New Year, Same Story: How to Advocate for Change in 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.)

Step One:

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.


Step Two:

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.


Step Three:

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.

Step Four:

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.


Step Five:

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.


Step Six:

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.

Step Seven:

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 is an expert in special education procedures, can also help you identify the steps to take and walk you through each step of the process. As a certified professional advocate who also has expertise in dyslexia, I not only help my clients with the special education process, but also in creating an educational plan that serves a dyslexic child’s unique needs. If you feel your advocacy journey isn’t going according to plan, or you're just not sure what small step to take next, it may be time to call a professional for their recommendations. Let’s talk about your child and the kind of support you need!


What would you say to parents who are ready to give up and want to pull their children from public school?

I completely understand the frustration and the overwhelming nature of it all. Yet, I caution parents to think through all of the unintended consequences of this often impulsive decision. For example, if a child attends a private school that does not accept any federal funding, then that child is not afforded any of the federal protections given to students with disabilities in public school. Private schools have the freedom to provide whatever education they see fit for your child and are under no obligation to provide special services and/or accommodations. Homeschooling a child with special needs is also a difficult and complicated undertaking, for which most parents are not trained. For instance, most parents of dyslexic children do not have specialized training necessary to provide explicit, systematic, multisensory, cumulative reading instruction their children will need in order to learn how to read.


Instead, I recommend that parents first exhaust all of their options in the public school system. Having been there as a parent myself, and as an advocate working alongside hundreds of parents, I can attest to the long and often arduous journey that is the special education process. However, our public schools do have the resources, ability, and obligation to provide our children with the free and appropriate education they are entitled to in order to meet their unique needs. And you, as a parent of a special needs child, often have the strength and tenacity you need to help your child get all of the support they deserve!



Do you need help creating a plan for your dyslexic child’s education? Are you ready to see your child learn and thrive in school? If so, I can help! I have helped countless families transform the lives of their children, and create more peace and harmony at home.

While it isn’t always easy, it CAN happen, and I will support you every step of the way. Find out how I can help your family during a complimentary Discovery Call. I would love to talk with you about your child and how I might make a difference for them and your family!