Are you the parent of a child with autism, learning disabilities, or another disability receiving special education services? Are you sick and tired of special education personnel in your district denying your child needed related and special education services? This article will empower you to fight back for your child by addressing important advocacy skills.
Advocacy Strategy 1: Educate yourself about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA 2004) and your states regulations on special education. You can do this by reading books, attending conferences and developing friendships with more experienced parents of children with disabilities. By being educated on federal and state law your chances of success with your advocacy increase.
Advocacy Strategy 2: Documentation is critical in winning a special education dispute. Begin sending letters to document what is occurring in your child’s education. Important verbal conversations must be followed up by a short letter, to the person you spoke to. For Example: Your child’s teacher states in a phone conversation that your child is not progressing, and needs more intense related and special education services. Immediately write a letter to the teacher, including the date and time of the conversation, and what was said. The letter needs to be Hand delivered to the teacher, or sent certified with a return receipt. This will document what the teacher said, even if she denies that she ever said it.
Also, save any letters or other documentation sent from special education personnel. You should save important school papers, any notes about negative behavior, any documentation that you need to strengthen your advocacy position. I once advocated for a young boy who had negative behavior at school. The school was sending home daily behavior sheets, and I advised the mother to date them, and not throw them away. We used them at a due process to show that when the school district stated the child’s behavior was out of control, the behavior sheet said he was fine. Documentation can win a case, or lack of documentation can lose a case.
Advocacy Strategy 3: Tape record all IEP meetings, and if possible and necessary have a transcriber transcribe them for future use. Transcriptions of IEP meetings can be used at due process as documentation.
In all my years of advocacy, I have never been a huge fan of tape recording, but I have recently changed my mind. School districts have become so bold in denying things they tell parents, that it is critical that parents have documentation of what is being said in meetings, and what the school district is agreeing to. I find a huge discrepancy between what many special education personnel agree to in a meeting, and what is being documented in a child’s IEP. A transcript of a tape recorded meeting could be used as evidence in a due process hearing, to show what the school district agreed to.
Advocacy Strategy 4: Whenever special education personnel want to change a child’s label placement or refuse to change your child’s label or placement, they must give prior written notice (PWN) to you. Also, if they deny services that your child needs, they must also give PWN. For example: If you take your child to an independent evaluator and bring the report of recommendations to the school district, and they refuse to follow the recommendations, they must give you PWN, on why they are not following the recommendations.
Advocacy Strategy 5: Be willing to file state complaints or due process for non compliance with IDEA 2004, or if the school district does not give your child FAPE. Going over the school districts head is the best way to ensure that your child is getting the appropriate services that they need.