By: Joshua Lipack
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.
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.
Disability Rights of North Carolina 1-800-821-6922
Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center 1-800-962-6817
Wrights Law 1-800-962-6817