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.