How to Advocate for Your Child

You don’t have to be an attorney for special education students to be a strong advocate for your child! An attorney for special education students know the rules of the special education process and knows how to use them for the client’s benefit. The best way for parents of special education students to advocate for their children is to BE INFORMED about:

  • What special education is
  • Who is entitled to receive it
  • When is it appropriate for a child to receive it
  • How should special education services be delivered

Learn the what, who, when & how of being a better advocate for your child!

You don’t have to be an attorney for special education students to be a strong advocate for your child!

WHAT is special education?

Special education is specially designed instruction provided at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. Specially designed instruction is instruction whose content, methodology, or delivery is adapted, as appropriate, to the needs of an eligible child to address that child’s unique needs resulting from the child’s disability and to ensure access to the general curriculum.

Special education includes various related services that students with a disability require in order to benefit as a special education students. Examples of common related services include transportation, audiology, counseling, interpretation, occupational therapy, orientation and mobility, parent counseling and training, physical therapy, school health services, speech and language, and school-based social work services.

WHO is eligible for special education?

Special education students are between the ages of 3-21 with no regular diploma or GED, have an identified disability, and need special education and related services. Under the federal Individuals with Education Act (IDEA), every state is obligated to identify, locate, and evaluate every child with a disability residing in that state who needs special education, including children who are homeless or wards of the state. This is considered the “Child Find” requirement of the IDEA.

WHEN Should a Child Receive Special Education?

Parental consent is the trigger for the initial evaluation process. Once a school district has identified a student who should be evaluated for eligibility for special education services, the district must seek parent consent to evaluate the student in all areas of suspected disability. Once consent is received, the evaluation must be conducted within 60 days. If you suspect your child has a disability and would like to have the district evaluate your child, you should make your request in writing to the district. On receipt, the district must evaluate your child within 60 days.

After the initial evaluation, the district must give notice to the parent to convene a Team Meeting to discuss the evaluation and the student’s eligibility for services. The meeting must be scheduled at a time and place and with sufficient notice to give parent the opportunity to attend. The attendees must include the parent, at least one regular education teacher, at least

one special education teacher and/or provider, an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of the evaluation, and any other individuals with knowledge or expertise regarding the student. If you believe there are relevant people that should be included at the team meeting, you should request that those individuals attend the meeting. This could include an aide, a therapist, or an outside provider who has relevant information about your child’s needs. If a team meeting is held without the parent, the team has committed a due process violation by depriving the parent from participating in the team process.

Before the team meeting, you should write a list of specific issues that you want to discuss with the team. If the team fails to discuss any of the issues that you raise, ask the team to include the issue in the team’s Prior Written Notice which should be provided to you after the meeting.

HOW should special education services be provided?

Special education students must have their services documented in an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which is a written statement that is developed, reviewed, and revised at least once per year by the team for a student with a disability. The IEP documents all the special education and related services that the child needs to make progress. The IEP must contain:

  • Parent’s Concerns
  • Student’s Present Levels of Performance, which is a description of how the student is currently functioning and the child’s skills. As an advocate, make sure that the Present Levels are accurate and describe what your child can actually do.
  • Student’s Goals, which should describe what the student is expected to achieve during the one-year IEP period. Each goal must contain an accurate baseline of what the child is currently able to do and a measurable goal. When you look at both the baseline and the goal, you should be able to measure the student’s progress towards the goal. There is no limit on the number of goals in a student’s IEP.

The IEP should be drafted during the meeting. When you are presented with your student’s IEP, bring it home with you. You should not feel pressured to consent to the IEP at the meeting. Instead, you should take the time to review it carefully after the meeting and highlight anything that you do not agree with or that you do not understand. Follow up with the school with any of these issues that you have found in the IEP, and make sure you understand everything that is it the IEP before you consent.

As a parent, what can I do to be a better advocate for my child?

As a parent, advocating for a special education student can be difficult. IEP’s can be confusing to understand, and it is often hard to hear about what is wrong with your child.

Request the Records

It is impossible to advocate for a special education student if you do not have the students

records. The IEP’s, assessments, protocols, report cards etc. These are all important parts of a special education student’s records. If you do not have a copy of the last IEP or IEP’s, it would be very difficult to know whether the student made progress, what goals were being worked on, and what services did or did not work. If you do not have a complete copy of your students’ records, request them. In California, when you request a special education student’s records, the school has five (5) days to provide them.

Read the Records

Once you have the records review them. Understanding what is in the special education student’s records allows a parent to actively participate in the IEP process. This can be touch, there is a lot of information in the educational records, and a great deal of it is foreign to most parents of special education students. A good way to address this issue to is to rad the records with a highlighter and highlight everything you do not agree with or understand. Then either call and IEP to have the information explained or place the questing in an e-mail to the IEP team to have the concerns explained.

Put It in Writing

Always put any requests or concerns in writing! Most special education attorneys will tell you if it is not in writing it does not exist. When you request an IEP meeting, or an assessment make sure to put those requests in writing. In fact, many areas of the law are only triggered when the request is made in writing. It can also be good practice to follow up with any conversation in wiring, confirming what was discussed.

Prepare for the IEP Meeting

IEP meetings can often be difficult. Again, it is tough hearing what is wrong with your child, and there is a lot of information presented at IEP that is tough to follow. Being prepared for the IEP can help parents of special education students take an active role in the IEP meeting. The following are a few tips that can help parents prepare for an upcoming IEP of a special education student.

  1. Read the last IEP.
  2. Write down your questions and concerns before the IEP meeting.
  3. Don’t go alone! Bring someone with you. It can be anyone, an advocate, family member, or friend.

If you believe the school district has failed to follow the rules with respect to your child’s IEP, and as a result, your child is failing to make appropriate progress in their education, you may consider retaining an attorney for special education students who are experienced in evaluating a student’s school records and determining whether there is a valid due process claim against the school district.

The more you know the rules of the special education progress, the better you can advocate for your child. If you believe you need an attorney for special education students by your side, please contact the Law Office of Matthew Storey, APC for a consultation at (858) 433-1060.