Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Jul 05
Avatar of Doug Goldberg

by Doug Goldberg

I don’t understand why every time we post an article on Special Education Advisor regarding advocacy or relationships with your child’s school we always get the same type of comments. If the article is discussing how to collaborate with your school or create a positive relationship I receive comments about how utilizing this philosophy would put you in a weak position. On the other hand, every time we post an article about being a strong advocate for your child we get comments about how this is counterproductive to the collaborative nature of the IEP Meeting. Since when did we start living in a universe where you can’t have a positive relationship with your child’s school and be a strong advocate for their needs? You absolutely can do both, but it requires finesse. Before we talk about how to do this I want you to see two of these comments we have received. On the article Top Ten Methods to Foster IEP Team Collaboration we received this comment:

I guess you never had to get a lawyer involved in your IEPs. It’s nice to see such a sunny and cheery article about IEPs. You say they can collaborate but they can’t. This is nothing but one big contradiction, and unfortunately, would only put parents in a weak position, if they follow this blindly. At the end of the day, you’re supposed to advocate for your child. Everything else is just window dressing.

Actually I have filed for due process against my son’s school four times and he is only in the fifth grade. That being said my wife and I also have a wonderful, collaborative relationship with my son’s IEP Team. Don’t believe me check out this blog entitled, IEP Team Communication All Year Long or this one entitled the Ever Changing IEP 2011.

The other comment we received was on the article Playing (and Winning) the School District’s Game of Chicken via the Lisa Jo Rudy’s Authentic Inclusion Page:

I think this negative view of the SpEd process is counterproductive and will NOT help your child in the long run. Instead of seeing the process as a win/lose game of “chicken”, see it as building a partnership. I have yet to meet a SpEd teacher or administrator that got into the field because they want to do harmful things to kids or preserve the district’s budget at all costs. They want to help your child, just like you do, and it is in your child’s interests to work TOGETHER to find the best way to meet your CHILD’S needs. It is really important to me that my daughters learn to work together with others to solve problems, treat people with respect, and give credit to others’ expertise in their fields. This learning begins at home, with me modeling to them that I am working WITH their schools and teachers to solve problems…not by me showing them that I am going to ‘war’ with the district and that the first one to back down is the ‘loser’.

As I mentioned above, I have filed for due process four times because this was the only way to get the services needed to provide my son a Free Appropriate Public Education and backing down when I was told no by the IEP Team would have had a MASSIVE detrimental effect on his life. That being said, I have also educated myself so that I know how the School District IEP system works. I collaborate on everything I know I can and I respectfully disagree and file for due process on services or placement that my team is not authorized to offer. You do know there is a difference between the law and the system when it comes to IEPs?

Now we come to the aha moment in the article. The individuals saying no to you on the IEP Team are not the ones you should be angry with. Most likely they are as sick to their stomach about saying no to you as you are in hearing them say no. You see, I whole heartedly agree that Special Educators do not get into the field to do harmful things to children. As a matter of fact, I once sat in my son’s IEP meeting and his Teacher showed me a note she had written on a post it that read, “This is a joke”. I was asking for outside speech services because my son had apraxia and the school didn’t want to pay for it. Everyone in the room knew he needed it but they weren’t willing to get fired over offering it to him. I was okay with that, so I filed for due process and negotiated a settlement agreement in formal mediation for the outside speech services my son required. Although they said no to the specific service the IEP team collaboratively crafted an IEP that made it impossible for the District specialists to say no to outside speech when we sat around the mediation table.

Learning to separate the School District and the School Personnel (Teachers, Therapists, Aides, etc.) is one of the most difficult lessons to learn. Once you are able to separate the people (school personnel) from the faceless corporation (the School District bean counters) it is not impossible to have a positive relationship with your school and also be a strong advocate for your child.

You cannot control how others will react when you advocate for your child but you can control how you react. Always be respectful even when you disagree and file for Due Process. This should not cause animosity with the school personnel unless they let it. As long as you act respectful to the school personnel and try and keep your relationship with your child’s Teachers separate from the disagreement you should be fine. Your disagreement is with the School District not with the Teachers. If you find a way to let the Teachers know that you value and respect them then everything should turn out fine.


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11 Responses to “Strong Advocacy & Positive School Relationships are not Mutually Exclusive”

  1. Where on your spectrum do school administrators sit? That is – the special education director or principal for your individual school, or the sped director for your district? After all, they are often involved with the IEP development and writing process, and they are most certainly counting beans!


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    • My son goes to school in he 2nd largest school district in the country. The administrative designees that attend the IEP’s at the elementary school level are the assistant principals BUT they have been stripped of almost all authority for any big ticket items.

      Since there are so many levels the bean counters sit at the District offices in the form of policy makers and due process specialists. They practice the game of chicken and really only start negotiating with those parents who file for due process.

      That doesn’t mean you can’t collaborate with the team about proper goals and in-school services, which we do. Then when we are left with the 1 or 2 items the Team can’t approve we file for due process. Many parents stop at No and never take it to the next stop.

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  2. First, I don’t believe the teachers that work with my kids like the IEP process any better than I do. I also don’t think most of them have a clue about how this is supposed to work, they are trained in educating, not in the IEP process. We’ve run into a couple of bad teachers over the years, only three bad ones out of over 40 teachers for all of my kids, all of whom have different special ed needs. We have adopted kids, all with special needs.

    I have never been disrespectful or rude to members of the IEP team, but not because I have never wanted to be. That just isn’t part of my nature and I don’t think it accomplishes anything. I used to go to meetings with cookies and fruit and waters for the group, which was met with suspicion and a real lack of anything positive. Now I go in dressed for a business meeting with nothing but my files and a tape recorder. I don’t feel the need to try to make these people collaborate with me, it won’t happen. They are doing their job and I am doing mine. I know that in order to get what my kids really need I will probably have to go to due process, but that has not meant going to court. Our district doesn’t want to give anything away in an IEP – that would make them open to giving that up to other parents in their mind. So we go to Due Process, we put it in a Settlement Agreement and they feel like they did their job and my kids get their needs met mostly.

    The fact that I have to go through all of this does not make me happy. The fact that the administrators in our Special Ed department will do everything in their power to screw disabled kids out of what they need and entitled to does not make me happy. I have just learned that this is the way things are and I have to do what I can to make it work out as well as it can for my kids and for every other kid whose parents’ ask for my help.

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    • As a parent it doesn’t make me happy either but just like you I have gotten really good at the process. I’d rather not have to file for due process but it no longer makes me angry and I have learned to seperate the Teachers from the process.

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  3. Interesting. Not too long ago, I posed an IEP Meme for fellow parents of special needs kids to set out what their kids received through the IEP process and how that worked out for them. The response was tremendous and varied. It helped me understand what was and was not available to my child and knowing what other parents received helps me recognize whether my own demands would be “appropriate” or not.

    I understand both the commenters viewpoints that you list above but the harsh reality from where I sit is that this whole process has very little to do with feelings or “relationships” between parents and educators. It’s nice to have the congenial environment solely for the purpose of removing that source of stress. However, efforts to develop “relationships” with people who will tell me whether or not I have to put up a fight for services I deem “appropriate” for my son, imho, are inappropriate. Mainly, because, I feel, that can lull some parents in to a false sense of security and misplaced trust.

    I don’t think you are saying that we should have anything more than mutual respect for each other. That can be accomplished but is not easy enough. I know that there is some deep seated “displeasure” on the part of parents for school administrators (and I am among that group) I do understand that they are doing their jobs but the fundamental difference that makes this such a difficult task is that these are our children. Nothing is more important or precious. Yes, the majority of the time, the school personnel intend to help children. My experience is that they know little to nothing about the disabilities from which the special needs population they service suffer. Even the OTs and the speech therapists but I am in a very small district where the administrator constantly complains about a lack of funding.

    I don’t think all districts are the same. You are in a large district so, in a way, it’s a good PR ploy to separate the “bean counters” from you. It gives the school personnel plausible deniability and the ability to buddy up and say they’d love to give it to you but can’t… Where I’m at, the special ed adminstrator’s job is tied to the bean counting and the bean counter himself (from another agency) is always present at the IEP. So, while I appreciate your perspective, I don’t know how universal it is.

    Thanks for making me think about it though.

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    • Very well said :)

      I am also an advocate and work in many smaller school districts so I am well aware of that dynamic as well. That is why I mentioned knowing your School District’s system. I do however think that what is universal is the fact that it’s never black and white. It is never automatic that being a strong advocate for your child means the school personnel won’t like you or that having a positive relationship with the school is contingent on a parent going along with everything the School says.

      Prepare for the worst and hope for the best but along the way try to seperate the hellish process from the individuals.

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  4. The problem I have is the whole secrecy thing. I have to interpret pages of legalese in the Parents Rights paperwork and it’s like having a second job. As a parent I want to be able to trust the people who are supposed to be experts. Why can’t they just say, “we aren’t authorized to approve X. If you want to take this further then here is what you need to do…” Instead, it’s like a don’t ask, don’t tell situation. How am I supposed to ask for services I don’t know exist? I’m a parent, not an educator. I need to depend on the educators and service providers to communicate completely, honestly and openly. Now that would foster a collaborative, not to mention trusting, relationship.

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  5. I am a sped teacher. Yet, even while teaching in another district, I was unable to get any services for my son at his school. He is highly gifted–nld, neither of which the system cared to understand. And I had problems beginning with central office administrators down to teachers. It was ridiculous!

    Anita learntoreadnow

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    • I’m a special ed teacher too and tried to “play nice” for years. My son didn’t make progress and I sat back , listening to teachers blame him when I knew the true story. I know what really happens in the classroom. If a teacher responds to your email in 5 minutes, it’s because she’s on her computer all day, not working with your child. Teachers aren’t trained in writing strategies for special ed students – they think they’ll just pick it up the way other students do. They push Wilson, which is only for decoding, when your child is not comprehending. IEPs don’t have measurable objectives, PLAAFPs are nothing but opinions, no data. I got an independent evaluation, now use Reading Success, but still fighting $20,000 later. But my child can now read which wasn’t happening a year ago. What they have done is criminal, but they are never accountable.

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  6. The only guests I have had at any of my my IEP meetings (as a Special Education teacher) have been friends of the family or in a couple of cases, someone from an advocacy group in town. I have held many meetings and there have never been any surprises. If there are to be changes, I call (yes, some of us still use a phone) and talk to the parent(s) about the proposed change. If possible, I get a copy of the proposed IEP to them ahead of time. That way, I can get the parents’ input before the meeting and include their requests in the IEP. When I start the meeting, I explain that just because the IEP is typed up, it is only PROPOSED and not set in concrete. I have no problem changing items if needed. Some of the comments regarding issues that people have surprise me. I look at the parent as a team member whose input is more important that ours, after all, the parent knows the child better than we do.

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Strong Advocacy & Positive School Relationships are not Mutually Exclusive

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