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

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