Monday, February 20, 2012

Special Education Rules of Engagement

Yesterday, on the excellent Wrightslaw website ( Pat Howey, a paralegal advocate with Wrightslaw wrote that she had recently seen a t-shirt with the following rules of engagement. I agree with her that if you are the parent of a child with a disability, these rules will be helpful in your journey:

1. If the enemy is within range, so are you.
Everything you do has a lasting effect. Do not allow your actions to backfire on your child.

2. The cavalry doesn’t always come to the rescue.
In a pinch you may not be able to find or afford a good parent attorney. Use persuasion instead of threats of a due process hearing.

3. Bring the biggest gun you can handle, lots of ammo, and plenty of reinforcements.
Be prepared for IEP meetings. Give the school members of your child’s team all relevant information before IEP meetings. Bring extra copies of evaluations. Do your homework. Learn all you can about research-based instruction. Take a friend to the meeting. Bring refreshments.

4. Incoming fire always has the right of way.
The school is responsible for scheduling and holding IEP meetings. Thus, school staff has the right of way. Your greatest weapon is paper and a pen. Document everything, even if it seems unimportant at the time. Who fires the first shot is less important than who has the most strategic position after all the shots are fired.

5. Never forget that your weapon was made by the lowest bidder.
Be careful about using the law as a weapon. The IDEA is an important tool but your information about the law may be outdated. Quoting the law causes positions to become polarized. When positions are polarized, a peaceful solution is less likely.

6. Never draw fire; it irritates everyone around you.
It’s difficult to fire at a person who is kind and considerate. Focus on influencing people so they understand your position. Be polite. Treat others with respect — as you would like to be treated. When others are rude, take the high road. When you walk a straighter path, you’ll earn the respect of others.

7. If at first you don’t succeed, bomb disposal is not for you.
Know your strengths and your weaknesses. Not everyone can defuse difficult situations. If you have not learned this skill, you need to work with an experienced parent advocate who specializes in dispute resolution.

8. Any ship can be a minesweeper . . . once.
It’s easy to burn bridges. A good parent advocate also protects the child’s relationships with school personnel. Your child is likely to be in school for a long time.

9. If you see a bomb technician running, make sure to keep up with him.
Will the head special education bomb technician — the special education director or school attorney –be at your child’s IEP meeting? Pay attention. Either you should be worried or you have other members of the IEP team worried. Either way, you need to be prepared.

10. If at first you don’t succeed, call in an airstrike.
When your efforts to negotiate fail, don’t threaten to request a due process hearing. Contact a good parent attorney for advice.

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