If a bear cub wanders into your campsite, you know to be extra cautious — because you know somewhere in the underbrush there's a mama bear ready to protect her young. As a parent, your instinct is to protect your child. When it comes to making sure your child is being afforded every opportunity to succeed in school, it's best not to come bounding out of the underbrush!
A critical first step is to gather information about your child's progress and understand your rights under the law. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides very specific procedural safeguards, or rights, to help parents advocate for their child's educational well-being. So settle down for a few minutes under the protective umbrella of IDEA, think about your bear cub rooting through picnic baskets filled with educational content and skill-building activities, and learn your rights under the IDEA. Or, directly visit our Parent Guide to IDEA to explore the guide chapter by chapter.
Under IDEA, you have the right to:
- Examine all of your child's records;
- Participate in all meetings concerning your child;
- Agree or disagree with placement decisions;
- Request independent evaluations at public expense;
- Request a hearing to present your concerns about your child's education, and
- Be provided written notice of decisions made by the school district.
You are the guardian of your child's future, and no one knows your child as well as you do. Together with school personnel, it's your shared responsibility to make sure that your child learns the skills needed to succeed in school and beyond. Reach out to people at your child's school and be a willing and active partner in developing and implementing a plan that ensures your child's academic growth and sets them on a path to becoming a fully engaged and contributing member of society.
You Are a Key Decision-Maker
Even though you may not have formal background or training in education or another related profession, you are a key decision-maker in your child's education and you must be knowledgeable about your child's disability, strengths, weaknesses, and needs. Make sure you understand:
- The evaluation and eligibility process that can lead to the development of an Individualized Education Program (IEP)
- How to measure your child's progress
- What is meant by scientific research-based methodologies
- You are a significant member of your child's IEP team. Unless you submit written consent for the school to make decisions without your input (which you should never do!), the school must include you as an equal partner and take into account any questions and concerns you have about your child's education. The school must also provide you with an opportunity to detail the goals, instructional methodologies and techniques that are included on your child's IEP.
The call to parents is this: embrace your responsibility and become an invaluable partner with your child's school to ensure that your child receives an effective, meaningful and appropriate education.
Strategies to Help You "Charge the Campsite"
- Develop (and keep up-to-date) an "educational binder" for your child, including all test data, report cards, progress notes, IEPs, fact sheets about your child's disability and work samples. Keep these materials on hand and share openly with teachers and others so red tape can be avoided and quick and effective decisions can be made.
- Educate yourself about your child's disability and how it affects your child in the classroom, on the playground, and with friends.
- Join a parent organization where you can seek information, ask questions and learn from other parents' experiences.
- Read, read, read! Keep yourself up-to-date on research findings concerning your child's specific areas of struggle, educational strategies and new types of interventions.
- Know your state's special education regulations. Ask your school district for copies of these regulations (how the law is intended to be implemented) or download them from the Internet. If you need help understanding your rights, look for local and state chapters of organizations like the Learning Disabilities Association (LDA) and International Dyslexia Association (IDA) as well as Parent Training and Information Centers, called PTIs, on the Resource Locator as well.
- Develop a strong partnership with your child's school that demonstrates a level of collaboration with each individual member of your child's team and respect for their expertise.
- Be respectful of the school's time and resources. Be concise during phone calls and meetings, keeping your emotions in check and looking to solutions rather than blame when discussing your child.
- Take responsibility for your child's education and utilize your rights. Take an active role in the development of your child's IEP, follow your child's progress throughout the school year and hold yourself and the school accountable for ensuring meaningful and sufficient progress is made each year. This includes developing the skills he or she needs to be independent beyond the school years and to enjoy lifelong success.
- Bring in others to help you. Invite people you trust and respect to help brainstorm solutions with you, and feel free to invite them to join in conversations with school personnel.
- Stand up, speak out and be counted! Write letters, call your legislators and, if you believe your role as a parent is being denied in your child's school, take action!