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Advice from Indiana Advocate Pat Howey
Trusting the System To Do "What's Right"
Parent: "We should be able to trust the system to do what's right for our kids."
Pat: In theory, this sounds good. But when you are dealing with a child with disabilities, there will always be disagreements. You simply will not get agreement from the number of participants who are required to be in these team meetings.
Schools are in the decision-making process for the short-term. As a parent, you are in it for the long-term.
Eventually, your child will leave the public school system. If he/she is does not receive an appropriate education, will the teacher, the school principal or director of special education come to his/her home and help him/her with his/her checkbook? Of course not. This is the parents' responsibility.
It is the parents (and society-at-large) who are ultimately responsible for students with disabilities who cannot achieve a level of independence. So parents have a great vested interest.
Parents and Schools -- Different Perspectives
Parents and schools invariably look at the child's education from vastly different perspectives. Schools are only required to develop goals and objectives (or benchmarks) for a twelve month period.
As parents, we need to look at where we want our children (disabled or not) to be at the end of their public education.
Parent: I don't see why the school has to draw lines in the sand.
Pat: There is nothing wrong with disagreement. Problems come from the manner in which disagreements are handled. I have learned that there are better ways to obtain positive results than to roar through meetings in a Mack Truck.
When Disagreements Turn Into Power Struggles
Many disagreements turn into power struggles. Power struggles do not make winners look good.
(For those who don't think I know what I'm talking about, review Howey v. Tippecanoe School Corporation. I am Mrs. Howey).
Had I understood this earlier, it might have made a difference between the $20,000 in attorney's fees we received and the $50,000 we were attempting to get.
The Law Gives Parents Power -- Use Your Power Wisely
Parents need to understand that the law gives them power to use in educational decisions for their children. Parents should not be afraid to use their power.
True parent advocacy is not about being "King of the Mountain."
True advocacy is about improving the lives of children, and ensuring that they become independent, productive, taxpaying citizens who belong to the community in which they live.
The Dangers of Making Threats
Parent: I'm tired of being jerked around so I said I was bringing an attorney to the meeting, I don't have legal representation. Their response surprised me.
Pat: It's dangerous to make threats. What if you can't find representation? The school will decide that you make empty threats. In the future, you may find yourself backed into a corner because you "trained" the school to not believe you.
IEP Meeting Frustrations
Parent: I hate going to IEP meetings. The team interrupts me, talks over me, and are not willing to respond to my questions and comments.
Pat: When this happens, it's because parents don't know how to take control of the situation. Parents need to use subtle psychological strategies to empower themselves and make the school members of the team respect their positions.
First, when you go to a team meeting, get there early.
Sit on the right side of the person with the most power. (Often, the person with the pen, but not always). An added advantage to this is that if you're good, you can often read the notes that are being written, while they are being written.
Act like an equal team member!
Don't fall for the old divide and conquer trick of "us v. them" positions.
If things are going too fast, tell the chairperson that you can't keep up. Ask them to slow down so that you can take better notes.
Make this request as many times as is necessary until they comply with your request to slow down. (Most people will give in to a request after is repeated about three times.)
Be persistent. With some school people, you have to repeat your request several times.
Pretend that they are your children. You know how many times you have to tell your children to do something, or stop doing something, before they comply!
The Power of the Written Follow-Up Letter
If they refuse to slow down, document this in your written follow-up letter.
Your follow-up letter is more important than the notes you keep.
Your follow-up letter documents disagreements, procedural errors, untruths, misstatements -- all the things that never make it into the summary of the meeting.
Keep your report factual, not emotional.
Do not attack people.
For example, assume you are told, "If you don't like it, then take it to a hearing."
You might write something like this:
I requested an independent educational evaluation.
I was told this would not be provided and that I could request a hearing if I did not agree.
Ask for a copy for your own records.
You'll find that your written report is very powerful. It will become part of your child's educational record. The school can never say that it did not happen. You documented it.Meet Pat Howey
Patricia Howey has supported families of children with disabilities since 1985. She has a specific learning disability and became involved in special education when her youngest child entered kindergarten. Pat has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who have a variety of disabilities and she has used her experience to advocate for better special education services for several of them.
Pat began her advocacy career as a volunteer for the Task Force on Education for the Handicapped (now InSource), Indiana’s Parent Training and Information Center. In 1990, she opened her advocacy practice and served families throughout Indiana by representing them at IEP meetings, mediation, and due process hearings.
In 2017, Pat closed her advocacy practice and began working on a contract basis as a special education paralegal. Attorneys in Indiana, Texas, and California contracted with her to review documents, spot issues, draft due process complaints, prepare for hearings, and assist at hearings. In January 2019, she became an employee of the Connell Michael Kerr law firm, owned by Erin Connell, Catherine Michael, and Sonja Kerr. Her duties have now expanded to assisting with federal court cases.