When your child is struggling in school, it can be a difficult time for any family. If the child’s difficulties are caused by a disability, and you believe that the school system is not doing all they should to help, feelings of anger, disappointment and frustration can be hard to manage. The special education laws provide parents with significant rights in obtaining appropriate special education services for their child. Fundamental to the laws, however, is a notion that the development of an Individualized Educational Plan is a collaborative process. You must deal with public school personnel, even if you believe they are letting your child down. The manner in which you approach your child’s teachers, and school officials, is essential to achieving a positive outcome without the need for formal legal proceedings. Just remember the three Ps & R.
The sense that a school system is taking too long to respond to your child’s educational issues and causing lasting harm, can be overwhelming. As difficult as it is to accept, the reality is that the development of a special education plan is intended to be evidence-based, responsive to the abilities, problems, and needs of your child, assessed as objectively as possible. When you begin the special education process or seek to change existing services, a process of observation, data collection, parent-school meetings and communication begins. Even if all are acting with the best of intentions, the process is not instantaneous – time to work with the information available, schedules, school vacations, all can make the process of helping your child seem at times, interminable. Patience is required. Patience, however, does not mean unlimited patience, which leads to the second “P.”
A reasonable, ongoing insistence that the process of developing an appropriate special education plan for your child, not take any longer than necessary, is essential. The cliché that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” applies. While your focus is on your child, the public school system is dealing with many children and various crises, in regular as well as special education. If time is passing with no discernible progress, you must politely but firmly insist that the process must move more quickly. One or more phone calls followed up by a concise letter expressing your concern and requesting more expedition, will help insure that your child not be lost in the pack. Balance is the key, and not always easy to achieve. Shrill or excessive numbers of calls or letters must be avoided, lest your valid concerns be tuned out by school personnel. Reasoned, measured, appropriately timed communications work best.
Meetings with school teachers or other school personnel, to discuss your child, are important opportunities that should be maximized. Before any meeting, whether with an individual or IEP Team members, take time to prepare. Filter the jumble of thoughts and ideas you may have about your child, and be ready to focus on the most important. Practice explaining in a few sentences your child’s struggles in school and if related to his school issues, at home, why the existing (if there is one) special education program is not working, and what your child needs to succeed. If you will be presenting a report by a special education consultant you have retained, work with the consultant to make sure that their report is factually accurate, easy to understand, and well-organized, preferably with an “executive summary” of the findings and recommendations at the beginning. Your time spent in preparation will be time very well spent.
Whether you believe that a school teacher or other professional is acting in your child’s best interest, or is standing in the way of your child’s well-being, you must treat them respectfully. You may not actually respect a particular school employee, but treating that person with disdain can hurt your child’s cause. Respect does not mean agreement, nor undeserved deference. Treating public school personnel respectfully simply reflects the truth that pride and humiliation are two of the most powerful human motivators. Treating a school employee with whom you disagree, not as an enemy or a fool, but as an equal who needs the insight and information about your child that you will provide, will go a long way toward achieving your goals.
Repeat PPP&R like a mantra. Remember it as you advocate. Implement patience, persistence, preparation and respect, and you will be doing the best that you can to achieve your child’s educational goals.