This chapter is specifically for parents to help as you advocate for your child with special needs who is either in high school or college.
Some of this may sound very basic, but in the world of Special Education, knowledge of your rights and what is available for your child is crucial for your child’s success. All too often parents may feel too intimidated to ask questions or show that they don’t understand something. If you want your child to get better grades, start with the basics and arm yourself with your rights. Parents know their children best, and are their child’s best advocate.
For children who have special education needs (k-12) most information is found under the IDEA Act at Idea.ed.gov. You need to know that your child has many rights and this is one place to find out what they are. Look up your state’s special education regulations as well. Know your procedural safeguards. This is the best way to start to become informed of what you and your child are entitled to.
If your child is 18 or over, you will want to look at the ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act at Ada.gov as the information varies for adults. You will also want more information on what is known as a 504 plan. Visit this site for more.
If you don’t understand your regulations or procedural safeguards, call your state’s special education department and have someone explain them to you.
Know and understand your child’s strengths and needs. These are determined through an evaluation by the district and/or a private school Psychologist. The student’s identified needs are what drive the IEP goals, specially designed instruction, and related services such as speech therapy or time with a reading or math specialist.
If you don’t understand your child’s evaluation, make sure it is explained to you in a way that you understand. You are an equal member of the IEP team, and need to have “informed consent” when making decisions on what goals or services your child needs. These meetings can be long and confusing with the ‘experts’ weighing in on your child.
After understanding your child’s evaluation, if you do not agree with some or all of it, you have the right to ask for an Independent Educational Evaluation at public expense. This is called an IEE, and it means you get to choose a private evaluator that the school district would have to pay for. Further explanation on how to obtain an IEE should be in your procedural safeguards.
Know what reading/math programs are being used. Make sure that they address the areas of need your child has. Just because your district is using a reading/math program, it might not be the one that is right for your child. You can ask for a different research-based program if the one they have is not appropriate.
Keep track of progress reports, and ask for the progress monitoring data used to track your child’s goals. Make sure it is reported to you in a way you understand. Make sure you get progress reports at least three to four times a school year.
School districts can provide your child with a tutor or time with a reading or math specialist if appropriate to meet your child’s needs. This time can and should be written into the IEP.
Make certain that your child’s IEP is written with names of people responsible for implementing each section and full accountability for all people listed on the IEP.
If your child is found to be eligible for extended school year services, these services should be as individualized as the regular school year program. Your child should not just go to the district’s ESY program because “that’s all they have”. If it does not meet your child’s needs, then a different program needs to be put in place. Again, this could be private tutoring or working with a reading/math specialist.
Transition planning is extremely important. This is what is going to give your child the skills to be independent beyond high school. Transition goals should be outcome based not just going to the guidance counselor once a year to look at colleges. Make sure the classes your child is taking match the entrance requirements for the major they are exploring.
Know what age your child will start being invited to the IEP meetings. It is extremely important that the IEP team hears from the student what does and does not work for them. Your child should tell the team what concerns they have and what their plans are for their future. If they don’t want to go to the meeting, have them write something to be read at the IEP meeting.
For students with a Section 504 plan the same tips apply.
Section 504 plans can contain measurable goals, objectives, and related services – not just accommodations.
For any student going into a 2 or 4 year college/university program, you will need to have a full re- evaluation within a year of starting the program. Once the student gets into college, it’s all on the student to get the accommodations they need to be successful.
All colleges/universities that accept federal funding must address the needs of students with disabilities under Section 504.
Go to the college/university disability office, make an appointment and show them the current evaluation. Some accommodations requests must be made directly to the professor. Keep in mind that under Section 504 the school only has to make “reasonable” accommodations.
There are many more resources available for you online and if you need additional help to insure your child has the services they need I suggest consulting a special education advocate.
Becca Devine is Special Educational Advocate and the parent of a child with autism. She works with families throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Devine is currently the Vice President of the Pennsylvania Education for All, Inc., on the board of PA-TASH and the chair of their Education Committee.
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