Tips to help parents effectively advocate for students with disabilities
Updated: Sep 15
As the new, uniquely hectic school year gets underway, both parents and schools have a lot of responsibilities pulling people in different directions. Here are some tips to make sure the school does what is required to meet your student’s educational needs.
1. Why parents should always get it in writing: Make sure all communications with the school about your child and their needs are in writing.
E-mailing your child’s teachers and administrative staff is the best way to do this.
Texting can work but it is not ideal. The school often does not have to keep those records as the texts are on the teacher’s personal phones. If you prefer to text, it is a good idea to save copies so you have a record of them.
If you want to talk to your teacher because it is quicker and easier, then after the conversation, follow up with an email summarizing your discussion so there is a written record of it.
Having written records reduces miscommunication and helps to make sure the parent and school are on the same page. This will also increase the chances of getting your child’s needs met.
2. Why you should consider recording your child’s next IEP meeting: IEP meetings can be intimidating. There are often a lot more school personnel present outnumbering the parents. There is a lot of information to go through and sometimes a short time to cover everything. It is vital that parents fully participate in the IEP process.
Here is why recording helps:
Sometimes it is hard to catch everything that everyone says in the meeting and remember it.
If you are taking notes (as you should) you may still miss some important contributions from other members of the IEP team.
You can pay more attention to what the team is saying at the meeting knowing it will be picked up on the recording.
After the meeting you can review the recording and make sure the IEP includes what was discussed in the meeting to make sure your child gets the services and supports discussed at the meeting.
If the IEP does not include something you agreed on in the meeting, the recording can help to make sure it gets added to the IEP.
There are some apps you can use on your smart phone. I have used Smart Recorder and it works well, but there are a number of other options. With meetings still happening remotely, you might also be able to record on Zoom or other platform the school is using. But plan on investigating if it is possible to do so before the meeting so you are not stuck once the meeting starts.
Tell the school you are recording the meeting. Most Arizona districts will not have a problem and they will probably even record the meeting too.
3. Why you need to have ready access to your child’s educational records: Students with Individualized Education Programs have a lot of educational records that need to be easy to access. These records include the IEPs, evaluations (which are updated at least every three years), reports of progress (which the school is supposed to provide every quarter along with the school report cards), and prior written notices (documenting the school’s decisions and the reasons for them). You may also have private evaluations, medical diagnoses and written communications to and from the school.
In order to effectively advocate for your child, here are a few suggestions to make sure you can readily find them.
If they are all electronic, you can have a folder with the files on your computer. If the school has a web platform with these records, it is a good idea to download these records to your computer so you can have a copy of them.
If you prefer paper records (which may better for an IEP meeting), consider putting the records in a binder so you can access the documents when you need them. A binder should at least include the last two IEPs, most current evaluation report and prior written notices.
If you have an IEP meeting coming up and do not have copies of these records, consider requesting copies of the records from the school to review before the meeting.
The school is required to make sure each IEP is appropriate to meet the student’s needs based on information it has when the IEP is written. The IEP must be updated at least annually. So if your child is not making progress on the IEP goals from the previous IEP or not meeting the goals, the school should consider making changes to the IEP to address those concerns. With organized records, you are in a better position to know how your child has done with previous IEPs and if changes need to be made.
These tips can help you make sure everyone is on the same page and if there are problems you are in a better position to protect your child’s rights by having good documentation.