This Tip of the Week comes from my own experience as a teacher, administrator, state DOE employee and specialist in the area of Autism Spectrum Disorders, and parent. Over the years, I have had many opportunities to observe what works, and what doesn’t, in educating public school students with and without Indivdualized Educational Plans–IEPs. One of the worst things I see is the dismissal of parents as ancillary to the educational process. Parents are the experts in their children, but often they are condescended to and out and out offended in the presence of “educational experts.” I have been on both sides of that table, and I will tell you that things don’t work well when everyone doesn’t work together. And, I’ll be honest, although most classroom teachers, those other experts in your children, those people who are boots-on-the-ground and also know your children well, DO want to work with and listen to parents, many others at the planning table don’t. This is my opinion based on years of experience. Ask any parent of a child with an IEP and they will tell you their horror stories. Not just of mistakes, but of attitudes.
Parents are often made to feel like the odd person out at the table–while teachers who know the student give input, valuable input, people who’ve never laid eyes on the child, or who have spent an hour or two gathering data, drive the meeting. I know; until Friday I was one of those people. Try as I might to get my fellow educational professionals to listen to and honor parents, this was all too rare. More often, if a parent takes up too much time, next time they attend a meeting they are handed an agenda with demeaning instructions on appropriate behavior right at the top.
This week, at CARD, I trained my replacement. She is an advocate by trade. She shared with me a case she is currently working on out of state, in which a public school system has so far devoted over twenty hours to getting an IEP straight for an elementary student. Think about that. Don’t let them rush you, and gently request a multiple-day meeting if that is what you need to build an IEP.
Solutions for parents, practical ones, are sorely needed. Many parents are afraid that if they assert their own rights and insist on a free, appropriate education for their child in the least restrictive environment (and on full implementation of the IEP), there will be retaliation. This is a valid fear! Parents’ concerns are valid. Don’t let anyone, not a CARD Coordinator or Director, not a Placement Specialist or Programs Specialist, not a behaviorist or an administrator, dismiss your concerns.
One very simple way to show the school and district you mean business and you mean to be involved and you are not going away is to volunteer at your child’s school. Do it! Even if you work full time during the school day, devote yourself to volunteering at least a couple of hours monthly at your child’s school. Take a leave day every month to do it if you have to.
We at CEG suggest you get that volunteer paperwork filled out as soon as possible. If you haven’t done it, start the process right away. You can learn a lot about the school–and if your red-flag radar should go up–about how welcoming they are to your picking up, filling out, and turning in that application. Get it done early in the summer for next year, and volunteer during pre-planning if you can. Be around to help even before the students arrive next year. Be a part of the life of the school. You will learn so much, and tap into the individual culture of your child’s school. One thing we suggest is, volunteer outside of your child’s room. That’s right, if you are just getting to know the school, don’t push yourself on your child’s teacher or teachers. Help in another room. Get to be a needed helper elsewhere on campus. Try the next grade level up, if possible! Then, you get to know the teachers your child might have next year! And, most importantly, they get to know you in a positive light, and the unique talents and skills you bring which can only enhance the community which is your child’s workaday world. I have heard personnel talk about parents. I have never heard one bad word about those parents who are familiar faces at school through volunteerism.
Knowledge is power, and you can’t know your child’s school well without getting your feet wet. Jump in. The water’s fine.