Advocating in Your Own School District – Pros and Cons

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Some of my best advocacy results were in my own school system.

  • I know the personalities.
  • I know the programs.
  • I know the policies and procedures.
  • I know the problems.
  • I know the strengths.
  • I know the gatekeepers.
  • I know the administrators and many of the educators.

However, as my youngest daughter always says, “It doesn’t matter who you know; what matters is who knows you.”

What about retaliation?….

Fear of Retaliation

I understand fully that some folks may be uncomfortable about advocating in the same school or school system that their children attend. However, my experience is that my child never suffered from retaliation because of my advocacy efforts within her school system.

I believe the reason is that the folks –

  • knew me
  • knew that I knew the law
  • knew that I knew my rights
  • knew that I was not afraid to challenge any efforts to retaliate against my child.

They knew that I was a very good and successful advocate for my own child and for others.

In short, they were afraid of what I might do if there was any hint of retaliation towards my child.

My Goal:  Popularity or an Appropriate Education?

Was I popular? Did I win any awards for best parent? Of course not. That was not my goal. My goal was to make sure my child would be ready for “further education, employment, and independent living.”

Did I achieve my goal? You decide.

  • My child is now an adult. She is a nurse and works in the Information Technology department of a large local medical facility.
  • She has a national certification for the electronic medical records software she supports.
  • She is happily married, living with her husband and two beautiful children less than a mile from where she grew up in a house they designed and built.
  • She is a multi-year class champion as a sports car driver.

I am proud of her success as an adult. She exemplifies what a child with a severe disability can achieve when provided with an appropriate education that fully prepared her for “further education, employment, and independent living.”

Do I now care whether the local school administrators and teachers liked my advocacy work in their school system? Of course not. She is worth every enemy I made.

Conflict of Interest?

I see no “conflicts” of interest by advocating in my own school system. I have a stake in keeping my foot in the door, even though my daughter graduated several years ago. These interests include:

  • Being a taxpayer. My dollars fund the schools.
  • Being a stakeholder. I am interested in being a watchdog for other special needs children. These children are my future.

I do not believe that advocating in your own school system is a conflict of interest. It may be uncomfortable – for you and for those employed at school. But, my way is not the only way. As long as we continue being advocates, it matters little which way we choose to do so.

  1. Some children / young adults develop self image issues that develop from running passive comments from teachers toward the child you are advocating for. No matter how positive you are in approach as a parent advocate. High functioning students with high IQ’s are blasted verbally by teachers. Often it is not shared until after the year or is so difficult to educate educators on the impact of their negative bias and lack of insight.

  2. I would love to take cases in my home school district, but the school has already proven they have no problem retaliating against my kids. They know I know the law (likely better than they do) and they know I am not afraid to do what I need to do, they just don’t care. So until both of my kids graduate, I will stay out.

  3. Melissa

    I am a parent of three boys who all have learning disibilities along with ADD/ADHD and one has dyslexia. I have been working with the public school systems over 25 years advocating for my children. I too was not afraid to speak up and did prevail in a due process lawsuit and filed complaints,etc. I am hated also but my children had a fair education (I believe that LD children will never really get a good education).

    All three are grown up and are working, two are going to college. Two are living on their own, etc. It is worth it to advocate for your children. Once you are done, the people who work at schools don’t care about you anyway. They are probably glad I am gone.

  4. I wish I could say the same, the teachers were down on my child before I knew about you. Thanks Janet

  5. I’m a mom of two children with High Functioning Autism. I am not liked in our District because I know the law and am not afraid to speak up. It’s not fun but the success of my children makes it all worth it. Our problem now is that our children are not severe enough and so they tend to look the other way. The excuse they give is that I’m just not willing to accept the success of my kids. The reality is that I know they are successful because I wasn’t willing to accept the status quo. I’ve filed multiple State Complaints, several OCR complaints and even Due Process. They never admit wrongdoing but things magically resolve themselves when we involve others. They even met all the terms of our DP 1 week prior to the hearing. I’m hated, I know it but at the end of the day I care about my kids not them.

  6. I think there is this expectation that retailiation will occur if you advocate in your district, but haven’t seen it. I do however see and hear teachers wanting to teach a parent a lessen, but not the advocating one. I think the more parents or community members in your meeting the better. Special education should not be top secret, how they respond and address a child’s needs should not be top secret, that’s why our kids don’t get their needs met, because people aren’t watching. We need more parents helping parents, it’s encouraged in Title 1, why not to this level in special education?

  7. I have a child in 2nd grade, she is above average in reading and in math is right on. The teacher is asking my daughter to pay better attention in class. Had the same problem with my older daughter. Had addressed it. However my older was in a private school. My 2nd grader is in a public school. How should i bring this up and to whom?

  8. I find advocacy to be something easily learned. It is easy to learn because only one idea is needed to use as a lens through which to view the entire procedure. The lens is this one: the truth. The Truth. It is we who are advocates’ teachers, we who counsel parents, who must teach the power of testimony, the power of saying out loud what is, exactly, true. Then you must support your assertions of Truth with evidence. Look through the file, which may be the box of school papers that keep moving with you through this strange economy of ours. In that educational file you will find most items have dates on them. Arrange papers in order of their dates. This is the educational file. Make a good copy of it. Keep both copies updated always with every copy of every paper you are given. That is my thinking this morning.

  9. I am a desperate parent trying to get my daughter help. I have hit every wall I can imagine even getting her tested for ESL because I am Hispanic . I am a well education person with a job at a University with doctors and here I am not able to get my 2nd grader the help she needs. I cannot even imagine a parent who is wanting help for her/his child and is not able to communicate. I pray every day that my daughter doesn’t come home to tell me that she no longer wants to return to school because she doesn’t understand. I am trying not to loose my daughter in translation and that is my biggest fear. NO one is listening that my daughter is needing more help that they are provding for her and that I am able to give her at home. At this point I pray that someone can just give me the tools so I can teach my daughter.

  10. I plan to continue my efforts after my daughter graduates (I hope!) in a couple years. Why? Because if not me, who will be there for other children? Every time one child, one family spends one day less facing some of the challenges we did makes it worth my time and effort.

  11. I have been advocating for my own son for 3 years. After the due process was started they knew I was serious. Now I am helping 2 other parents in our home school. They have done everything they can to keep me out of it. They do not want me there and keep asking me who I am working for….I tell them the child. They have yelled at me called me names but he bottom line it the children are getting help. My primary focus is kids with Dyslexia (not uesd freely in California) I think that is why they don’t like me. I am forcing them to recognize me. Keep up the good work parents and keep helping kids in and out of your district.

  12. I am the PROUD parent of three children on the autism spectrum. We have been dealing with our district for eleven years and have found out just in the last year that we have been taken advantage of in so many ways. Our children have been cheated by our school district out of the services they need. We are facing the likelihood of due process now too for all three kids. We may have to give up our home too. I still don’t know or understand everything about the law, but I am determined to learn. Wrightslaw has really helped. I hope that some day I will be able to help other families in my district. I know our family is not alone and that others have been duped as well. I know exactly what you mean about feeling betrayed. We have to get past the anger and it is really hard. I struggle daily with it. Thanks for the great post.

  13. Thanks for this post. I have recently offered to help two parents who have younger children in my son’s school and was upfront with them that taking me to a meeting might be a risk.

    I offered to meet with them privately and help as much as possible and said I was willing to go to a meeting if they want me to. I am not really afraid of reprisals against my own child, but am not sure if they will be less open with the other family if I am there.

  14. Sandy, The fact that the schools don’t like it tells me you are making an impact and doing something good. I know what you mean by feeling betrayed. All my boys are LD, one is additionally dyslexic and the other additionally ADHD. My oldest was where I learned what you learned. The school is not doing the right thing many times. MY other two children benefitted by my mistakes with him. The boys all turned out ok but did not receive the education that the regular ed child received and it should not cost $80000.00 to get the “FREE” education. Keep advocating. I am sure that the others really appreciate it even if the school does not.

  15. As a parent I have two children with disabilities. Attending a Wrightslaw Confrence I learned that our oldest child has been at the same present level of performance for three years in a row. As parents we met with the IEP team every six weeks, and not knowing the law, we feel betrayed. Our son was then retested 3 year and actually went backwards. Due process $80,000 is crazy. We had to hand over our home to bank so our children will get a better education in another district. We applied for open enrollment and was denied. My children are safe this year and I still advocate in that district and they don’t like it. I mention we’re here for the child. I know that every child in that district is getting taken to the cleaners. Our family went through nothing but turnoil and don’t want this for any family. I will always advocate for families.

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