The biggest mistake you can make as a parent is assuming what you are being told by your local school district is accurate. You would be surprised at how many school officials really don’t understand their own policies and procedures. Most of the time, these are well meaning teachers and administrators that just have not read the entire 200 to 300 page policies and procedure manuals that governs special education in their District. Other times they are deliberate misrepresentations to try and persuade the parents to go along with what the District is recommending. Some of the best lines I have heard include:
1. We won’t assess for special education because your child’s emotional issues are causing the academic issues.
Emotional Disturbance is one of the disability categories under IDEA and if that disability is causing the child to not be able to access the curriculum then they would be eligible for services.
2. Thanks for your written request to assess your child for special education but we need to hold a Student Study Team first and decide whether they should be tested.
Once a written request for assessment has been received the School District has 15 days to provide a written assessment plan to the parents and 60 days to conduct the assessments once that plan has been signed. There is no law that says these timelines may be placed on hold while a Student Study Team is convened.
3. We are turning down your Independent Educational Evaluation request and if you disagree you need to take the School District to Due Process.
Once a parent requests an Independent Educational Evaluation the School District must say yes, or if they say no, the School District must file for a Due Process Hearing and explain to a hearing officer why their original assessment was accurate.
4. I understand that you think your child isn't ready to graduate but the only way your child won’t be graduating is if the School District tells us it’s okay.
Graduation is a change of placement and if the parents disagree with the change of placement and file for a Due Process Hearing the current placement will be subject to a Stay Put until the hearing officer makes a decision.
5. This is the only day the IEP team can make a meeting so you must attend on this day.
Parents are a crucial part of the IEP team and the School District must make every attempt to accommodate the parents schedule. This does not include an unreasonable demand like holding an IEP at midnight on the weekend but it does mean creating a time that works for them.
6. We don't do 504 plans at this School.
If the School receive Title I funds they have to follow Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
When talking to School District officials on the phone I often have a PDF version of their policies and procedures in front of me. When I am told something that doesn’t make sense I will do a keyword search and double check the information. If, the information doesn’t make sense I will ask the person to clarify and say I have the policy in front of me and the information you just gave me seems different. I then ask them to clarify the information because I must of misunderstood. You would be surprised how often asking a person to repeat or clarify a comment will change the answer or give you the additional information you needed. At this point a well meaning staff member will look up the policy or ask to call me back after they research the answer some more. Asking clarifying questions in an unassuming manner has become a great tool for me to gauge the quality of the person I am dealing with.