How to Solve Problems and Protect Parent-School Relationships
by Pam Wright & Pete Wright
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seven-year old child has autism. After his aide told us that he has
not received all the speech language and OT services called for in
his IEP, we wrote letters demanding that the school make up the missing
"Now the teacher and special ed supervisor are angry with the
aide. They told her that she cannot tell us anything that goes on
at school. Doesn't
the aide have a right to communicate with us? Is there any law we
can refer to?"
Pete & Pam Answer
The issue is not whether or not the aide has a right to communicate
with you. The aide is at the bottom of the hierarchy in terms of power.
Is it fair to put her in the position of taking sides with you against
her employer? Don't be surprised if she is transferred or fired.
The school is reacting to perceived threats from you by pulling their
wagons in a circle. They are preparing to defend themselves. This
behavior is not unique to schools - it happens in any organization
when there is a perceived threat from the outside.
parent, your goal is to make the school want
to help your child and your family. You will not succeed by writing
demand letters or waving law at school personnel.
Pam: How do you react when another
person - someone you do not know well - makes demands of you? Does
this make you rethink your position? If you are like most people,
you will defend yourself.
Your Relationship with the School
Pete: Your child is seven years old. You will be negotiating with the school
on his behalf for many years. Your relationship with the school is
need to work on restructuring 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.
Effective Advocacy Skills
Pete: I am not recommending that
you stop advocating for your child. I am recommending that you learn
skills and techniques.
You need to learn to use tactics and strategies - letter-writing,
persuasion, and negotiation.
Pam: Begin by reading these articles.
the Playing Field,
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.
to Disagree with the School Without Starting WW III, I
answer questions about 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.
Use Information, Protect Your Source
In most cases, parents should treat information from an aide, related
services provider or teacher as confidential. Use it but do not not
attribute it to that person.
have questions about services not provided, write a short letter to
request information about the number of sessions provided, dates,
minutes. You can also ask to see notes of the sessions. If you find
that your child did not receive services that were agreed upon in
the IEP, write another letter to the effect that services that were
not provided, and request information about when these services will
be made-up. (see "Using Strategies in Your Letters to the School" below)
use this approach, the aide (or other school employee) will not be
blamed and can continue to provide you with invaluable "background" information.
Strategies in Your Letters to the School
Pete: Read the Letter
to the Stranger - this article may change the way you view the
process and your role forever.
Pam: I can imagine how you felt
when you learned that your child hadn't received the services in his
IEP. But before you write more letters, please read The
Art of Writing Letters about how to write letters to the school.
Learn about the Blame Approach and the Storytelling Approach, the
sympathy factor, first impressions, pitfalls, and the powerful decision-making
you have concerns about your child's program, it is important that
you document these concerns in writing. 12
Rules for Writing Great Letters includes rules for writing letters
and editing tips.
to Negotiate & Persuade
Pam: As a parent, it's important
to understand that you are negotiating with the school for special
education services. In Learning
to Negotiate is Part of the Advocacy Process, advocate
Brice Palmer describes the negotiation process in special education,
explains the rules, and offers excellent advice about tactics and
attending a Wrightslaw
special education advocacy training program - these programs
are held around the country.
I also recommend that you read two books (assuming you have already
read our book, From
Emotions to Advocacy!)
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
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.
get these books from most libraries and bookstores. You can also order
them from The
Advocacy Bookstore (our
Peter Wright, Esq., and Pamela Darr Wright are the authors
Special Education Law, Wrightslaw:
From Emotions to Advocacy, and Wrightslaw:
No Child Left Behind.
The Wrights built Wrightslaw.com,
Fetaweb.com, and the Yellowpagesforkids.com
and publish The
Special Ed Advocate, the free online newsletter about special
education law and advocacy.
Special Education Law and Advocacy Training Programs are held
around the country. To see if a Wrightslaw program is scheduled in
your community, look at the schedule
on the Wrightslaw Speakers Bureau.