Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's
Your child has been diagnosed with a disabling condition. As if adjusting to this news isn’t enough, you learn that the condition can affect your child’s learning or interfere with their ability to perform in school. Now you must delve into the world of special education that comes with a host of unfamiliar terms, jargon and regulations. Does your child need a 504 Plan for accommodations or specialized instruction that comes with an Individual Education Plan (IEP)? Keep reading to learn how to start the process of getting your child what they need to maximize their learning at school.
This article is for parents looking to set up special services for the first time. The first person you should speak to is the school psychologist or the person who coordinates special education services for your child’s school. Public schools are required to seek out and identify children with special education needs in the community, and initial concerns can come from parents. This process is referred to as Child Find.
Do your homework.
Prior to making this first call, you may need to do some homework to pinpoint the specific educational disability you feel fits your child. You’ll need to provide copies of any diagnostic reports or records that document your child’s condition, and state that you suspect your child has an educational disability. The school may want you to put your request in writing, and that’s okay.
If you don’t get an acceptable response from the school, put your concerns in writing, and request an evaluation for your child. Send that letter to the school principal as well as the district’s director of special education.
Meeting with the school
School districts have different processes and procedures for identifying students needing special services. At some point, you will be invited to a team meeting. The team usually consists of, at a minimum, your child’s classroom teacher, a special education teacher and the school psychologist. Other personnel – such as speech and occupational therapists or the school’s principal – may be present. This meeting can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first. To ensure all of your concerns are addressed, always write them down before the meeting.
At the conclusion of this meeting, there will be a decision as to whether:
- Your child needs a comprehensive evaluation to determine if they are eligible for an IEP or an accommodation plan.
- The team wishes to try some regular education interventions first, evaluate outcomes and, if unsuccessful, proceed with an evaluation.
- Your child is progressing adequately, and no further action is needed.
Regardless of the outcome, the team should give you a document called Prior Written Notice detailing the team’s decision.
Best attitude for success
How you are received by the team members can be critical for a successful experience. You want to be seen as an active participant and collaborative problem solver. You don’t want to be seen as someone demanding that the school fix your child. That is not their job. Their job is to provide any needed supports and/or specialized services so your child gains maximum benefit from the school’s curriculum. You want to be seen as a parent who will do what is necessary to help your child succeed in school. When the school sees that you are working hard, they will work harder.
Although collaborative problem solving is the goal, conflicts can arise, and emotions can flare. Keep in mind there are always remedies to resolve conflicts, and I have shared some resources you can access further in this blog. It is important to always communicate in a civil and business-like manner. Remember, you may have to work with these educators for many years.
If the school proposes something you believe is wrong for your child, ask the team for the research or evidence for what they are proposing. For example, “Show me the research that states grade retention is beneficial for children.” Similarly, don’t ask the school to provide something that is not research- or evidenced-based.
Conflicts can arise, and there are a number of ways they can be resolved. Most conflicts fall into two categories:
- The school is not doing something you want them to do.
- The school is doing something you want them to stop.
Knowing your rights is the first step in resolving any conflicts. Your rights are detailed in this document. School teams are supposed to offer you a copy of the Procedural Safeguards at every special education meeting.
You can get further guidance from organizations such as Raising Special Kids and the Arizona Center for Disability Law.
The website for Wright’s Law contains numerous educational materials and resources for parents to learn how to advocate for children who need special education services.