I am NOT Powerless. I am a Parent Advocate.

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You say parents have rights but I don’t think they do. I think parents are powerless. The only parents who have rights are financially able to afford the implementation of the IEP. Schools call those who cannot a “constant complainer.”

Parent Credibility

You sound a lot like I did about 6 years ago. Three of my four children have IEPs.

When I began advocating for my kids, the principal of my kid’s school told other parents that I was mentally ill and…… she said my kids could not read because I was a bad parent. Was I mad!

The hardest thing I ever had to do was to leave those emotions out of the parent/school equation. When I learned to do that, it gave me the credibility, not the principal.

I built my credibility when I left my emotions in the parking lot. The principal called in the school district.  The district saw that I was not the “crazy” the principal made me out to be. The district eventually sided with me.

The Over Emotional Parent

We are a working family who could not afford lawyers to advocate for our children. I felt powerless to do anything.

I knew one thing. I had to find a way to get my kids what they needed.

A lady named Pam told me to stop playing the overly emotional parent and do what was necessary to advocate for my kids. This was hard.

[Read Susan’s story: From Victim to a Mighty Force, the Numbers Do Not Lie ]

Parent Power

My struggle has paid off. I am NOT powerless. I am a parent advocate.

My kids now have good strong IEPs.  The school follows the IEPS. You CAN do this. The change we seek will come from parents advocating for their own kids!

[ Wrightslaw Note: Susan Bruce is now an education coordinator and parent trainer for South Carolina’s Parent Training and Information Center, PRO*Parents of South Carolina and graduate of ISEA 2012. ]

Susan has trained thousands of parents and professionals on the IDEA and effective advocacy skills, empowering them to effectively advocate for appropriate services for students with disabilities.

  1. I am a special education teacher and am being harassed by the district due to my sharing concerns about a program the district has mandated for one of my students. My principal and her superiors will not investigate my complaints, much less observe my working with the student, and now they are lying and boosting data to convince the parent that the student is making gains that he is not. The parent still owes money to her attorneys for the last hearing during which these same folks perjured themselves and has said she will mortgage everything if necessary to support her child. Are there financial resources available for her? Further, as a district employee who is being harassed DAILY for being honest and reporting the falsification of data, what can I do and not do to help this parent?

  2. i need an advocate for my child who has cp can someone help me be a better one. just moved to atlanta, GA – about to call the state, but i need an advocate i think first.

  3. I have a question and hopefully someone can answer this question or referr me to get info on this information…. Since the beginning when the lauds had asessed my son they disagree with him not having autism disorder. They say he does not have autism disorder. Can they diagnose him?

  4. Thank you so much for advocating for the advocates!! I feel so alone here most of the time that I frequently feel like throwing in the towel and just letting the school do what they want. Then I always find some sliver of hope, or read something like this that is empowering and I just redouble my efforts and revamp my game plan. I’ve always been overly emotional, but to everyone’s surprise I’ve been able to conduct myself with dignity when it comes time for the meetings!! If anyone could be painted as crazy, it’s not this momma!!! I am still learning though, and have recently figured out that even though something is on a 504 (which my ADHD son has) or an IEP, if it’s not qualifiable, quantifiable, and/or verifiable, it doesn’t matter how good of an idea it was, they can just “say” they are cooperating with your 504/IEP and not really be!

    • Always ask for data and ask them exactly how the data is collected. I am in a situation where data is being falsified because the district did not like that my data was not demonstrating sufficient progress for the student. Instead of coming to observe and ensuring that programs were being run with fidelity, they brought in someone else to pull the student for data. When data was not produced, this person claimed that the data I had taken was hers and now I am the problem, when before she came, these issues did not exist! Find out what the school policy is on visiting and try to visit often and with as little notice as possible. Ask to watch as data is collected on IEP objectives. Ask if you can bring a legal advocate to meetings (even if it is not a lawyer) and RECORD meetings!

  5. Hello Susan- My son was abused at school. It started with not feeding him, to dragging him around the school naked, to keeping him in a separate room, to bruises. The school refused to provide copies of home logs, observations, notes, or anything that would prove their wrong doing. The IEP was written, but never implemented. After so much money spent in attorney’s bill, we still dont have so much as an apology. Our only option is to move away from here! No wonder our education system is one of the worst in the world.

    • I am so sorry to hear that, Ann. I am a SPED teacher and am happy to say that neither my colleagues, the parents in our school, or myself would tolerate this business! I really hate it when parents have to pay so much to receive the services to which their child is entitled! This is just heartbreaking! I hate feeling like vouchers are an answer, but I can understand the argument better when this type of situation occurs. It would be nice to weed out the folks that give education such a bad name.

  6. Melinda,
    I don’t know if I agree fully with the advice you have been given about your son and sports. Indeed, you have to assert his rights. But, you and I both know that the sports culture is a bit different. You cannot force anything on the coaches. You can get a lawyer but if you make a formal complaint–what will that do for your son who simply wants to play a sport. Change your game plan. Can someone else work with your son who has a better understanding of OCD/ADHD to help him focus on the drills, games. Coaches are busy so work with the school for that wonderful designated person who is skilled as opposed to anyone who is available or just a coache’s aide. Walk in their shoes and see how you can help them so your child can have fun. I may be wrong..but you cannot force this on the coaches. The school should work with you.

  7. Personally, I tell parents to collaborate as much as possible. It is easy to tell a parent to hire a lawyer or an advocate. Parents are spending a lot of money on lawyers or advocates who charge them by the hour or just for asking the questions on the phone or emails. In the end, the parents have spent a lot of money when collaboration would have been a better approach. I would like to say that a good advocate or lawyer will work themselves out of a job very quickly and not promote due process, etc. a good advocate will give the parents the tools to collaborate and work with the school system with such an intention. Advocates ad. Attorneys should not be involved for a long period of time. Parents should be given the tools and confidence to work with the school by the lawyers and advocates.

    • I completely agree! Unfortunately, there are times when no amount of common sense will prevail. I would like to see districts compelled to mediate in good faith, but the district I am in prolonged the situation by not agreeing to any of the mediators that were listed on the state’s website, so it ended up in a hearing. After the hearing, I realized that the parents were fighting a bureaucracy that operated more like a mafia. So many interesting versions of a student who had only been observed by many of the folks one or two times, yet no one asked the teaching assistants and other teachers who worked with the student on a regular basis about what was really happening. Collaboration should be the culture, but it shouldn’t have to be created by the parent, it should be standard practice!

  8. Melinda

    I would schedule an IEP meeting ASAP with the coach, designated person, your son, an administrator, your professional (psychologist, evaluator) and the teacher to discuss what is in the IEP. This is not a matter of how you can get them to follow the IEP. If they do not follow the IEP, they are violating the law. You may have to remind them of this if they do not agree after your professional discusses these issues.

    If you do not succeed in the IEP meeting, you can take your case to the superintendent or you can file a complaint with your state department of ed. As the last resort, you may need to hire an attorney. BTW: You may want to consult with a special ed attorney early. The attorney can help you develop a game plan. If you consult with an attorney, this is not the same as retaining an attorney. Most legal consultations are not expensive, provide excellent advice, and a game plan – so they are worth the cost.

  9. I have been struggling to advocate for my son. The IEP is getting better for the school day, but for extracurricular activities it is still hard. Last year we had them write in a specified person with each extracurricular activity that is supposed to intervene when our son loses control (he has ODD and ADHD). This year it happened in football and the head coach said our son was completely out of control, but the designated person never even talked with our son during the incident. Now when we go to the school to get answers as to why they did not implement what is in the IEP they say the designated person was too busy coaching to do that. They also don’t want him on the team and refuse to discuss it any further until after the season is over…..

    What can we do to get them to follow what is put in the IEP?

  10. I found out about the changes in Special Education Law from this Website, the School District did not say or do anything to advise parents the laws had changed. I read the laws and I became my daughter’s advocate. However, this particular school district took its time implementing these laws and it got to be frustrating. I requested at each IEP meeting that they put the “emphasis on academics, especially reading and math” and my “requests” were noted at the Notes Page of the IEP. It was not until this school year that any of my requests were implemented. They were not written up as should be in the IEP. Imagine my shock when I saw the new IEP for the first time at my daughter’s annual IEP meeting on Jan 6, 2011. It is her senior year. While many resist “retention”, my child needs it, the school never retains!

  11. An attorney will do no good whatsoever, if we, as parents do not have a paper trail to back up what we are saying. When we go to due process we are asserting that the law is not being followed. What we say might be happening, the due process hearing officer may believe us, but it does not matter what he believes, the only thing that matters is what we can PROVE. Parents LAY THAT PAPER TRAIL. It is the only leverage we have in due process! Prepare to go to due process, so you don’t have to go!

    • AMEN! Ask for everything in writing and any other form of documentation that makes sense. I encourage parents to record meetings since I have seen so many of them lied to by district administrators and directors. In our state, people do not need to be informed that they are being recorded. Keep everything and even create a narrative to help you track what you have in an email, in a letter, or in an IEP for quick reference. A well-prepared parent can circumvent a hearing when the district recognizes that there is EVIDENCE!

  12. Melissa – I don’t know what state you are in, but you should check to see if you have any legal rights organizations in your state. I am in Ohio and we have Ohio Legal Rights Service. I got this information from the Ohio Department of Education. Check your state DOE website, maybe you can find that out. I have been where you are too. Our family cannot afford legal representation either, but OLRS has helped us immensely. They have advocates and attorneys, but your case has to coincide with their yearly priorities to be assigned to an attorney. It is worth the effort to find this out. I had to be persistent in a respectful, calm way, but my child is being represented at no cost to us and our district will hopefully follow the IEP and make the appropriate changes. Hang in there and don’t give up! Good luck.

  13. I was pleased to read about not being powerless, but being powerful as a parent. I am struggling with the same situation of feeling completely powerless to the beaurocratic system we call our public schools. My son has an IEP, but nobody wants to follow it. They lie, they make decisions and then don’t inform me of changes, and yet, I am supposed to trust them with my son’s education when he has dropped 3 grade levels in his academic abilities over the last year due very much in part to him not having any special ed services this year (the IEP stipulated, but they have yet to provide).

    I feel I need an attorney, but can’t afford one. What is next? Letter after letter, removing the emotions and considering the facts and yet no action.

  14. You guys helped me win outplacement to a private school Alexander long ago. I bought Pete’s “Special Education Law” (2nd Edition) and only regret that I haven’t yet been able to take Pete’s seminar!

    I have a client who really is a “504 / Bullying” case but the local LEA is burying their heads in the sand. They are trying to stop her home-bound schooling because, no doubt, its cheaper for them to pull her into Special Ed. She’s a 16 y/o who got pregnant and has suffered cell-phone spoofing, Face Book posts like, “be careful not to fall you might lose something…” etc. She’s an “A” student who just made a mistake!

    Her mother appointed me as the child’s Advocate but the LEA is denying her right to do that and (duh) I can’t seem to find the I.D.E.A. statute / authorizing that. I need an IDEA law cite!

  15. I agree–but parents also need back-up. Get an advocate. Attend workshops in your state on special education. Don’t give up. Yes, I am welled versed in special education, law, etc., but I keep an advocate with me at all times in those meetings.

  16. Becoming an advocate was a grueling, eye-opening process I’d ever encountered. Reading the Federal Register, IDEA, State mandated guidelines (when there are no laws) and countless resources on the disability. It took two years of research, tons of questions to those professionals in the field and outside the school, but my daughter now has the most appropriate IEP. Hang in there…you know its worth it when the school sits up to listen when you offer your views

  17. There are always a lot of “professionals” trying to make decisions on what is best for your child. Remember you are the EXPERT in the room. No one knows your child better than you. And remember your best resources are other parents.

  18. As a former school psychologist turned law student, I am sorry you had to have a running relationship with an educator like that. Schools tend to be staffed and run mostly by reasonable people. In cases like yours, when decision makers fall off the “professionalism wagon”, other educators do take notice. Pragmatically, what this means in terms of school administration is if the parent seems even slightly more reasonable than the downward spiraling staff member, the event tends to be characterized as “ Mrs. XXX is doing what she usually does again.” In this case, your winning move was letting people know you were indeed a reasonable parent simply advocating for your child.

  19. From Emotions to Advocacy is a must read for parents beginning their journey as well as owning a copy of Special Education Law Book.

    We limit our children by focusing on Advocacy as being something that is done only in Public School.

    Our child went on to graduate high school with honors and is in an engineering program in college doing quite well if I say so myself. By modeling negotiating and advocacy skills, we no longer have to assist in this area.

    As his successes continue, my wife and I have been able to start a Social Skills camp for kids on the spectrum in which my son volunteers with us.

    Good Luck in writing your child’s success story.

  20. If every parent advocated as Susan Bruce does (the parent who wrote this answer), then our entire country would be in better shape today, as we would have better educated, more committed students. I wish every parent would learn to effectively represent their child’s interests at school. It isn’t brain surgery — it’s just work, planning, and calendaring. You can do it. I do it. We can all do it, and we should all do it. If you are reading this and are not a parent, please help a parent who would benefit from your presence at their child’s IEP or 504 or child study meetings. — We all need to support one another to create the best country, with the most informed citizens, that we, together, can. Thank you all for doing everything possible to change the world for one student at a time.

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