Protecting Your Child’s Education
It’s comparatively easy to navigate the calm waters of general education. Public and charter schools post yearly calendars, standardized tests are regularly administered, parent-teacher conferences are brief and reassuring and report cards are timely and clear. In short, parents of general education students know what to expect from the public education system and can sail through fairly well. In contrast, special education’s complexities and hidden undercurrents can throw children with disabilities dangerously off-course. Parents of children with IEPs must be proactive and bold in their advocacy. Here are some ways to boldly safeguard your child’s special education program:
- Never assume school district or charter school staff know what’s best for your child. Many parents sign yearly IEPs because they trust teachers, school psychologists and principals. This is their job, so they must know what they’re doing, right? Wrong. Even highly experienced general education teachers will admit to being underwater when trying to educate children with IEPs. Special education teachers tend to be overwhelmed and may not be able to give your child the attention she requires. School psychologists spend only a short time testing your child and administrators may not even know your child’s name. Hardworking, well-intentioned school personnel can make costly mistakes. We have analyzed thousands of assessments and IEPs with outdated and inaccurate information, including the wrong name, age, and even disability of the child. Any one of these mistakes could impact your child’s special education programming for years. Be bold and question authority.
- Read the fine print. Never sign an IEP, or any other special education-related form, unless you fully understand each and every term. In many IEPs, whether or not your child qualifies for extended school year services, behavioral supports or even a high school diploma, is determined by the right check in the right box. The annual IEP will control your child’s programming for an entire year (and perhaps longer). It’s essential that you fully understand every part of every page. Be bold. Remember that you are the most important member of the IEP team. Ask lots of questions before and during the IEP meeting if you don’t understand a term or provision. Join parent groups to learn from others who have dealt with your school district. Check out Wrightslaw.com for a wealth of information on how to interpret IEPs.
- Start writing. Many parents report that they were verbally promised one program for their child but ended up with another. Services and supports never materialized after the school repeatedly “assured” them over the phone or videoconference that they would be in place. Be bold and start memorializing these communications. All requests, confirmation of services, disciplinary actions, test results and any other significant communication regarding your child should be put in writing. These can even be in the form of a kind “thank you” for a meeting or promise where you document what was discussed and what was promised. Always include the date and proof of receipt. Don’t forget to keep a copy for your records.
- Be persistent but respectful. Especially during these tough times, it’s important to remain respectful of each other. Nonstop all-caps emails will not impress a judge in the event of litigation down the road. Also, parents themselves should be careful to avoid burn-out and undue stress when dealing with rigid school systems. Be bold. Launch a planned writing campaign. Start with the school staff closest to your child, usually his special education teacher or case carrier. If she does not provide an appropriate response within a reasonable time frame, send a second email to her boss with a copy to her. Over the next few weeks or months, keep going up the line until you reach the school superintendent or charter school CEO. Always remain cordial but firm in your requests. If this persistence does not result in a FAPE for your child, it may be time to call in reinforcements.
- Get help. Most parents find it extremely difficult to navigate the choppy, unchartered waters of special education programming without help. Don’t wait too long before calling in reinforcements and boldly forming your own team to support your child. This can include grandparents, aunties, doctors, psychologists, tutors and advocates. Special education law mandates that even school districts and charter schools must provide parent training if it is necessary to provide your child a FAPE (which is often the case). If all else fails, consider seeking legal representation.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis and school closures, ADAMS ESQ’s social justice circle is funding academic screenings at no charge to qualifying children with special education needs in California and Nevada. For more information on this program, contact us today at: firstname.lastname@example.org or reach us toll-free at: 1-800-785-6713. You also may want to read and repost our past COVID19-related blogs: “Forget About the Toilet Paper—Grab that IEP!”, “IEP Alerts for Parents” , “Special Education Teaching is Really Hard!”, “The ‘FREE’ in FAPE”, Doubling-Down on Special Education and Look Before You Leap! 5 Things to Know Before Leaving Your Child at School During a Pandemic.