Understanding Special Education Rights – What every Parent Should Know
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On today’s podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Greer Gurland, lawyer and mom to five children that just happen to have special needs. Greer, a Harvard Law School graduate, recently wrote a great book called What Every Parent Should Know about Special Education Law to help parents understand what Special Education is, who it’s for and how to access it, so that you and your child don’t have to struggle to find the resources to get them the education they deserve. Understanding your child’s rights, approaching the process armed with the right tools (Greer provides some in the book) and attitude will go a long way to getting access to the resources your child needs.
Greer is a wealth of information and experience. I encourage you to listen to the entire podcast (and comment below with any questions) and pick up a copy of her book, aside from the great information there are 20 pages of sample communications and tools to make it easy for you to advocate for your child!
You are your child’s best chance
Not unlike the medical side of parenting a special needs child, you are your child’s best advocate. You see the day to day challenges and know how to navigate them. Just as importantly, you see the opportunities too. You can point them out to educators so that your child receives the best possible opportunities to learn and thrive in school.
“Feel the fear and do it anyway”
Don’t be afraid to speak up, but remember to pick your battles for when the issue at hand is paramount!
Building positive relationships with the educators is key
This needs to be an ongoing focus of the approach that you take for your child’s education. Celebrate and thank the people involved when even the smallest thing goes well. Building goodwill with the educators can make the process move faster and with more ease.
Things will not always go smoothly. When you do hit a rocky patch the goodwill you have built up will go a long way. When you still feel that you are not being heard, that’s when it's time to respectfully stand your ground.
Your child will be in the education system for a long time, creating the path of least resistance while keeping the end goal in mind is necessary to succeed.
There are times when you will encounter roadblocks in the process and you may need to request mediation.
How early can you start speaking with the school?
As early as 2.5 years old you can write a simple letter to the education services director in your local area requesting access for support. At age 3 a child is eligible to receive special education services.
Your child does not need a diagnosis to be assessed for and receive services. As their parent, you can start the process by asking for the assessment of needs. Greer outlines how to do this in her book.
Preparation for the process is key for success
Like most things with our children preparing ahead is key. Having organized records of all the interactions with the school and all your child’s assessments is essential. Coming to meetings with the school with your binder in hand will show them you mean business and they will respect your dedication to your child’s education. Greer outlines how to organize your child’s binder and what should be included in her book.
IEPs and the fifteen-day rule
Individual Education Plans (IEP) is the document that outlines how the school is going to accommodate and modify your child’s learning style and challenges so that they can receive the best education. You are part of the team that puts this plan together. You can ensure that things you feel are key to a quality learning environment are included in the plan.
Among other details of how you can manage the IEP process successfully. Greer outlines in her book the importance of the “fifteen-day rule”. When you get your first IEP it only goes into effect once you have signed it. After the first IEP, every successive IEP goes into effect after fifteen calendar days whether you sign it or not. If you do not agree with the IEP as presented, you must file a mediation request during that fifteen-day window which will keep the previous IEP intact until mediation occurs. This is especially important when they are recommending a reduction in services year to year that you feel is inappropriate.
IEP is just the beginning
Even the best-intentioned teachers and staff don’t always follow through on the carefully laid out plan for your child. You must have your eyes and ears open at all times to see if the plan is being followed and speak up when it isn’t. These deviations from an IEP are an opportunity for you to strengthen your relationship with the educators. Remember to thank them for the things that are going well too!
Make sure to grab a copy of Greer’s book for a much more in-depth look at your child’s special education rights and advice, answers to frequently asked questions and tools to help your child get the education they deserve.