New Year, Same Story: How to Advocate for Change in 2021
Updated: Jun 23, 2021
"Ask the Advocate" is our forum to bring you answers to questions that are timely and important to families of students with disabilities. Each month I ask Lorraine Hightower, Dyslexia Advocate and Consultant, your top questions and bring her answers to YOU!
Welcome to 2021! Does it feel like a new day in education?
Honestly, it doesn’t. As the global pandemic continues to take its toll, most students continue to learn virtually from home. The challenges that families faced in 2020 are still with us in 2021.
For some students, distance learning has been a good fit. Many children who have social anxiety, challenges sitting still during class, or physical health problems are benefiting from the ability to learn from the comfort and safety of their own homes. Unfortunately, for most students with disabilities, learning from home simply isn’t working.
Parents and teachers alike share that many children with learning disabilities cannot attend to classes delivered virtually. It has become a parent’s job to ensure that their child is paying attention, using their assistive technology or other accommodations, and completing their assigned work. While school teams may not be in agreement, I contend that they have changed special needs’ students placement from public school in the traditional setting to home without the agreement of each child’s IEP team. IDEA law clearly states, “The placement decision...Is made by a group of persons, including the parents, and other persons knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the evaluation data, and the placement options”, which means that placement is an IEP team decision. You can read the full IDEA regulations on placement here.
Most alarming is that many students are not even receiving services promised in their IEPs, thereby not allowing them to make progress towards their goals. While I have been able to help many of my clients get recovery services to make up for what their child has missed since last March, the majority of parents advocating on their own have been denied recovery services. A local Virginia school district has made it clear that students will not be able to receive recovery services until regular “in person” classroom instruction resumes. As we wait for the resumption of in person classes and the implementation of recovery services, these children's achievement gaps will grow and the problems the school districts have to address in the future will magnify.
What is your advice to parents who are struggling in the ways you mentioned above and looking to make changes in 2021 regarding their child’s education?
I always encourage parents to work for positive change in their child’s education at any time of year! I like to say that any action to help your child is better than just hoping the situation will improve on its own. However, any time you have a big goal to reach, like trying to get special education services or increased services for your child, it can feel overwhelming. Without support, that finish line often looks so far away that no matter how motivated parents are at the beginning of a new year, their motivation can wane by the end of February.
I suggest parents take the approach of setting small, achievable goals that, over time, lead to larger resolution or an impactful difference for their child. Parents should think about which small action they can achieve each day or week, and plan out each small step in order to reach their larger goal. Of course, life happens! Things don’t always go as planned, but if your action steps are broken down and outlined, you are less likely to give up when things go astray. You just give yourself a little more time and ultimately make it happen! Over time, each of those small steps can lead to big changes in your child’s life.
What are some of the small actions you recommend parents take if they are looking to make a change in their dyslexic child’s education?
This is a question that really depends on where you are in your advocacy journey with your child. For instance, if your child has an IEP, but you don’t believe it is being followed with fidelity, your steps for the year would be very different than for someone who is just starting to suspect that their child may have a disability.
As I described earlier, a lot of parents share with me the frustration of having an IEP with promised services that aren’t being delivered. So I will break down the small steps you can take in that example to get big changes for your child. If you are in a different place in your advocacy journey, you can use this example to help you figure out what your small steps might be~ and of course you can always reach out to us for more individualized support!
(Click this link or the image below to download a printable version of these Seven Small Steps.)
Request an IEP Meeting ~
Write an email or letter to your child’s Case Manager or school contact expressing your concern about your child’s services missed during distance learning, the impact of those missed services and request an IEP meeting to discuss your concerns and whether your child meets the criteria to receive recovery services.
Evaluate Your Child’s Current IEP ~
Prepare for your meeting by carefully reviewing your child’s IEP.
Are the goals appropriate for your child’s needs? Do the services address those goals? Which services are being missed? Record the hours of missed services.
Determine Your Requests for Your Child ~
Prepare your requests for your child’s IEP meeting.
Are you looking for make up services to compensate for services that were missed in the past? Are you looking for the resumption of services that were halted? Are you looking for more data to be taken to determine present levels? Be sure to back up all of your requests with information that proves your child’s need for what is being requested.
Attend your child’s IEP Meeting ~
Attend your child’s IEP meeting and present all of the information you’ve been accruing regarding your child’s present levels.
Reading logs or recordings, parent observations, work samples, test results, behavior charts, school district assessments, etc.
Follow Up After Your Child’s IEP Meeting ~
If your requests were heard and the IEP team collaborated to find a solution for your child that you could all agree to, CONGRATULATIONS! If your requests were denied, request a PWN and continue to gather data about your child’s present levels.
Confirm Your Understanding ~
Write a thank you letter to confirm your understanding of decision making during your child’s IEP meeting. If you are still not in agreement with your child’s IEP team, include the services missed during distance learning, the impact of those missed services as well as the team's inability to reach consensus.
Pursue Your Dispute Resolution Options ~
Request a facilitated IEP meeting to discuss the areas of disagreement, file a state complaint, request mediation or consider filing a Due Process claim.
Hopefully whatever dispute resolution step you choose to follow will lead to agreement on the best way
to implement your child’s IEP with fidelity and make up for any lost instruction that has caused your child harm. In the most egregious cases, you may wish to get a special education lawyer involved to file due process. For more information about requesting make up services you can also refer to our blog, Understanding Compensatory Education.
Where can I find out more about the Special Education process so that I can plan out my small steps?
The first place to start is on your school district website and your state’s department of education website. There you will find the regulations governing students with disabilities and procedures for your state. Most times you will find a downloadable PDF that will outline the steps you need to take to advocate for your child. While it can be helpful to call your child’s school, you may not receive all of the information that you could receive if you do the research yourself. For example, you can see how thorough these online resources are by reviewing the Parents Guide to Special Education created by the Virginia Department of Education.
I would be remiss not to mention that a professional Education Advocate, who