A, B, C’s and 1, 2, 3’s of Advocating for your Child in School (No Wimpy style)

Back to school can be a stressful and exciting time for parents and kids. For parents who have children with special needs or unique challenges, it can be an even more overwhelming time. Whether your child has been diagnosed with AD/HD, Asperger’s, a Learning Disability or is gifted…it can sometimes be an intimidating process to interact with school officials to make sure your child’s needs are being met. Many parents become quickly frustrated and confused when trying to negotiate the complicated waters of setting up IEP’s, testing their child for gifted services, or even creating a plan to help a child “catch up” in a certain subject. As a parent of a child who qualified for AG services, I know first hand the delicate balancing act of advocating for your child and not offending the school or teacher. Being an advocate for your child in the school system takes a “No Wimpy” approach: after all, there’s nothing more important fighting for than your child! Here are a few ABC’s and 1,2, 3’s to get you started:

A)    Avoid the blame game. Discussing an important issue with busy and overworked teachers and staff can be difficult. Even if you believe the school has been slack or made mistakes, try to keep your cool. Go into meetings with a problem-solving, non-attacking approach. Remember to try to be considerate of the teacher’s time and thank them for setting aside time to talk with you. If teachers and administrators are using too much “jargon,” feel free to ask for clarification or consult with a professional outside of the school (psychologist or tutor). Even though you may have to be persistent, keep in mind that ultimately everyone involved wants what’s best for your child.

B)    Build good relations from the start. Don’t wait for an issue to emerge to introduce yourself to your child’s teacher. Raising a concern will be easier and less confrontational if open communication has already been established. There are many ways to become a positive force in your child’s classroom (i.e., volunteering, bringing in bribes treats, eating lunch with your child and saying hi to the teacher)

C)    Connect with others. There’s strength in numbers and most likely any school-based issue is not unique to your child. Look into your local PTA to connect with other parents. If you’re concerned about a disability of any kind, contact your state’s federally funded parent resource centers.

  • Autism Society of NC: click here
  • Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center: click here
  • AD/HD resources: click here

1)      Know your rights. Most issues have a good chance of bhttp://www.chadd.orgeing addressed to everyone’s satisfaction within your school community. But if you are unable to get to the resolution you need, legal means are available. If your child’s disability affects his educational performance, you have the right under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) to have your child tested to determine his special education eligibility. You can also request mediation or a “fair hearing.”

2)      Document events. Keep a record of all meetings and phone calls including dates and people involved along with your initial document and any letters. We all know as parents our “to do” lists grow longer every day. It’s tough to remember when you made a request or who was the contact person to help you with the next step. Keeping a log of meetings and contact people will help you stay organized. Politely informing the school you are documenting the events also lets the school know you are serious.

3)      Develop possible solutions and define the next steps: This sets a positive tone indicating you want to work in partnership with the school to resolve the problem; you’re not merely complaining, but offering potential solutions. At the end of the meeting ask:

  • What is the next step?
  • Who will be responsible for that step?
  • When (a date) will the next step occur?

This step is crucial; it keeps the meeting from being merely a gripe session and increases the likelihood of a positive outcome. Leave a copy of your written document with the teacher.

Here’s the video segment on My Carolina Today on this topic: http://www.mycarolinatoday.com/2011/08/advocate-for-your-child-at-school/

Additional resources:

http://www.nolo.com/products/the-complete-iep-guide-IEP.html

http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/ec/policy/resources/

http://abss.k12.nc.us/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/32236/File/student-parent/parents_rights_handbook.pdf

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