Effective Advocacy Strategies – Automatic in Real-Time!

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Good advocates practice, practice, practice effective advocacy strategies!

From Michigan Advocate Heather Eckner  –

Effective advocates, who are seasoned in using tactics and strategies at IEP meetings, know what to do and how to do it – automatically.

      • reading and learning advocacy strategies
      • hearing examples
      • practicing the use of these tactics

makes it automatic in real-time situations!

Heather says, “I’ve been practicing advocacy and reviewing Wrightslaw information, tips, and strategies for years. I first attended one of Pete’s training sessions in 2012.  I further enhanced this information when I attended ISEA 2017.”

She gives presentations locally in Michigan and nationwide on using parent concerns as an effective advocacy strategy.

You’ll find a good example below.

Can the school refuse parent input to the IEP? I submitted concerns prior to the IEP meeting and requested the school add them to the IEP. At the meeting, I realized that the school had omitted all of my concerns.

Parent Input in the IEP

Prior to the IEP meeting, the parent submitted written concerns in a Word document via email and requested that the school put these concerns into IEP.

At the IEP meeting, she noticed portions had been either omitted or changed. With no advocate present, the parent was unsure what to do and did not address changing the parent input during the meeting.

After the meeting, the parent followed up with the IEP case manager.  She told the case manager that she wanted her concerns included in their entirety, just the way she had submitted them in the Word document.

The School’s Response

  1. The case manager said: The IEP is closed now.
  2. The school team replied: We can’t make those changes to the IEP.
  3. The Sped administrator advised: Parent concerns are only to address academics.

(Say what!?)

Tactics and Strategy

At this point, as the parent’s advocate, I became involved. I scheduled a meeting with the Sped administrator.

The administrator opened our discussion by saying, “I don’t allow my teams to reopen IEPs for any reason.”

We reviewed the parent’s word document listing concerns about:

  • her child’s strengths & interests
  • challenges in the classroom & school environment
  • areas where her daughter requires assistance
  • problems related to self-regulation & social skills
  • goals that the family has for their daughter
  • a request for regular communication from the team
  • recommendation of a book as a good resource/reference

The Sped administrator said, “These aren’t concerns.”

(Say what!?)

I told the admin that I completely disagreed. I didn’t engage in an argument with her.

I simply let the IDEA regulations present all evidence to the contrary.

Parent Participation [34 CFR §300.322]

Parent input is a right as part of parent participation. It helps drive the conversation for what is included in the present levels.

Prior Written Notice [34 CFR §300.503]

I tied the discussion to Procedural Safeguards for Prior Written Notice.

A parent submitting concerns to their school team is asking for consideration in the areas mentioned. The school team must provide the reasons why any choices were rejected as ‘Options Considered’.

IEP Development [34 CFR §300.324]

Under development, review, and revision of the IEP, the regulations outline that among other aspects… “the concerns of the parents for enhancing the education of their child” must be part of the process.

Brilliant Strategy: The Tide Turns

My goal: Get the school to “want” to accept parent input and acknowledge parent concerns.

I assured the Sped administrator that:

  • I saw she understood the need for better communication between school teams and parents.
  • I realized she knew this was an opportunity for her to help develop a stronger relationship between the teams she oversees and parents.
  • I understood she did not want to exacerbate frustrations to the extent that parents feel the need to bring in an advocate.

An about-face. At this point in our discussion, the admin explains, “I believe it would be a good idea to re-open the IEP. I want to add the parent concerns as submitted.”

My response, “Good idea! Let’s set a date!”

The result: We ended up with a positive IEP meeting and we got what we wanted added to the IEP.

Mission accomplished.


Meet the Advocate

Heather Eckner is the parent of two children who receive special education services and supports. She is passionate about furthering evidence-based inclusive practices to support individuals with disabilities in education and the greater community.

Heather is a lay-advocate and founder of A2IDEAS, a nonprofit special education advocacy organization. She has a certificate from the William and Mary School of Law Institute of Special Education Advocacy.

In addition to direct advocacy work with families, Heather presents at professional conferences as well as to parent groups and medical departments as a way to extend the reach of disseminating effective strategies that foster universal supports valuing equity, dignity, and independence for all people.

  1. What a wonderful example of ‘a better way to thread a needle’, that the Wrights taught me in their Florida seminar recently. You defused the bomb by assuring the Sped Administrator that: I see that she understood the need… I realize you know that this is an opportunity to help … I understand that you don’t want to … . It seems that it is more the way that the bad news is delivered than the news itself. My late wife used to say to me: Men are so… to deliver a pointed criticism at me. That made it easy for me to accept her criticism, and keep my ego out of the argument. Pete and Pam have an important message, that can help us win any argument, big or small. Answer: Let everyone win! The alternative is for everyone to lose, even the people that are right!

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