances subject children to serious criminal or juvenile charges. Gibbons Child Advocacy attorneys can help clients navigate that process as well. Our Child Advocacy Team includes experienced criminal defense attorneys who have handled a broad range of criminal and juvenile matters, including, but not limited to, drug charges, sex crimes, criminal mischief, computer crimes, harassment, and assault. While our attorneys vigorously defend clients in trials and other court proceedings, we also strive for non-prosecution, dismissal, and probation where those resolutions are optimal.