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How to Deal with a Hostile Environment at School

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Lynne writes, "We are having great difficulty with a 'hostile environment' at the school. Our child is three years old and has an aide. The teacher and teacher's assistant are angry at the aid because she informed us that our son, who has feeding problems, was force fed during his first week in the school."

"After she told us what happened, we questioned the school and the teacher. From that point on, the environment has become unbearable for the aide and is having a negative impact on our son."

"The district informed our aide that she is not to tell us about anything that goes on in the classroom. They say the aide is not following the direction of the teacher and is too overprotective of our son. We've had several meetings and have written several letters to our school district regarding this situation."

"Does the aide have a right to tell us what is going on in the classroom? My guess is yes. Is there any caselaw or sections of the law that we can refer to?"

Pete & Pam Wright Answer

Pete: As a parent, your mission is to make the school want to help your child and your family. You will not succeed at this mission by blaming, writing complaint letters, or waving caselaw at school personnel.

The school will react to perceived threats by pulling their wagons in a circle, preparing to defend themselves if you sue them. Do not be surprised if the aide who took your side against the school is transferred or fired.

These behaviors are not unique to schools. They happen in most organizations when there is a perceived threat from the outside.

Pam: How do you react when another person - someone you do not know well - makes demands of you? If you are like most people, you dig in and hunker down for a fight. When a person makes demands on you, I doubt that you rethink your position. You prepare to defend yourself.

Restructure Your Relationship with the School

Pete: Your child is three years old. You will be dealing with the school for many years. What can you do?
You need to restructure your relationship with school personnel.

Pam: In our training programs, we tell parents, "Unless you are prepared to remove your child from public school forever, you need to view your relationship with the school as a marriage without the possibility of divorce. You need to focus on solving problems while protecting the relationship."

Advocacy Skills

Pete: I do not recommend that you stop advocating for your child. I do recommend that you learn effective advocacy skills and techniques. Start with these articles:

In
Understanding the Playing Field, Indiana advocate Pat Howey discusses trust, expectations, power struggles between parents and schools and how to avoid them, the parental role, and the need to understand different perspectives.

When Parents & Schools Disagree
- Educational consultant Ruth Heitin describes common areas of disagreement between parents and schools and offers suggestions about how to handle these disagreements.

How to Disagree with the IEP Team - Without Starting WW III - Pete Wright answers questions about IEPs and how to disagree with the IEP team without starting World War III. Learn about the Rules of Adverse Assumptions, how to use tape recording and thank you letters to clarify issues, and how to deal with an IEP team bully.

You need to learn to use tactics and strategies - letter-writing, persuasion, and negotiation. Consider attending a Wrightslaw advocacy training program or Boot Camp - we do programs around the country.

Letter-Writing

Pete: Read our article, "Letter to the Stranger." This article may change the way you view the process and your role forever.

Pam: Read the articles and sample letters in the Paper Trails & Letters section of the site. Start with these two articles:

In Art of Writing Letters, you learn to use tactics and strategies when you write letters to the school. You learn about the Blame Approach and the Storytelling Approach; the sympathy factor; first impressions; pitfalls; and the powerful decision-making Stranger. 

If you have a problem with the school or concerns about your child's program, you must document your concerns in writing. 12 Rules for Writing Great Letters includes rules for writing letters and editing tips. 

Negotiation & Persuasion

Pam: Parents need to understand that they negotiate with school staff for special education programs. In
Learning to Negotiate is Part of the Advocacy Process, advocate Brice Palmer describes negotiating in advocacy, explains important rules, offers excellent tactics and techniques.

Pete: I also recommend that you to read two books (assuming you have already read our book, From Emotions to Advocacy!)

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury will teach you how to negotiate "win-win" solutions to disputes without damaging your relationship with the school.

How to Argue and Win Every Time by Gerry Spence will teach you how to persuade others to see things as you do, understand your perspective, and WANT to help. How to Argue includes great stories about how people dealt with situations similar to yours. Read the story in Chapter 8 about the mother who wanted her county to fix a dangerous road. After you read this story, you will understand what you need to do.

You can get these books from most libraries and bookstores. You can also order them from The Advocacy Bookstore (our online bookstore).

About the Authors

Peter W. D. Wright, Esq., and his wife, Pamela Darr Wright are the authors of Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition , Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition , and Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind.

The Wrights built the wrightslaw.com and fetaweb.com sites and publish The Special Ed Advocate, the free online newsletter about special education law and advocacy.

Pete and Pam also do training programs about special education law and advocacy. To see if they are coming to your area soon, visit their speaking schedule page.

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Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, by Pam and Pete Wright
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Wrightslaw: All About IEPs
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Wrightslaw: All About Tests and Assessments
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Surviving Due Process: Stephen Jeffers v. School Board
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Copyright 1998-2014, Peter W. D. Wright and Pamela Darr Wright. All rights reserved.

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Revised: 10/24/08




Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon The Special Ed Advocate: It's Free!

 

Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, by Pam and Pete Wright
About the Book

Wrightslaw: All About IEPs
About the Book

Wrightslaw: All About Tests and Assessments
About the Book

Surviving Due Process: Stephen Jeffers v. School Board
About the DVD Video

 

Copyright 1998-2014, Peter W. D. Wright and Pamela Darr Wright. All rights reserved.

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