Is your child struggling with a learning disability? Has your child recently been recommended for special education services? You are probably looking for how to best advocate for your child in special education.
For many of us, especially parents whose children are just starting school, the school can send us right back to our own childhood.
Teachers can seem intimidating, addressing administrators or, heaven forbid, your local school board appears like something you should leave to the “real” grown-ups.
Guess what? YOU are a real grown-up!
And even if you feel unsure, everyone else only sees you as a grown-up.
Information is power – the more informed you are, the more confident you’ll be in dealing with school officials.
What is a child advocate in special education?
An advocate is a person who speaks in support of another person for a specific cause. For example, being a parent advocate for your child means speaking up when concerns arise.
The IEP Meeting Dilemma
There have been many times in my teaching career when parents I know personally have come to me for advice about IEPs and IEP meetings.
Parents asked questions such as:
- Their child was not meeting their IEP goals.
- The parent needed to learn how to advocate for their child and wanted the advice of an outside Special Education teacher.
- The IEP goals did not meet the child’s academic or social needs.
- They didn’t know their rights as a parent.
- They just needed someone who cared enough to listen and guide them.
You might be this same parent wondering what steps to take to represent your child. Read more about the benefits of a child advocate in an IEP meeting6 Benefits Of A Child Advocate In An IEP Meeting.
Advocacy 101: What You Need to Know to Be the Best Advocate for Your Child in Special Education
If you have or will have a child enrolled in your local public school system, being informed about your rights as a parent and your child’s rights as a student are critical.
#1 You Have The Right To Request And Review Your Child’s School Records
If you are concerned about inaccuracies in your child’s school records or are curious, the easiest route is to ask your child’s teacher or the front desk.
Many schools, provided you have proper identification, will quickly give you a copy of your child’s records.
However, if your school is less forthcoming, submit a written request for your child’s information.
The school has a maximum of 45 days to provide this information.
If there are inaccuracies or you would like to add a statement to your child’s records, you have the right to request a hearing.
The school must give you notice of the hearing within a reasonable time. You can bring an attorney (at your expense) to the hearing.
No matter the outcome of the hearing, you are allowed to have your statement attached to your child’s records. This statement must be disclosed whenever those records are shared.
# 2 Understand State And Federal Disclosure Laws
At the beginning of a school year, you will usually sign a form allowing the school to disclose information about your child. Generally, this information does not explicitly identify your child.
If you are unclear on what will be disclosed and to whom information is being given – don’t sign until you are.
#3 You Have The Right To File A Formal, Federal Complaint
When all else fails, you have the right to file a formal complaint with the Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO). You must file within 180 days of the beginning of the problem.
The FPCO will investigate your claim and determine if your school has failed to follow the FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) guidelines.
These are your fundamental rights as a parent with a child in the public school system. Remember, though, that most people are not working for the school system for the glamor or the money – they really want to help kids get the best education possible.
In your dealings with teachers and administrators, there is no need to be confrontational. Instead, give the people in your local school the benefit of the doubt.
If, after trying to deal in a kind, rational manner, you are making no progress, then you are within your rights to change the tone of the conversation.
4 Helpful Tips to Help Advocate for Your Special Needs Child
#1 Speak up when something isn’t working
You might be thinking that speaking up will cause problems with the teacher. But unfortunately, many teachers believe everything is working fine for a student.
Teachers are in an overwhelming place trying to catch students up from being out of school for so long. However, teachers want students to be successful, and it’s okay to voice your opinion and concerns when they are not succeeding.
You are your child’s voice. You might be their only voice.
#2 Ask questions
Have you ever been in an IEP meeting and felt completely overwhelmed by the information?
- A helpful tip is to write down your concerns and questions before the meeting.
- Come prepared with materials.
- Ask an outside expert for advice on what you need to speak about.
But most importantly, ask and raise questions. You will be glad you took the time to form these questions when you leave the meeting.
#3 Form relationships
As a teacher, I always try my best to form relationships with my students and their families. This is the best way to ensure that I know my students best.
Let’s face it. Teachers are busy – meetings, calls, grades, students. The list goes on.
If you have been waiting to hear from your child’s teacher for a while, it might be time to reach out. Keep an open conversation flowing, and always make sure you are asking what is going on inside the school walls.
Need More Assistance?
These are just a few simple ways to advocate for your child. You are their voice and the one who knows best at the end of the day.
If the situation escalates and your child is no longer learning effectively in their classroom. There are several options available outside of the school.
What ways have you found to be most effective when advocating your child’s education? Please drop a comment below so we can add it to our list. We look forward to hearing from you.