You Are Your Child’s Best Educational Advocate

You Are Your Child’s Best Educational Advocate

Written By:  Carol Edelstein, AdoptionWorks Program Director

Getting involved in your child’s education is a critically important thing to do as a parent.  You have the right to be involved in every decision that is made at your child’s school about his/her education, including the process of finding out if he/she is in need of any special educational services.  If your child is having difficulty learning in school due to any possible type of cognitive, emotional, behavioral or physical challenge, you as the parent have the right to request that your child be assessed to determine if he/she has a disability, and if so, exactly what deficits have been identified.    

How Do I Know If My Child Needs To Be Evaluated

First, it is essential to have regular communication with your child’s teacher(s) to get their feedback about how your child is performing in all areas in the classroom.  Obviously, academic performance should be closely monitored.  Beyond this, it is also important to know if your child is experiencing social, emotional or behavioral challenges that impede his/her ability to function  and learn in the school environment.   For example, does your child have frequent emotional outbursts that require him/her to be removed from the classroom?   Does conflict with peers consistently interfere with your child’s ability to be a positive, productive member of the class?  Does your child have such a difficult time complying or following directions that he/she has become extremely disruptive to the daily routine?   Also important, is being aware of what homework assignments are being given, when they are due, and when tests are scheduled so that you can more easily monitor your child’s academic performance.   

How Do I Request An Evaluation

If you are concerned that your child is struggling in any area of their learning or development, you have the right to request a meeting to discuss having your child tested to determine if she/he has any type of disability.  These requests should always be made in writing to the school administrator(s), and the school is mandated to respond to your request within a defined amount of time which often varies by state .   In response to your request, a team meeting would be scheduled.  The school is required to notify you in writing of any meeting that is scheduled to discuss your child’s special educational needs.  You, as the parent, are a vital member of the team, and In order to be your child’s best advocate, it is necessary to attend these meetings and to be a strong voice for your child.  The professional members of this team may include your child’s teacher(s), a guidance counselor, a school psychologist, a special education teacher, a school administrator (principal or assistant principal) and possibly a specialist in the area that your child appears to be struggling (ie: speech pathologist, reading specialist, etc).  It can be intimidating for some parents to be assertive among this group of professionals, but remember that you are your child’s best educational advocate!      

What Can I Expect During and After the Team Meeting?

At the initial meeting, the team will make a determination as to whether or not your child is in need of testing.  It is up to you to share your concerns openly and honestly, and to make the case for testing if you feel it is warranted.  Once your child has been evaluated, a follow-up meeting will be scheduled to discuss the findings and determine if your child meets the eligibility requirements for special educational services.  If so, the services that are found to be indicated would be provided by the public school system at no charge to the parent.  Depending upon your child’s unique needs, either an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 Plan can be developed and implemented.    

What Is the Difference Between and IEP and Section 504 Accommodations

Both an IEP and 504 Plan are federally mandated and designed to ensure that students receive a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment.  The Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) provides for specialized instruction and related services in order to close the gap between the child’s academic abilities and that of his/her same age peers.   Some of the these services are provided by a professional in the area in which your child is struggling (e.g., reading specialist, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, etc.).  As part of the IEP, there are also options for special accommodations to give your child the optimal opportunity to learn.  There are many different types of accommodations that can be made, depending on the type of challenge that your child is having in the classroom.  Some examples of accommodations might be preferential seating in the classroom, providing the child with copies of class notes, extra test taking time, or a classroom assistant to read test questions aloud, to name just a few possibilities. 

Not all children who have disabilities are in need of the specialized instruction afforded under an IEP.  A 504 Plan is appropriate for students who have an identified disability under the law and require special accommodations or modifications to ensure equal access and opportunity within the learning environment.  For example, a child with a hearing impairment might require a sign language interpreter in order to fully participate in the curriculum. 

There are other important differences between IEP and 504 Plans that parents should be aware of related to notification requirements, written plans, parental rights, and the laws that govern each

Be a Strong Advocate!

If you believe that your child has an impairment that requires special educational services, then it is up to you to advocate for an evaluation and additional services.  It is your right and responsibility to fully participate in your child’s education. 


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