This blog post has been adapted from “Chapter Four: Advocating for Your Child” of OAR’s resource “Navigating the Special Education System”.
As many parents of autistic children know from personal experience, it takes more time and consideration to navigate the special education system than it does to send a neurotypical child to school. Some families are just beginning to enter this process mid-pandemic, while others have been forced to quickly adjust to the new demands of advocating for their children in these unique circumstances. While this task may seem daunting, especially right now, parents who are equipped with the right tools and knowledge can be effective advocates for their children.
What you most likely already know is that no one is waiting in line behind you to advocate for your child—you are it! So when you disagree with a decision that your school district has made for your child, what options do you have?
You do not have to agree with or accept the evaluations conducted by your school district. Should you disagree, you are entitled to ask for an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) in order to get further information. Additionally, you do not have to sign off on your child’s IEP if you have unresolved concerns about it. The right of parents to question actions or decisions by schools is clearly written into both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Each law provides legal options for exercising your right to protest.
The people you have gathered as your advisors can help counsel you about next steps if all your efforts to come to agreement break down. Should a breakdown occur, you need to decide whether to call for a due process hearing before an impartial officer, a right provided by IDEA, or to take other legal action. This is your right and it may be necessary to use, but be sure before you move into legal action that you have done what you can to solve problems through the steps outlined in the infographic below.
Because each member of your child’s educational team has your child’s best interest at heart, these disagreements can often be solved through negotiation and mediation rather than through legal battles. However, it will probably be necessary to have more than one meeting to settle all the details. When meetings are held, make clear that you would like to have other people present who know your child and are familiar with the problem. Ask to have them included so that the discussion will be as productive as possible.
You are an equal partner in your child’s education and an expert on your child’s needs and strengths. When speaking with the professionals at your child’s school, there is no need to be aggressive or apologetic; approach these conversations from the perspective that everyone is seeking a solution to a problem.
More information about advocating for your child can be found in OAR’s guide to Navigating the Special Education System. Order or download a copy for more information.