My top 5 advocacy tips:

1. Trust your instincts when it comes to advocacy tips or feelings. If you think, your child has disabilities in certain areas trust yourself. No one knows your child like you do, and you are the best judge of what will help your child learn. It is my experience that special education personnel may try and tell you that your instincts are wrong, but only accept this, if there is concrete evidence to back it up. You are the only advocate that your child has, and they are depending on you to advocate for needed related and special education services.

2. Important educational issues need to be handled by letters not telephone calls or e mails, so that you can begin developing a paper trail for documentation, you may need in the future, to help you in a dispute with special education personnel. As far as sending e-mails to special education personnel, I do not like to use e-mail, as e-mails are kept in an electronic record, and not in the child’s written educational record.

If you have a verbal conversation with school personnel and want to document the conversation, you can always write a short letter to the person that you had the conversations with. Try and keep the letter to one page, date it, and give a summary of the conversation. Also, keep a copy for yourself.

3. If special education personnel say something that does not sound right to you, ask them: “Please show me in writing where in Federal or State law it states you have the right to do what you want to do or not do what I asked you to do to benefit my child’s education.” In my opinion, this is one of the most important advocacy skills that parents need to learn, because of the amount of misinformation that is given to parents. If school personnel cannot show you in writing from Federal or State law where it states they have the right to do something or do not have to do something you asked them to do, you know that they are not being truthful.

Use the same procedure if school personnel state that they have to do something, or cannot do something because it is school policy-ask to see the policy in writing, and also ask for a transcript of the board meeting where the policy was passed.

4. If your school district evaluates your child for disabilities and states that your child does not have any disabilities (even though you believe they do), and is not eligible for special education services, you have the right to an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at public expense (which means that the school district pays for it). You must disagree with the school’s evaluation, (could be over the actual testing, the areas tested, the interpretation of the testing, the findings and conclusion of the testing, etc) to be able to receive and obtain an IEE at public expense.

5. Educate yourself on all laws related to special education and disabilities and requirements so that when your school district tries to say things that are not truthful, you have the information to stand up to them, for the benefit of your child. Learn about State Complaints, Mediation and Due Process to help you resolve any disputes that you have with special education personnel.

By following my top five advocacy tips you will well be on your way to successfully advocating for needed services for your child!

JoAnn Collins is the mother of two adults with disabilities, and has helped families navigate the special education system, as an advocate, for over 15 years. She is a presenter and author of the book “Disability Deception; Lies Disability Educators Tell and How Parents Can Beat Them at Their Own Game.” The book has a lot of resources and information to help parents fight for an appropriate education for their child.

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