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Home > Ask the Advocate > Why Can't We Trust the School to Do What's Right for Our Children? Perspectives, Power, Threats and Trust by Pat Howey

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COVID-19 School Closures: Why Can't I Trust the School to Do
What's Right for My Child? Perspectives, Power Struggles, Threats and Trust
by Pat Howey

"Between COVID-19, job stress, school closures, virtual school, and a child who lost skills and regressed, we've have been through the wringer."

"My child's team wants me to consent to them providing all special education and related services on their 'virtual platform.' Based on our experiences, with confusion, frustration and melt-downs during virtual learning in the spring, I don't agree that virtual learning will meet my child's needs or provide him with an appropriate education."

"If I don't sign that I agree, my child will receive no services at all."

woman looking out with steady gaze

Pat Answers: In theory, you might be able to trust others to look out for your child's interests. But when you are educating a child with special needs, especially during an unpredictable pandemic, you need to expect disagreements. You will never get all the people who must attend these meetings to agree on what "the right thing" means.

Many school districts had standardized "One-Size-Fits-All" (OSFA) special education programs before the COVID-19 school closures. Decisions about a child's program and placement were based on the child's disability category or label and what the school had available, not on the child's unique needs. This is even more true now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, as schools try to educate all students, while also trying to protect teachers from COVID-19 by allowing little or no in-person contact.

Schools are in the decision-making process for the short-term. As a parent, you are in this for the long-term.

Eventually, your child will leave the public school system. If your child does not receive an appropriate education, will the teachers, the school principal or the director of special education come to his home to teach him how to balance his checkbook?

Of course not. This is the parents' responsibility.

Parents, and society-at-large, are ultimately responsible for students with disabilities who cannot achieve a level of independence. As a parent, you have a great vested interest.

Parents and Schools: Different Perspectives

Invariably, parents and schools look at a child's education from vastly different perspectives. Schools are only required to develop learning goals and objectives for a twelve month period.

As parents, we need to have a clear sense of where we want our children (with disabilities or not) to be at the end of their public school education. Schools don't have to make these decisions.

Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd EditionWrightslaw: All About IEPs

See Chapter 14 about Resolving Parent-School Disputes

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When Disagreements Turn Into Power Struggles

"But my child's team said I have to give consent to educating my child on their virtual platform. If I don't sign their consent form, my child will receive no services at all. When the school draws lines in the sand, this harms our relationship."

Pat Answers: There is nothing wrong with disagreeing on an issue. As you see, the problems come from the manner in which disagreements are handled.

Disagreements often turn into power struggles. Power struggles do not make anyone look good (for those who think I don't know what I'm talking about, review Howey v. Tippecanoe School Corporation. I am Mrs. Howey).

Had I understood this earlier, it might have made a difference between the $50,000 in attorney's fees we requested and the $20,000 we received.

If you have questions about how to resolve problems with the school, check out the Resolving Disputes Pop-Up Tool. The Resolving Disputes Pop-Up Tool has 12 Questions and Answers. Question #1 is "I don't agree with the school's proposed IEP. What should I do?"

You'll find answers to over 200 questions about IEPs in Wrightslaw: All About IEPs, a comprehensive, easy-to-read book with clear, concise answers to questions about IEPs. Table of Contents.

The Law Gives Parents Power -- Use Your Power Wisely

As a parent, you need to understand that the law gives you power to use in educational decisions for your children. You should not be afraid to use your power.

True advocacy is about improving the lives of children, and ensuring that they become independent, productive, taxpaying citizens who belong to the community in which they live.

"I'm tired of being jerked around at IEP meetings so I said I was bringing an attorney to the next meeting, But I don't have legal representation. Their response surprised me.

Pat Answers: It's dangerous to make threats. What if you can't find an attorney to represent you? It sounds like the school suspects you don't have an attorney and views you as a parent who makes empty threats.

In the future, you may find yourself backed into a corner because you "trained" the school to not believe you.

"I hate going to IEP meetings. The team interrupts me and talks over me. They are not willing to respond to my questions and comments."

Pat Answers: This happens because parents don't know how to take control of the situation. You need to learn to use subtle psychological strategies. Here are a few strategies that will help.

First, when you go to a team meeting, get there early.

Sit on the right side of the person with the most power. This is often the person with the pen (but not always). An added advantage to this is that you can often read notes as they are being written.

You are an equal team member. Stand straight and act like an equal team member! Don't fall for the old divide-and-conquer game of "us v. them."

If the pace is too fast, tell the chairperson that you can't keep up. Ask them to slow down so that you can take notes.

Make this request as many times as is necessary until they comply with your request to slow down. (Most people will give in to a request after is repeated about three times.) Read How to Hone Your Advocacy Skills and Help Others.

Be persistent. With some school people, you have to repeat your request several times. It helps to pretend that they are your children. You know how many times you have to tell your children to do something, or stop doing something, before they comply!

If the team refuses to slow down in response to your requests, you should document this in your written follow-up letter.

The Power of Your Written Follow-up Letter

Your follow-up letter is more important than the notes you keep. Your follow-up letter documents what you experienced during the meeting and includes answers to your questions and requests, disagreements, procedural errors, untruths, misstatements -- all the things that never make it into the school's meeting notes.

A Written Opinion is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic because school staff are making things up as they go along. Some of these things -- like requiring a parent to sign a consent form before agreeing to provide an eligible child with a FAPE -- are not consistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Do not attack people.

Keep your follow-up letter factual, not emotional.

Assume you request an independent educational evaluation (IEE) of your child. The head of the team says, "We won't pay for an independent educational evaluation. If you don't like our decision, you can request a due process hearing."

After the meeting, you might write something like this:

Written Opinion

Team Meeting


Child's Name

I requested an independent educational evaluation. 

I was told this would not be provided and that I could request a due process hearing if I did not agree.

Sign it.

Keep a copy for your records.

You'll find that your written report is very powerful. It will become part of your child's permanent educational record. The school can never say this did not happen because you documented it.

The written opinion is just one example of how you can document what happened, or did not happen, at an IEP meeting.

Find out how to create a complete record in Written Opinions: A How-To Manual by Pat Howey.

Meet Pat Howey

Pat Howey Patricia Howey has supported families of children with disabilities since 1985. She has a specific learning disability and became involved in special education when her youngest child entered kindergarten. Pat has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who have a variety of disabilities and she has used her experience to advocate for better special education services for several of them.

Pat is a charter member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), serving on its Board of Directors from 2000 through 2003. She has been a Commissioner on the Tippecanoe (County) Human Relations Committee, a graduate of Leadership Lafayette and Partners in Policymaking, and a member of the Wrightslaw Speakers Bureau. She has been on the faculty of the College of William and Mary Law School’s Institute of Special Education Advocacy since its inception in 2011.

Pat has an A.S. and a B.A. in Paralegal Studies from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, where she graduated magna cum laude. She is an Indiana Registered Paralegal and an affiliate member of the Indiana Bar and the American Bar Associations.

Pat began her advocacy career as a volunteer for the Task Force on Education for the Handicapped (now InSource), Indiana’s Parent Training and Information Center. In 1990, she opened her advocacy practice and served families throughout Indiana by representing them at IEP meetings, mediation, and due process hearings.

In 2017, Pat closed her advocacy practice and began working on a contract basis as a special education paralegal. Attorneys in Indiana, Texas, and California contracted with her to review documents, spot issues, draft due process complaints, prepare for hearings, and assist at hearings. In January 2019, she became an employee of the Connell Michael Kerr law firm, owned by Erin Connell, Catherine Michael, and Sonja Kerr. Her duties have now expanded to assisting with federal court cases.

"Changing the World -- One Child at at Time".

Contact Information

Patricia L. Howey, B.A., IRP
POB 117
West Point, Indiana 47992-0117

Revised: 09/06/20

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