Parent Advocate? You’re a Natural!

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Who is your child’s first teacher? You are. Who is your child’s most important role model? You are. Who is responsible for your child’s welfare? You are. Who has your child’s best interests at heart? You do.

You know your child better than anyone else. The school is involved with your child for a few years. You are involved with your child for life. You should play an active role in planning your child’s education.

The law gives you the power to make educational decisions for your child. Do not be afraid to use your power. Use it wisely. A good education is the most important gift you can give to your child.

As the parent of a child with a disability, you have two goals:

1. To ensure that the school provides your child with a “free appropriate public education” that includes “specially designed instruction . . . to meet the [child’s] unique needs . . .” (20 U.S.C. §1401)
2. To build a healthy working relationship with the school.

What Advocates Do. Special education advocates work to improve the lives of children with disabilities and their families.

Are you ready to advocate?

Here is a list of supplies that will help you get started:

  • Two 3-ring notebooks (one for your child’s file; one for information about your child’s disability and educational information)
  • 3-hole punch
  • Highlighters
  • Package of sticky notes
  • #10 Envelopes
  • Stamps
  • Calendar
  • Journal
  • Contact log
  • Small tape recorder

To learn more about what advocates do, how to get started, and parents as experts check out the Fetaweb at

  1. Kathy, I disagree.

    This teacher may be angry and ignorant, but he isn’t retaliating — he is simply ranting. What particular child or children are harmed by him expressing his opinion? They may feel badly about what he has said, but that doesn’t mean they are not going to receive the services to which they are entitled. In other words, there is no tangible harm.

    Of course, I would wonder how effective this teacher is in a classroom with this sort of attitude. His mind (and possibly heart!) is closed. I don’t think that makes for a very effective learning environment. (But still not retaliation!)

    Believe me — I suspect the school district is up in arms over his imprudent display! But he has a right to his opinion. And let’s not jump to conclusions about where he wrote his rant! Then we stoop to his level, yes?

  2. Many, many families are extremely victimized on a continual and daily basis in school districts and by school personnel that spill over into the communities because their children are eligible to receive special services. and the districts have an obligation to protect and defend these students and to educate communities regarding the law.

    The teacher’s letter to the editor was an act of retaliation towards these student’s because they enacted the law in order to gain an appropriate education and the violation of law is due to his act that causes interference to them gaining an appropriate education in this school district.

    Under the ADA, school systems may not retaliate against students with disabilities who exercise their rights. Nor may they retaliate against those who assist others in exercising their rights.

  3. Kathy S

    It is a sad reality when we realize the culture of school staff in general.

    It was a rude awakening for me when I realized what we were up against. Most Directors of Special Educaiton and their disciples attend conferences that “Teach” them how to deal with unreasonable parents who dare want their child to recieve a Free Public Education.

    One of the perks to reducing special education costs is actually these seminars that are held in places like Las Vegas or Disney World.

    The teachers that are in the front line serving in the classroom usually do not get to reep the benefits of creative budgeting that goes on in Special Education in nearly every school district.

    The secret’s out. This is exactly why we as parents have to advocate for our kids’ education.

  4. I would think that Freedom of Speech is not extended to a public school teacher when he utilizes it to attack a specific group that are protected under federal law. Specifically a group that he is obligated to protect and paid to serve. His rant is a blatant act of retaliation, which is a violation, essentially towards the parents and children of his school district for acquiring services. His act is immoral and unethical.
    If I were a parent in his school district, I would utilize his comments to acquire more appropriate services for my child.
    He, more than likely, utilized the district’s computer and his school email to send it.
    Once, a school teacher, specifically attacked me in a public petition circulated in our community and I was like…YAY! ..finally idiotic enough to put it in writing. They were gifted with an OCR visit.

    • Kathy:

      It’s clear you feel victimized by a bad experience, and you continue to carry anger about it. Your anger prevents you from seeing this clearly.
      Everyone has freedom of speech – that is a fundamental right of U.S. citizens. The only exceptions are things like shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, creating panic and a stampede to the door, with people being injured or killed.

      You are offended by the views expressed in the letter. You accuse this teacher of a “blatant act of retaliation” which you view as a violation of … what? What should be done to people who express opinions you disagree with?

      You say his letter is “immoral and unethical.” That is your opinion. Like the teacher, you are entitled to your opinion. There will always be people who make stupid, offensive comments. We don’t have a right to muzzle people when we disagree with their stupid, offensive comments. When we obsess over them, we waste a great deal of time and energy on something we can do nothing about. We need to learn to tune them out.

  5. It appears that some school district employees are making inflammatory and discriminatory approaches in public complaints regarding students with disAbilities.

    A recent article appeared in an Oklahoma newspaper and its online version “To the Editor” section, from a public school teacher regarding IDEA provisions. He calls it ‘THE LARGE DRAIN’.

    In essence, the teacher complains about the financial burden of students with disAbilities on the public school system, the increased paperwork burden to teachers, disruptive inclusion practices and discipline issues, all resulting in a decline of the typical student’s rights issues. The article included his school’s name.

    I am of the opinion that this is a civil rights violation as well as highly discriminatory action.

    What are your views on these practices?

    • In this country, we are free to express our thoughts, beliefs and prejudices. Expressing one’s views in a newspaper does not violate civil rights and is not discriminatory. Wouldn’t you rather know that a teacher holds these views? Old saying: “Keep your friends close, your enemies closer.”

      An article like this is a gift. It gives the advocate a chance to educate the public who may be tempted to accept the teacher’s perspective. Before putting pen to paper, the writer needs consider the points you want to make. if you are knowledgeable about the legislative history of the IDEA, and the findings and purposes of the law, you should be in good shape.

      These days, most children are not excluded from school. Overall, special ed outcomes are poor. We need to focus on ways to make special education fulfill its purpose: that children with disabilities will receive a free appropriate public education that meets their unique needs and prepares them for further education, employment, and independent living.

  6. Maureen,

    Kudos for your efforts in advocating for your child. I know first hand that the persuit of meaningful eduational services for your child can be a consuming effort.

    I learned an important strategy in a class in which I was to break a board with my bare hands.
    You have to first prepare mentally. You can’t focus on the obstacle that you are planning to break through or you will never get past it. You have to set your sites beyond the obstacle and you will never know it is there.

    Advocacy goes beyond the doors of our public schools and true success/progress only begins when the tassel changes it’s location on the graduates cap.

    Good luck from on parent advocate to another!

  7. Hi there,

    I don’t blog often but I’ve been advocating for our LD daughter since 2003. My advocacy has taken us to 2 DP hearings, an appeal to Family Court, an appeal to the Delaware District Court and now we are scheduling oral arguments in 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. I wouldn’t have gotten this far without keeping focus on our daughter, the love/support of family/friends, Wright’s Law web site, books, bootcamp and most recently this blog. As a matter of fact, in the FC decision where the court reversed/remanded the DP decision, he quoted Wright’s Law. Score one for the team!

    So now, Wright’s Law & I are preparing for oral arguments in 3rd Circuit. I also found it helpful to keep in mind the words of Tom Petty “and I won’t back down”.

    Good Luck one & all

  8. Great list of supplies! I used your tips and put together a very large organized binder. They (the school) was not expecting me to be that organized with sticky notes and highlighted text. I think I intimidated them. Great idea to bring a picture! It is so easy for them to loose track of the child that we are talking about.


    My question is are there any requirements for private schools in working with children with reading/writing issues…he has some accompanying anxiety due to previous school experiences and is in 2nd grade. I am in NC and my child is in a quaker school for reduced bullying. He has dyslexia/dysgraphia and we are hearing that we may not be able to go there because they “may not be able to serve him.” In order to get him into the school, we were required to put him on a drug which we knew wasn’t correct for him. It gave him panic attacks and had to be weaned off. He is now on something else and we are continuing to be given the statement about not being sure about serving him. It’s like living under damacles sword not knowing if we will make some kind of mistake which will make us not worthy of being able to send our child to this school.

  10. I believe that a parent is definitely ‘the best’ advocate for their child. I do recommend getting assistance with issues and impasses from local Special Advocates and Special Ed lawyers in their local area too.
    When you’re you feel that there’s something you’re not understanding about what’s going on in your meetings, it’s better for your child to consult with others that have different experience.

  11. Bring FOOD! Not a meal of course but snacks, I have found this eases the tension that is sometimes present. Once, when my school district gave one of my kids comp ed for their failure to provide FAPE (without going to due process), I even made a basket of cookies and took them to the special ed dept. at the district office. I have had parents call me a suck up, call it what you like, but my kids have good strong IEPs and they are followed! Funny thing is, other parents might think I am a suck up but the district jokingly refers to me as a “heavy hitter” in FRONT of me! Something else every parent adovate should have is a copy of the Federal Regs, especially the commentary. Know the law, be assertive, document everything, leave the emotion in the parking lot and be NICE! We must take our emotions and turn them into ADVOCACY!

    • Go girl! Sometimes people say we are “too nice” or “nice won’t work here.”

      Nice works better than mean and nasty, but it’s not enough to carry the day. As you say, you have to know the law, not be afraid to take a stand, and document everything.

      The school folks know you are prepared and won’t pick a fight over small stuff. When there is a big issue, like not proving FAPE, they know you will go to the mat. Taking a basket of cookies to the special ed dept after they had to provide comp ed was a great strategy. You won some fans with that one.

  12. One of the most valuable tools for my wife and me is From Emotions to Advocacy. This is an absolute must read if you or someone you know will be navigating the IEP world in the near future.

    Good luck fellow parent Advocates.

    Thank you Pam and Pete

    • David: Thanks for the kind words but we can’t take all the credit. You and your wife READ and USED the info in From Emotions to Advocacy. That took time and trust. ~ Pam

  13. And I would add two additional items. One is a current picture of your child. Why? Sometimes everyone at the table forgets that we meet to support the child.

    And add a pack of tissues to your packet. There may be tears and you want to be able to use your own resources to dry them. Or to share a tissue if one of the staff cries. And I have seen the latter happen from time-to-time.

  14. One additional item that I tell all parents to get immediately when they begin advocating for their children is a copy of their local/state special education regulations. Place them in a binder, thumb tab them wherever you think necessary and appropriate for your child’s needs, and bring it to every meeting.

    Good luck.
    Sharon 🙂

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