I read with interest Pat Howey’s article about Advocating in Your Own School District. In that article Pat said, “I do not believe that advocating in your own school system is a conflict of interest.”
I agree. There is no intrinsic conflict of interest when advocating in your own school district.
There are some possible pitfalls though.
Some things to think through before you work with another family:
1. Are you angry with the school/staff?
Anger when your child has been denied an education is natural. Do not let your anger leak over into someone else’s situation. The other family may be angry as well. Let them know you understand, but do not incite higher anger. It will not serve them or their child.
2. Are you able to separate your child’s situation from that of other children?
What worked/works for your child will not necessarily be what works for someone else’s child. An advocate’s function is not to direct parents toward a particular program or approach. It is to help parents learn their rights, how the process works, and to help them advocate for their choices for their child.
3. Are you able to let other parents make choices that you would not make?
If what you would choose is the only option you can accept from another parent, then you need to step back. How will you react if the parent accepts what the school says/offers? If you cannot let parents make their own choices, then you are not truly advocating. Remember, the word advocate means to speak or act on behalf of another, not to layer your opinions over theirs.
You may advocate for one of your children when you have another child in the district. You may advocate for another family. Retaliation is a natural fear in any advocacy situation.
- First, it seldom happens. The vast majority of school staff is not malicious. They have built their career around assisting children.
- Second, there are processes to stop any retaliation if it does occur. You have developed advocacy skills; use them.
Remember, advocacy should not be a win-lose situation. It may become that, but if you start out determined to “win”, you lose the best chance of developing a true team approach.