|I'd like to set aside some space and time to focus on advocating. I believe that learning to advocate is a must for any parent, especially those of us who have been blessed with special children. If you have an advocating story, article, link, website, hints, tips etc that you would like to share, please email me Contact Us.|
One of the most important skills one can have is proper communication. It's one thing to know what needs to be done and what services you need and its another thing to get your wants and wishes across. The last thing you want to do is alienate the very people you need to make your childs school experience a successful and positive one.
First, educate yourself.
Learn the laws.
Know what your rights are as well as the responsibilities of the school district.
Check out Special Education Rights and Responsibilities.
It is a 13 chapter manual that addresses every question imaginable for parents seeking special ed and section 504 rights and services for their children. At the end of each chapter you will find sample letters so you will know how to ask, in writing for services and hearings! Click here to check out this manual!
If you are having problems viewing the manual or would like a copy of the manual, I have made a zip file of all the chapters in text form. If you have an IBM based pc and would like this file, email me at Contact Us and I'll send you a copy. Also, here is a text version of the 504 plan so that parents can better be prepared in gaining services for the children. Section 504
Next, learn how to communicate properly. For tips and ideas on how to effectively communicate with the school, The Special Ed Advocate has some very informative tips and ideas on how to write a letter. Here are some additional links with resources that should prove helpful:
- How to be an Advocate for your child.
- Advocate Services. An excellent source of legal and education material regarding special education issuses, Chapter 766, IDEA, ADA, Section 504. IEP Meetings, Mediation. BSEA Hearings
- Questions Dealing with IEP's
- Instand Access Treasure Chest. Too many resources to list. Check it out!!
- A great article that covers education, treatment, medication issues and myths about add/adhd.
Article on legal issues, adhd, and education.
While I realize that not all teachers and academic professionals are hard to deal with, or untrained in the area's of special education and attention deficit disorder there are many parents who do have these types of people at their child's school so here are some things that I have learned from my experiences. Over the years I have learned two very important things.
1. School districts tend to close ranks when there has been a serious error on their part. In the begining, when I had a problem with the school, I used to follow the chain of command. Start with the teacher, then to the principal etc... Since then I've learned that when there is a serious issue at hand, the principal protects the teacher, the superintendant protects the principal, the board protects the superintendant and so on down the line. Not wanting a "reputation" I followed the chain of command until I realized that it is not always the best path to take. I learned to stop taking it right away. I have been lied to by principals, had my concerns belittled by superintendants and "politely disregarded" by the school board of supervisors. While it is not appropriate in all instances, when necessary, I abandon the chain of command, particuarly if I know there will be no support from them and go straight to county and state agencies.
2. Schools could care less about lawyers and lawsuits and unless there is potential for large sums of monies to be won for damages, lawyers could careless about you and your problems with the school district. School districts don't even flinch when you threaten them with legal action simply because the tax payers pockets run deep and the cost incurred in legal battles does not concern the school, the principal or the district. Lawyers do not like taking these types of fights on in your behalf because, once again, the schools pockets run deep and they have the ability to tie things up in the court system for years so unless there is a possibility for large monetary amounts in the way of damages, lawyers just as soon decline your request for them to take your case. Forget large entities such as your civil rights organizations. It didn't take long to for me to learn that your issue must impact an entire group or minority, so unless your suit would affect the way schools deal with disabled children or add/adhd children across the U.S. I was told that there would be no help for them to give. So, what can a parent do? I have found that the following steps have helped me greatly. The thing to remember is that while you want to be aggressive and persistant, you want to do so in a polite manner. Schools/principals/districts tend to look at parents who actively seek services for their children as "combative, or problem parents." I for one am not out to win any awards for most pleasant parent. After a while, you get used to being known as "one of those parents" and not long after that, you begin to find a certain amount of pride in the fact that you are able to obtain the services your child needs or hold the school accountable for their actions. 1. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS! I can not stress this enough. I have been in many situations where school officials have given me inaccurate information. I believe that there are some school professionals who expect parents to accept whatever they are told in "blind faith". Afterall, "Whose the professional here?". I have dealt with more school personnel that DON'T know what my child is entitled to then you would believe and there are schools that DO NOT under any circumstance what to cut lose with any of that money to pay for the services your child needs. The ONLY way you are going to get past this is to KNOW YOUR RIGHTS so empower yourself. Do the research. DOCUMENT EVERYTHING! Meetings, phone calls, conversations with your child, your childs teacher etc. Be prepared to explain the requests you've made, the interventions you've tried to take, the instructions you given your childs teacher in handling your child etc. I was once told that when an employee comes up for promotion or review, the powers to be at the district office review the employees file, and that the ONLY way these supervisors find out that there is an employee who perhaps shouldn't be working with certain children or has problem area's is when they run across letters of complaints in the employees file. I've also taken to filing formal complaints with the district and other agencies if applicable, such as the County Office of Special Education rather than turning to attorneys. Once you start the formal complaint process, each district has certain guidelines they must follow which include timelines and in some cases, a chance for the employee in question to respond to the complaint in writing which I was entitled to a copy of. In my case, the employee hung herself in her written statement making my case stronger and a little bit easier for me to get my issues addressed. Plus, having it cross filed with other agencies, left little room for the district to sweep the incident under the rug and also left the district answering to other entities besides myself. The district had to deal with the issue and the employee and the entire incident was documented in the employees record. The other thing I've learned with particuarly hard to deal with districts, while they laugh at the mere mention of an attorney, they absolutely hate publicity and dealing with agencies outside their realm of control. This is where state and county offices, congressmen, city councelman, newspapers, etc come in handy. For some informtive tips on advocating visit Reed Martins Site at http://www.reedmartin.com/advocacytipofweek.htm
Why bother to file a complaint? Why bother to take the district on and put up with the frustration and headache that goes along with the process? Because in the long run, it makes a difference. It puts the school employees, the school, the district, and the board on notice that they had better mind their p's and q's. Because it creates a paper trail, a trail that will be on file and follow the employee where ever they go and that will be reviewed by their peers every time they come up for promotion or an employee evaluation. A trail that will be there when the next parent or child needs help. A paper trail that eventually is going to back the distirct into a corner of which they will not be able to get out of. They will not be able to claim they didn't know, or they had no idea that there was a weak link in the chain and while it may not help your child today, it will help the children who come tomorrow. Another thing is that above all things, the school system is geared to survive. They survive by protecting each other, they survive by limiting the amount of information they give to parents they survive by being close knit and by telling parents only the things they need to know. The parent that advocates for their child is a threat to the way they have been dealing with children and parents and because they pose a threat, the school and the district is going to have to pay closer attention to how they deal with you and your child. And last but not least if we don't band together, join forces and tell our schools that the way they treat our children is unacceptable, it will never change. I can't stress how important it is to take the time to file a complaint with the district if the situation warrants it and there is a policy or employee that needs to be looked at. Filing a complaint in writing creates a paper trail into the employees file and according to the Asst. District Superintendant, is often the only way they know when an employee is not doing there job well when their employee record comes under review. Also, as my mother pointed out, the teachers and admin people certainly have no problem issuing citations, suspensions, and expulsions to our children for inappropriate behavior which become part of their records so why shouldn't we call them on theirs? For tips and ideas on how to effectively communicate with the school, The Special Ed Advocate has some very informative tips and ideas on how to write a letter. IT'S HERE!!! Special Education Rights and Responsibilities is a 13 chapter manual that addresses every questions imaginable for parents seeking special ed and section 504 rights and services for their children. At the end of each chapter you will find sample letters so you will know how to ask, in writing for services and hearings! Click here to check out this manual! If you are having problems viewing the manual or would like a copy of the manual, I have made a zip file of all the chapters in text form. If you have an IBM based pc and would like this file, email me at Contact Us and I'll send you a copy.