The word of the day for me is complexity because each speaker at the Special Education Law Symposium makes a point of emphasizing the complexity of special education law and the special education system. The reasons for this complexity are many including:
- The inherent ambiguity of legislation passed by congress.
- The various legal interpretations from judges and attorneys.
- The individual and varied needs of students with disabilities as identified by parents, advocates, and school professionals.
- The hidden factors that can influence the creation of special education services – including school budget concerns, frequently overburdened school systems and parents, and from time to time the competing interests of all involved in the process.
- The sheer scope of issues covered by special education law including everything from what qualifies a child for special education services to how services are planned and maintained for a student with a disability throughout the course of their educational career.
Throw into the mix that states and local school districts can have their own special education laws or policies and procedures and you begin to understand why, by its nature, special education law is so complex.
So what can parents of a school aged child with PWS do to equip themselves to navigate the often murky waters of special education law and the special education system?
In the spirit of school summer break, I would like to offer some homework assignments for parents. Don’t worry, no quiz will be given! But hopefully, if you work on some of these suggested assignments you will feel more confident working with the special education system for your child.
- Summer is a great time to catch up on your PWS school planning.
Continue to learn as much as you possibly can about the educational needs of your child. Utilize PWSA (USA’s) school materials like the School Portfolio to create and maintain a good educational profile of your child you can share with teachers and IEP team members throughout your child’s school years. Your input is critically important to help school professionals understand the individual needs of your child. Also, take time to review any PWS specific educational materials you can. This includes PWSA (USA)’s DVD for Educators which is one of the best resources we have for school professionals. It is good for parents to watch too!
- Summer is a perfect time to think through your IEP team building strategy for next year.
Special education works best when the heart and soul of the special education process – the IEP team – works effectively together. This includes the vital task of positively problem solving as a collaborative team. An understanding of special education law is important but so is learning to build healthy relationships with your child’s principal, teacher, and other school professionals on the IEP team. Those relationships – if strong – will give the entire IEP team a good foundation for dealing effectively and respectfully with disagreements when they emerge. So do some reading this summer on negotiating, team building, and advocacy. Also, if you have some school professionals on the IEP team you really appreciate – send them a note over the summer to say thanks for the support they give your child.
- Summer is a great time for a research project.
A good topic is learning more about the IDEA and Section 504 – the two major federal special education laws. The links below will get you started.
Looking for some extra credit?
- Find out when the next Wrights Law parent advocacy training is in your area (www.wrightslaw.com) and make plans to attend. If attending is a financial hardship ask your state chapter leader to contact me to see if PWSA (USA) can provide you with a scholarship to help you attend. Supporting your advocacy training is one of the best investments PWSA (USA) can make in you and your child’s future.
- Get to know your state Parent and Information Training Centers https://wdcrobcolp01.ed.gov/Programs/EROD/org_list.cfm?category_cd=SPT to to learn more about resources they offer.
- Send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for the PWSA (USA) e-letter exclusively about school issues called School Times. Oh, and don’t forget to take some time for yourself this summer. Practicing good self-care is one of the most important things you can do for your child.
-Evan Farrar, PWSA (USA) Family Support Counselor
Note: I am attending the Special Education Law Symposium at Lehigh University this week. For updates, please follow this blog and follow me on twitter @evanearlfarrar