Parent advocacy special education guidelines

Here are 15 special education guidelines  from this H. Margolis and G. Brannigan website.  Republished with their permission nearly a year ago on January 15th, 2010, I thought they should be published again now.

Remember, in each province in Canada or state in the U.S., there are different policies and legislation (although in the U.S., some laws are federal, particularly when it comes to special education), but the guidelines are general enough that they can be adapted. The point being, that the guidelines can be used as a blueprint for parent advocacy. Note that my comments are italicized.

  1. Have your child evaluated by experts who can identify your child’s needs. In Ontario, that can be done by either the school board or the parents can arrange testing privately.
  2. Make sure you understand his needs before you meet with school personnel to discuss his needs and possible interventions.
  3. Make specific requests (in writing) for meeting his needs; support your requests with reports from well-credentialed experts, experts whom the school respects. Relates to the first point.
  4. Treat people with respect, even if you disagree with them, even if they reject your requests.
  5. Keep looking for ways to solve problems; remember that the school’s suggestions for solving your child’s problems may be as good as yours. Avoid the trap of advocating for a specific reading method, especially one that has a weak research base (e.g., Wilson, Fast Forward, Orton-Gillingham); instead, focus on goals, objectives, frequent monitoring of progress, and frequent meeting to adjust your child’s program. In Ontario, it is the IPRC who makes recommendations that the parent must approve. If they disagree, they have to initiate an appeal, first with the Board, in writing, or following that, with a provincial tribunal.
  6. Keep written, dated records of whatever anyone in the school tells you. Absolutely essential to hold teachers and all other school officials accountable.
  7. Make a copy of every item you receive from the school– or IPRC. Organize the originals in chronological order; don’t write on them. Organize the copies in chronological order by subject.
  8. Have someone accompany you to all meetings — such as to all IPRC or appeal hearings. If possible, have a knowledgeable expert or an advocate accompany you. Make sure that whomever accompanies you treats people with respect, works to solve problems, and understands both the relevant laws and reading disabilities. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned advocates have little knowledge of reading disabilities, and many reading specialists and special educators have little knowledge of special education laws.
  9. Take your time at meetings, but never cause unnecessary delays. Work to understand what’s being said and what’s happening. If necessary, schedule a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and umpteenth meeting. Keep meeting until you get your child the program and services he needs, and until he makes satisfactory progress. If people tell you this is unrealistic, think of the consequences of not meeting, of not getting your child what he needs.
  10. Send the school a written summary of each meeting: what happened, what was agreed to, what you disagree with, remaining issues and concerns, requests for additional meetings. In Ontario, the request can be directed to the school principal or the chair of the IPRC process.
  11. Know and understand the special education and related laws that apply to your child.
  12. Understand how the school operates, how it does things, who has the real decision-making power.
  13. Keep the momentum going. Combat the memory-numbing effects of long periods of inactivity by contacting school personnel weekly until your child gets the services he needs, scheduling frequent meeting to monitor progress and problem-solve your child’s needs, keeping your child’s unmet needs in the forefront of school personnel’s concerns.
  14. Be persistent, be respectful. By your actions—not just your words—help school personnel realize that until your child’s needs are met you will be in continual contact with them and will use the relevant laws to get your child the services he needs.
  15. Monitor your child’s progress. Even programs strongly supported by research may fail your child. Remember, the “R” in IPRC means “Review.” A review can be done every three months if necessary. Remember also that an IEP (Individual Education Plan) must be continually evaluated.  Small tweaks in the program and complementing it with other instructional strategies and classroom modifications may produce huge gains. So ask the school to monitor your child’s progress, at least weekly. Do the same for yourself. In Ontario, this is all done by an IPRC team and the IEP.