Remain silent? Not on my watch. We all send our kids off to school with all the confidence that the teachers, administrators and other professionals are equipped to teach our children what they need to know to be successful, happy, contributing members of society. Our kids start school with excitement in their bellies and an organic motivation to learn. But sometimes best laid plans go sour and you are left wondering, what are my rights and the rights of my child to receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)? The rights you have are the same as parents of children with autism, cerebral palsy, speech impairments, sensory integration disorders, but the fact of the matter is that advocating for a child with dyslexia is far more difficult and you need to be diligent, prepared, persistent and educated about your rights.
You have the right to have your child assessed.
No matter what grade your student is in, how old they are, what gender they are, where they live or what type of school they attend, if you suspect that your student’s academic struggles are related to difficulty in reading and writing, you have the right to not only request to have him or her assessed (in writing), but to have that assessment done when you request it. Schools are not permitted to deny or delay testing due to Response to Intervention (RTI) (See memo here: http://www.feat.org/Portals/0/PublicDocuments/document/OSEP.pdf).They cannot deny an assessment because the child is not yet in the third grade. They cannot deny assessment because boys will outgrow it. They cannot deny because he or she just isn’t that far behind yet. In fact, under Child Find:
Child Find requires all school districts to identify, locate and evaluate all children with disabilities, regardless of the severity of their kids group disabilities. This obligation to identify all children who may need special education services exists even if the school is not providing special education services to the child.
The IDEA requires all States to develop and implement a practical method of determining which children with disabilities are receiving special education and related services and which children are not. (20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(3)
You have to right to disagree
No one knows your student better than you. If you request and assessment (in writing) and are denied you have the right to disagree. You can disagree by asking for an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) or you can file for Due Process. A denial is not the end of the road, in fact a denial at this phase opens the door to a comprehensive evaluation completed by a highly qualified professional.
You have the right to be part of the team.
Have you ever had the sneaking suspicion that the IEP team met before the official IEP meeting and pre-determined what would be offered, what is appropriate and created goals? Well, you are probably right – they usually do. The problem with this practice is the parent/guardian has the legal right to be part of the team and have parental involvement (5 | 34 CFR §300.501(b)—Opportunity to examine records; parent participation in meetings).
If you don’t think the goals are comprehensive enough (do they cover all five components of reading? Are they measureable? Is the baseline objective?), then speak up. If the hours of service seem too little for the needs outlined in the assessment, then speak up. You are an integral part of this team. Is homework taking three hours when it should only take 45 minutes – tell the team. Go ahead and consider yourself the captain of this team.
You have the right to disagree
If feel as though you have been made a benchwarmer on this team, you have the right not only to disagree but to set the record straight. This is your student; you know him or her better than anyone else and would behoove you not to let others make educational decisions without serious consideration of your input.
You have the right to help write the IEP
I am always baffled by the goals portion of an IEP meeting. They are almost a second thought. The meeting leader reads through them and then almost always says, “Is everyone ok with the goals?” This is your chance, and your right, to say heck no, I am not ok with the goals and here are my questions: What about a spelling goal? What about a fluency goal? Where is the baseline measure? Why is there one goal for reading when there are five components of reading? Why are things misspelled? This is your chance, and your right, to help create the educational plan for your student. You have done your homework and you are ready to make sure the goals are set to help them achieve at a level they are capable of and nothing below that. You will be an active member in determining what your student is capable of achieving.
You have the right to disagree
The goals are not something to gloss over. If an IEP is signed with subpar goals the school is only responsible for those goals. Schools will always say that a student has met their goals and therefore made reasonable progress even if the goals stink. So, you have to right to disagree with the goals and make suggestions.
You have the right to think about it
No matter what anyone tells you and what pressure you feel at an IEP meeting, you are in no way obligated to sign anything other than attendance at any meeting. In fact, even in IEP meetings where I think the offer of FAPE is solid and in the best interest of the child, I will advise a parent/guardian to sleep on it. Take this opportunity to read through it a few more times and make more suggestions. If another meeting is needed, then so be it. This is a legal document that directly affects your student’s educational future.
A little knows fact is that you can also agree to parts of the IEP. For example, if you like the Assistive Technology (AT) offer, you can agree to that it can begin immediately. Same goes for any other related service such as speech and occupational therapy.
You have the right to disagree.
You do not have to sign the IEP at all. If you disagree with the services offered, the goals, the accommodations or any other part of the IEP, you have the right to say no thank you. You then have the right to either, file Due Process, hire or consult an advocate, pull your child out of that school or say to heck with this whole thing and get private tutoring. Whatever you decide, you drive the bus.
You have the right to change the world by changing the laws.
Can you hear it? There is a change afoot and it is gaining momemtum at a pace that I have not seen in the dyslexia community in years. It is parent-driven and it is powerful. Groups of parents, known as Decoding Dyslexia, in twenty-seven states (as of today) have banded together and decided to change the laws. In our beautiful country, you have the right and the power to change what is not working. This is not the time to sit back and let things happen, this is the time to exercise your rights to the fullest extent possible because people are starting to listen.
Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley is the co-founder of the Dyslexia Training Institute (www.dyslexiatraininginstitute.org and www.dyslexiadr.com.) She is currently writing, Putting the D in to the IEP, and you can read excerpts at www.dyslexiadr.blogspot.com. She received her doctorate in Literacy with a specialization in reading and dyslexia from San Diego State University and the University of San Diego. Dr. Sandman-Hurley a Certified Special Education Advocate assisting parents and children through the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and 504 Plan process. She is an adjunct professor of reading, literacy coordinator and a tutor trainer. Kelli is trained by a fellow of the Orton-Gillingham Academy and in the Lindamood-Bell, RAVE-O and Wilson Reading Programs. Kelli is the Past-President of the San Diego Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. She has presented at numerous conferences as well as provided professional development for k-12 teachers. Join the Dyslexia Training Institute at www.facebook.com/dyslexiatraining