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Air Force attorneys attend course to better assist families with special needs

Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas --

Members of the Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps recently attended a specialized law course designed to better prepare them to assist parents and guardians of children with special education requirements.

The five-day course offered through William & Mary Law School gave military legal assistance attorneys, an intense, five-day study of the basics of special education law.

“Special education is an extremely segmented portion of the law,” said Lt. Col. Jennifer Cowie, community readiness policy analyst at Headquarters Air Force. “It requires ongoing education and research to find and implement the best resources to help guide our families and ensure their children receive the best education possible.”

Lt. Col. Lanourra Phillips, chief of the Air Force Legal Assistance Policy Office, was one of 15 Air Force attorneys from various bases that attended the course.

In her role at the policy level, Phillips works to shape laws and policies to help meet the needs of service members. She also informs partner agencies on how new laws will affect service members, and she educates attorneys in the field on new laws and policies.

Phillips explained that special needs children often face barriers to education in the schools, which can become very stressful for the families.

“What we have gathered from families is that when they are moving from base to base, it becomes increasingly difficult to navigate different school systems when they have children with special needs,” she said. “This course was part of an ongoing effort to educate ourselves on the law and hone our skills in order to help these families.”

Phillips added that it is important for families to know that their local JAG offices are always available to provide legal assistance and to offer guidance to better prepare them as they navigate the education system.

Cowie said there are many plans in progress that will improve the level of support for EFMP families, including special education boot camps for school liaisons and family support coordinators, simplifying the travel screening process, as well as the addition of a special education liaison and a dedicated attorney to the EFMP cell within the Exceptional Assignment Program Division.

“There are a lot of initiatives we are looking at, and this is one small step toward improving legal support,” Cowie said. “We recognize your struggles and we are working tirelessly to make huge improvements.”