Have you heard the phrase “Free Appropriate Public Education?” If you have a school-aged child with special needs, most likely you have. This is because a FREE and APPROPRIATE education is guaranteed by law. Sometimes, however, this is easier said than done. Although it’s relatively simple to learn the laws and understand your rights, obtaining appropriate services, goals, accommodations, modifications, placement, and an adequate ongoing education is often much more difficult. The process can be frustrating, overwhelming, confusing, and time-consuming.
That is why many parents choose to work with a School Advocate. They feel that it “levels the playing field” and that they have a much better chance ensuring that their children’s needs will be met. How, though, does one go about choosing an effective School Advocate? There are several important items to consider when choosing an Advocate that will be most effective for your child and your situation. The first is that ANYONE can call themselves an “Advocate”. There is no certification or licensure or specialized education needed to be a special education advocate. This is why it is extremely important to ensure that your Advocate is knowledgeable and experienced.
Following are some key questions and thoughts to consider when choosing your School Advocate:
- In order to effectively advocate for your child, the Advocate needs a solid understanding of the law. School teams often use terms you might not be familiar with and reference “law” that may or may not be accurate. An experienced Advocate can provide you with explanations, accurate information and be able to counter the school’s arguments when they are telling you things that might not be true, might not be the whole truth, or when they fail to tell you all of the options.
- An effective Advocate understands school systems, teaching methods, curriculum, and interventions. She knows how to measure your child’s progress in school and how to use this information when developing the IEP.
- An effective Advocate understands and can interpret evaluation scores. Although school staff will tell you their interpretation, it is always wise to have an expert independently review the results. A qualified Advocate can review all the data and explain to you what they mean, how they apply to your child, and for which services your child may or may not be entitled based on those results. An effective Advocate is the link between the evaluation and your IEP team.
- The IEP is the hallmark feature of your child’s programming and should to be written by someone who thoroughly understands each aspect of this document. A qualified special education Advocate will be able to review the IEP, section-by-section, and provide you with a detailed list of suggestions to improve the IEP in order to meet your child’s needs. Are the baseline data adequate to write the goals? Are the goals meaningful and supported by the data? Are there sufficient goals to ensure progress? Are your parent concerns written in a manner that truly reflect what you stated? Are your child’s needs properly identified? Is your child being provided ample services to address the goals? Are the specialists providing enough “minutes” to meet your child’s needs? Are the accommodations and modifications appropriate? An experienced Advocate can also analyze the IEP in relation to past IEPs and evaluation data and provide you with an informative summary that will help you know if your child’s services are progressing in a manner this is truly adequate and supportive.
- An effective Advocate will educate and empower you to become a better advocate for your child. She will teach you how to plan and prepare for meetings, how to ask questions to get the information you need, how to write effective emails and letters, and how to navigate the process. A well-trained Advocate will also help you know when you need advice from an Attorney.
- An effective Advocate can take the emotion out of the process. She should be able to remain calm…and not be too aggressive or too timid. An Advocate should be able to diplomatically handle conflict in a way that helps you feel comfortable throughout the process while ensuring that your child has everything necessary to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education.
NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!