I originally began this post in 2012 and never finished it. After a long and arduous process with our school district that was not resolvable without a lawyer, we removed him from school and didn’t look back. In hindsight, get the lawyer. Trust me. Just because his he is home doesn’t mean we are done navigating the special education system. Far from it. There are still diagnosis and accommodations to document for testing, secondary education etc.
Any parent that has ever dealt with the special education process understands the immense stress of the process. It’s a process few of us are familiar with at all until we find ourselves sitting in a conference room with 8 or 10 other people. That is why I thought I’d write a post with tips and things I’ve learned.
- Do consult with a special education advocate in your state. They know the process and the laws. Hire one if you can afford it. If you can’t find a local disability advocacy agency that offers free support by phone.
- Get your hands on a copy of the book “From Emotions to Advocacy” by Pam and Peter Wright. Make it your business to read Wrightslaw.com‘s website when you can.
- Be familiar with IDEA, 504 and Child Find laws. What do they mean for your child and what rights does your child have.
- This is a numbers game. You do have to show or the school does that your child actually needs something. Keep spreadsheets cataloging your child’s testing scores and evaluations. When the same test is done more than once, compare it. Has there been progress? Regression? What percentile are they in and where does that fall on the standard deviations curve chart? You must have facts to back up your requests and demonstrate need.
- If you reach a point when it looks like you need a lawyer, get one. Trust me. They are better at this game than you are. They know the laws and often know what school districts are difficult.
- Learn to write polite letters that document your understanding of discussions in meetings or on the phone. Do this with thank you letters to. (Emotions to Advocacy book helps with this)
- Document, document, document everything. Use a phone call log or contact log to keep track of who you talked to, what was said, when etc.
- Save all/any emails that go between you and school.
- “The Binder” as we call it is where you will keep all the paperwork for your child’s IEPs, CSE’s, evaluations/testing etc. In order by date of each school year.
While organization is key it’s also important to know you are a part of the CSE team in making decisions about your child. You can disagree. You can table a meeting and go home and regroup. You can disagree with evaluations and get independent ones. You have rights but the key is you need to know what they are and when you can to use them.