White House Disability Group Conference Call 3/31

Parents, you have a very nice resource coming next week.  Put this on calendar and don’t miss it.  I can’t say it better than the White House can, so here is the introduction to what you’ll find on the Disability Blog at http://blog.govdelivery.com/usodep/.

“In order to keep Americans with disabilities and other interested parties informed about the Obama Administration’s disability-related efforts, the White House Disability Group is hosting monthly calls to provide updates on issues such as key political appointments, employment, civil rights, health care and transportation, as well as introduce staff who work on disability issues in the federal government.

The next call will be held on Thursday, March 31 at 5:00 PM Eastern Time. It will feature remarks from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and include introductions to other Obama Administration personnel.

Details for the call are as follows:”

Now go here for the rest.  http://blog.govdelivery.com/usodep/

This is a resource that will allow you to be in the know in a way you probably haven’t thought of.  Share this blog URL with your friends and schools so they can join us!

Go down just a little further in that message for the link to sfueuerstein and sign up for the email distribution list.  Go to Washington without leaving home!

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Advocacy Skills: 5-Be Realistic

Hello, Parents!

Here is where the rubber meets the road, as they say in Cliche-Town.  We know what our child needs, and the school district has a budget that doesn’t quite match.  Or the school staff doesn’t have the specialist title on its list of employees.  We wonder how our child’s needs will be met without enough money being thrown around or the exact program being given, or the precise professional being on staff.  Is it time to sue?  NO!

Forgive your school district for being like every other one.  And give the staff credit for their originality and ability to look at the total resource picture to find solutions.  We parents don’t know what professional training for the various professions might include, but people who supervise them do.  Often school staff can do things that fall under several professional titles.  They have programs available that can be taken apart and re-assembled to do many different jobs and meet many other sets of requirements.

Did you know your school’s occupational therapist can do about 50% of a developmental optometrist’s therapy for a child who has double vision or amblyopia?  WHOA!  That will save YOU money while it develops the school district’s knowledge that it can now serve an entirely new segment of needs.  The district isn’t required to pay for vision therapy, but it can help in this way.  This is just one example of why being realistic in our thinking allows us to scrounge around in the resource box to find alternatives.

Here is another sample.  There are so many reading programs available, but people know Lindamood-Bell works in specific ways to solve specific problems.  Someone who knows Lindamood-Bell and other programs can use other programs to create a lot of the same training for a child who needs what the Lindamood-Bell program provides, and that could be enough.  If it isn’t, then a parent could make a stronger demand for Lindamood-Bell and only Lindamood-Bell.   It’s like buying a car–the state doesn’t have to give a Cadillac when a Kia would do the same job.

If we are realistic, we can approve an IEP plan that gives our child FAPE even if it isn’t a “brand name” plan.

Advocacy Skills: 4-Don’t Make It Personal

Hello, Parents!

Today’s issue is about making a bureaucratic system a bit too personal for comfort.  It’s too easy to blame the individual who does a job in a system for things the system controls or limits.  It’s not the person’s fault that a system rolls like a wagon with square wheels.  Even if it is the person’s fault, we can’t get that person’s cooperation while we’re trying to stick a finger in his eye–because that’s too personal.

We have tons of emotions invested in our children and their success.  When their education encounters obstacles that can be traced to human sources, our natural inclination seems to be to blame someone for something/everything.  Before we point the finger, though, we need to stop and think.  Is there anything to be gained by blaming someone?  Really, what do you hope to gain by starting arguments, increasing your “opponent” resistance and defensiveness, and reducing that opponent’s desire to help you or your child?  Those are the results of blaming games.  Blame is personal–we want someone to take responsibility for lack of progress, for a failing grade, for an unfortunate event, etc.  If no one steps up to take blame, do we have to find a blame-dummy to sacrifice?

No.  We don’t.  Repeat after me, “Making it personal by blaming people for anything is not going to help my child.”

So holster that blame-finger.  If someone needs training, offer to ask around for resources.  If someone isn’t doing the full job, request a monitor be assigned to assure compliance.  If your child is being harmed, write a Gebser Letter that states exactly what is going on and send it to the superintendent of your school district with copies to everyone in your school’s line of services for your child.  In a face-to-face meeting, talk about progress or lack of it in factual ways.  When you’re nose-to-nose with school staff, mention that services have not been complete or have been ineffective or inappropriate and leave it at that without blaming anyone.  They know who is to blame, believe me.  You merely let them know you are aware of deficits, and then they can find out through official actions and channels that you know how to use the school system itself to get what your child needs.  And that you are doing it.

There are two really great things about leaving blame out of your discussions.  If your “blame-ee” suddenly becomes educated by what you say factually in these meetings, you still have a decent relationship to work with.  If your “blame-ee” is convinced by what you say, you leave room for him/her to turn around and join you in your efforts because you have not burned all the bridges, slammed all the doors, locked all the locks.  You have left room for trust to develop in the future.

So do your child a favor.  When in IEP meetings, 504 Plan meetings, staff/parent meetings, simple schoolyard conversations…don’t make things personal.  Be open and friendly, share information that will help improve your child’s services, and work with the team.  Most of the time team efforts will overpower those of the individual who makes mistakes.  Make yourself the valuable member of the team who can’t see blame and can only see roads to progress.  Push to take the team down those roads, emphasize for others their strengths that will aid that journey.  That is the most personal you should ever get.  You can be personal with praise.  But keep that personalizing blame-finger in the holster where it can’t do any harm.

Advocacy Tips: 3-Leave the Emotions At Home

This will be a short item.  The logic of it is simple.  Doing it is harder.  MUCH harder.  When you go to school meetings, whether it is a teacher/parent conference or an IEP meeting, remember that the only thing that helps make progress toward FAPE for your child is facts.  Gathering facts and presenting them in an organized way is the most important thing you can do.

Your credibility is on the line, and it’s nerve-wracking.  Your child is important to you and every moment lost to inappropriate education hurts; denial of services feels like outright betrayal of everything American schools are supposed to stand for.  For your credibility you have to pack all those emotions in a secure place and don’t let them out when meeting with school folks.

People are distracted by the emotions of other people.  Your emotions can sabotage everything you want to achieve for your child if you

1.  blame people,

2.  claim someone (or several) is incompetent,

3.  criticize in a non-constructive way, or

4.  threaten complaints or lawsuits.

Rather than blame someone or point out incompetence, offer to help them find the training they need to know how to serve your child well.  If your child’s disability is a common one, such as ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, suggest that you’d like to help improve the school’s ability to serve all students with that disability by getting the state Department of Education to help uncover more resources and training.

There are other venues for pointing out incompetence that will be more effective than destroying your credibility in your child’s meetings.

Offer your criticism outside these meetings where the focus can be on improvement of services for your child.  (And again, focus on the facts to be more effective.)

Do not threaten complaints or lawsuits.  If you are going to make a complaint or file a lawsuit, consider it carefully, get an advocate or attorney’s advice, and don’t “poison” your school relationships with threats you may never fulfill.  Be aware that in some cases, if school staff think you are filing formal complaints or lawsuits, their stance becomes defensive, some become bitter and more critical of you and your child, and some may take their frustrations out on your child.  Not all–perhaps one or two…maybe.  But one of those is more than enough, so keep your thoughts of complaints or lawsuits private until you know what you are going to do.  Then your attorney or advocate will advise you how to proceed with that information.  (And just so you know, even in this, the advice is…do it unemotionally so people will focus on the words and ideas, not on the tears, hysteria, tone of voice, level of upset, etc.)

Cooperation and support for school staff are often more effective than blame or criticism because they foster forward progress.  If you can’t make forward progress, you still need the relationship to be as good as it can be so your child doesn’t have to go to school with people who view him and you as a problem larger than just the disability issue.

We may see a lot of emotional outbursts on reality TV…but remember that those shows make their money by attracting viewers however they can get them.  The sensationalism of viewing other people’s emotions often hides a lot of the facts of what is going on–you’ve seen it over and over on reality TV.  But that is the fact.  Emotions often hide reality and make it more difficult to get to the achievement we need.

We need our emotions.  But we don’t need them in our school meetings.  Leave the emotions at home so you can be your most effective self in your advocacy for your child’s FAPE.

Advocacy Tips: 2-Focus On The Facts

Hello, Parents!

Sometimes when we need to advocate for our child’s FAPE, we are doing so because schools are not doing all they could or should be doing.  In that case, we parents feel a deep sense of betrayal.  We expect that people who take a job working with children will do what those children need without being asked, told, or forced.  The bureaucracy of a school system sometimes prevents that, not all school staff are as generous as we would like them to be, and not all school staff know what our children need.  The sense of betrayal is often accompanied by a lot of anger and a desire to blame someone.  Perhaps those are a natural response to our unmet expectations, but we can’t allow ourselves to be caught in the trap of our emotions.  Emotions don’t think, reason, or plan, and they can wreck our case if we don’t manage ourselves properly.

When advocating for your child’s FAPE, FOCUS ON THE FACTS.  Your best and most effective advocacy statements will start like this.  “My child needs….”  Follow this with a statement of facts about what your child needs in order to access and benefit from his education.  Here is why this works.

First, schools are not there to give parents what they want, so statements like, “I want my child to have ….” are ineffective.  IDEA, ADA, and Section 504 say nothing about granting parents’ wishes.

Second, schools do not have to give the cadillac version of anything.  If a skate will get your child where he needs to go, in the eyes of the law, a skate will be sufficient.  We have to get brutal with ourselves and admit that sometimes a skate really is all that is needed.  There are strategies to use if more than a skate is needed, but stick to the facts and use them as your tools.  You may know that your child needs something more than a skate, but you must present that fact along with solid evidence (more facts), not with emotionality.

Third, even if there has been wrongdoing in your child’s case, dwelling on it will not advance your child’s education or get the IEP corrected.  Facts will.  Facts will tell what your child needs, and IDEA, Section 504 and ADA all support meeting a child’s educational needs.

The most powerful thing you can do is to say, “My child needs…” because it triggers everything in the law to give your child an equal opportunity to learn and equal access to his education.

It is enough to focus on the facts and use them for your child’s advantage because you have some of our nation’s best laws to back you up.

Advocacy Tips: 1–Educate Yourself

Hello, Parents!

This week I want to discuss some tips for how to advocate for your child’s educational needs.  We’ll use 5 topics:

1. Educate yourself.
2. Focus only on the facts.
3. Leave emotions at home.
4. Don’t make things go personal.
5. Be realistic.

Each day I’ll elaborate on each topic so you can start applying information to your child’s case in useful ways.

Educate yourself.  Schools provide special education according to:
special education laws, regulations, and procedures,
civil rights laws that help prevent discrimination,
privacy and confidentiality laws, and
accountability laws.

You can’t use a system effectively if you don’t know its rules.  These laws are the “rules of the game” for special education.  I know it looks massive that there are five different sets of law we must know and use, and we are not attorneys.  However, these laws were all written so private individuals like ourselves could read, understand and use them.  You don’t need to learn it all overnight. Just read through it now so you know what is in there.  Learn those parts that you will need for your most current issues in advocacy.  Eventually you’ll know it thoroughly.

Study the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Act that started special education in public schools.

Learn Family Rights in Education and Privacy Act (FERPA) so you will know the rules about confidentiality of all the documentation and services for children in public schools.  This is a short piece of law, and it isn’t hard to follow.

Take a look at No Child Left Behind (NCLB) so you have an idea how this act benefits children with disabilities.  The whole point of this law was to create new levels of accountability to assure that schools/school districts don’t ignore children whose education is difficult.

Know Section 504 of the Rehabilitation of the Handicapped Act of 1973, now renamed Rehabilitation Act.  This is where we get the phrase “equal access” and the concept that there must also be equal effectiveness and equal opportunity.

Know the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) well enough that you know how to back up what you say about IDEA and Section 504 with ADA clout.

All these laws were written in non-attorney language so average citizens can read and understand them.  Your nearest Parent-To-Parent group conducts training sessions or workshops on these laws, and even if you can’t go to one of those, they can help you.

Go to your state’s Department of Education website or telephone their offices of special education and ask for copies of the Board of Education Rules/Regulations about special education and the matching policies and procedures.  Don’t forget to specify that you want the ones related to special education or you will only get the package for regular education.

Get and know your state’s laws regarding special education.  Every state must have laws for how it plans to follow the federal laws and there will be matching laws for each part of IDEA.  (This is easier because often these laws are very similar to the federal laws.  But there will be differences, and you need to know them.)

Your ultimate power in IEP meetings will come when you carry these books with you with all your bookmarks showing, highlighting on the pages for the clauses that concern your child’s case, and you can refer to them on the spot whenever you encounter resistance to what you know your child must have in order to learn.

The website at http://www.ada.gov/cguide.htm#anchor65610 contains summaries of these laws and resources for where to call for help.

Tomorrow:  Focus on Facts