Unmasking the Rights of Children and their Parents in Education

By: Joshua Lipack

407783_1676833686017_2051181580_n (1)Last week, four Clinic students attended an in-depth training seminar offered by the Council for Children’s Rights.  The program was broken down into four individual sessions – (1) Special Education, (2) Know Your Rights: Student Rights in Public Schools, (3) Advocacy Tips: How to Stay Organized and Be Effective, and (4) Panel Discussion: Navigating School Discipline – which focused on issues commonly faced by parents with exceptional children.  Most of those in attendance were parents who had already gone through many of these issues and developed war stories of their own.  The subjects’s many complexities, which could easily span a semester’s length of instruction in juvenile law, were scaled down into an impressively short crash-course clocking in at less than four hours.

Parents acting as advocates on behalf of their children, whether in obtaining an appropriate Individualized Education Program (IEP) or contesting an inappropriate behavioral sanction, can easily find themselves lost within any number of barriers.  While the goal on either side is to reach the best interests of the child, increasing pressure on school districts can unfortunately allow some children to fall through the cracks.  Many parents actively working on behalf of their children are often facing the hopelessly daunting task of blindly navigating through the education system. CFCR Logo

One presenter offering simple yet invaluable advice explained the critical importance of being organized.  The process for obtaining an IEP for an exceptional child requires many meetings.  With the help of a well-organized three-ring binder, parents are able to alleviate much of their stress by being able to respond quickly to questions raised during meetings regarding former mental health evaluations or disciplinary records.

Presenters impressively transitioned between complex issues while making them easy to understand.  In addition to organizational tips, parents were given a quick run-down of the in what essential rights they have during the IEP process.  These rights were easily condensed into one slide:

Right to examine all records relevant to the child’s education;

Right to attend and participate in all IEP meetings;

Right to invite others to IEP meeting;

Right to request an independent evaluation;

Right to receive prior notice;

Right to pursue conflict resolution procedures.

Knowing they are in possession of these few simple rights gives parents not only the knowledge they need to advocate for their children but the necessary confidence as well.  Parents in the audience left feeling empowered by key language they would need to walk into a meeting informed.  Parents now know to say that they are looking for their child to receive an “educational benefit,” a phrase taken directly from the common law interpretation of the Free Appropriate Public Education Act (FAPE), rather than asking to maximize their child’s potential, which may in itself be enough to demonstrate they know what they are talking about.  In many situations, in a child’s education, a few strategically placed buzz words are all you need to show the one across the desk from you that you know what your child has a right to and that you are not backing down until your child has everything they need.

The Council for Children’s Rights periodically offers this and other free training programs and can be contacted at (704) 372-7961.

Additional Resources

Disability Rights of North Carolina               1-800-821-6922

Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center    1-800-962-6817

Wrights Law                                                1-800-962-6817

ParentVOICE                                               704-365-3454

4 Responses to Unmasking the Rights of Children and their Parents in Education

  1. Karen Vaughn says:

    I am very glad to see the clinic working with CFCR. Making connections and providing more resources for parents is such a needed endeavor.

  2. Evan Guthrie says:

    Good to see law students making a difference in the community.

  3. Johnathan Steinbach says:

    While I love the fact that we are working toward ensuring equal rights for our disabled brethren, I feel that some of the things herein stated are a bit simplistic. To say that a parent only needs to know a few key words negates the truth of the matter. Parents are in fear of the proverbial Ivory Tower that the education system has been to them since their induction into that system. What needs to happen, in my estimation, is a REAL shift. By that I mean a system in which the parents are not only guaranteed an equal berth BUT feel that they actually HAVE that equal standing.
    Josh, you have done a marvelous job of putting the horrors out there, now we have to work toward total integration. In my experience, yes, parents are given their “rights” but they rarely know how to use them.
    I would say that empowerment, which is not an easy task, is what is most needed in the fight for equality when it comes to what is needed for our specially educated children.

  4. Johnathan Steinbach says:

    AND, I am sorry that I did not recall the intricacies of the article, the concept of knowing a few “buzz words” is a fallacy. I happened to have been one of those “across the desk” for over 20 years and those words, even placed correctly (which happened on very rare occasions) most often left the parents “feeling” better but no more empowered.
    What I did was do everything in my power to show that a parent was truthfully a part of the process. I called them, went to the house if necessary (quite more often than one would expect), even bought lunch here and there. The part that hurt, though, was even as sure as I was that the parent had actually had a say in the development of the IEP, the meeting was still an adversarial process. At least, the parent, or grandparent as was often the case, knew an advocate for the child was within reach.

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