Parent/School Relationship: Marriage Without the Possibility of Divorce

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In our training programs, we tell parents, “Unless you are prepared to remove your child from public school forever, you need to view your relationship with the school as a marriage without the possibility of divorce.”

As a parent, it’s important to understand that you will be negotiating for special education services with the school on your child’s behalf for many years.  If your relationship with the school is polarized, you need to work on restructuring your relationship with school personnel.

Focus on Problem Solving

How do you react when another person – someone you do not know well – makes demands of you? Does this make you rethink your position? If you are like most people, you will defend yourself. Making demands is not effective.

As a parent, your goal is to make the school want to help your child and your family. You will not succeed by writing demanding letters or waving law at school personnel.

We urge parents to focus on solving problems while protecting the parent – school relationship.

A teacher emails:

I am a Special Education teacher. I am concerned that many web sites such as yours treat the relationship of teacher and parent as an adversarial one.  The focus in my classroom is not just to educate students, but to keep the lines of communication open with parents and advocates.  I work hard for my students and  I am very outspoken as their advocate.

Advocates for Children

The outcomes for children with disabilities who receive special education services are dismal. We do not “instruct parents on how to be against teachers and school administrators.” Because we are advocates for children, we provide parents and teachers with strategies to get better services for children.

We agree that many teachers are staunch advocates for their students. We have never encouraged adversarial relationships between parents and teachers. In fact, we receive many emails from teachers who are trying to advocate for their students and are in danger of  losing their jobs — or have been fired.

Most issues parents and teachers have that lead to these problems can be traced to administrators.

These articles may give you a different perspective about us:

How to Solve Problems and Protect Parent-School Relationships at

Why Do You Instruct Parents to be Against Special Ed Teachers? at

  1. Pingback: Special Education Etiquette | Parents Have The Power To Make Special Education Work

  2. I also agree, administrators are the problem they do not know the child, the teacher is afraid of loosing her job, and the cost of special education is out of control. you still need to be the best advocate for your child. Keep all tests, note books and ask the teacher for classroom work. Have copies of all state tests, and have the principal break down the test to show areas of concern. Do not stop until you feel that the schoool district is taking you seriously, do not threaten the school just keep going back and let the administration know that you will not be going away. speak to the principal and try to get non mandated services for your child. get doctors notes and tutoring. You are your childs best advocate, I know this can be very hard but you must keep going. Go to school meetings at night especially board meetings.

  3. Administrators are the problem–you hit the nail on the head. I don’t know why this is not better discussed. I am a teacher who lost my job over helping students. Vouchers would solve this problem or at least give families a real choice.

  4. The key here is education for both parents and educators. They should be trained together on special education laws, policies, etc. There is a model of this in Florida. It is called “Sharing the Commitment”.

  5. I can understand why at first glance it might seems that the parent as advocate may seem adversarial. When someone does not share your professional perspective, it is human to feel defensive. When a deeper look is taken however, the empowered parent can be a teachers best ally. When I have trained parents and professionals in the same group, I sometimes have to remind teachers of two things. First, parents are supposed to be equal partners in the process. Second, it is their child. Next year you will be working with different children. The parents will be with that child for a lifetime. Their disagreement with the school’s position can be seen as an obstacle, or as a starting point for valuable information sharing. Both groups need to respect the others expertise.

  6. I utilize your web site quite often and have purchased and read three of your books. I very much appreciate that your advice is always outcome-based and geared towards resolving special education issues at the local level rather than telling advocates how to “nail” school districts. Granted, my perspective probably different than most, since I’m an attorney turned teacher turned principal turned special education attorney. Without a high level of cooperation from everyone, no one can “win” – they might prevail in a due process hearing, but if the relationship is broken beyond repair in the process, little if anything positive will occur afterwards.

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