What Are My Special Needs Child's Rights During This Pandemic Situation of Hybrid Back to School?
During this time of on again/off again hybrid/on-campus/online schooling, you might be wondering what are your special needs child’s rights for getting the best safe educational situation you believe your child needs during this pandemic. I’m amazed at how many parents I come across who don’t know the power they have due to the fact that there is an IEP for their child. An IEP means Individualized Education Plan, and it’s a CONTRACT with the school district which is supported by the the IDEA law, in which there should be measurable goals listed for your child's educational progress. The IDEA law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) covers a lot of your child’s rights and thus, your rights as a parent to advocate for the best educational situations for your child. How many of you think that the online schooling of this past year was the best educational situation for your special needs child? (I know I won’t see a lot of hands raised.) At the same time, some parents I’ve spoken to don’t want this “hybrid” back to school situation either, as some special needs children may have more fragile immune systems than their peers, or cannot handle wearing a mask all day. You have the right to insist on what you believe is best for your child, and right now—the school districts won’t be arguing, if you approach them knowing your rights. Because—most of the IEPs out there which were signed in the past year, have NOT been able to be honored due to the pandemic situation, so those contracts have essentially been broken by the school district. Never mind that it was a national emergency—the IEP is a CONTRACT, and per that contract, many a parent (myself included) has been able to fight for what’s in it to be upheld (whether or not you need a hired advocate or a lawyer to do it, or you can advocate for those rights by yourself). My point here is—the school districts have been on some tricky thin ice throughout this whole pandemic situation, and will probably be more willing to discuss your concerns and needs and create new goals to reflect what is best for your child right now, in the current situation. So don’t let them tell you otherwise! Don’t let them tell you that you “need” to send your child back to school—even parents of typical kids are deciding not to do so in some cases. As a parent of a child who has an IEP, we have MORE of a say in what happens, because unfortunately, we’ve had more of a let-down in the services promised to keep our child moving ahead academically and sometimes behaviorally (meaning, the IEP contract has been broken), in the past school year. I am mentioning a great resource I’ve mentioned in prior posts for anyone with a special needs child to see and note, as it explains in detail all your rights and the laws which protect those rights, and how to advocate for your child. From Emotions to Advocacy: The Special Education Survival Guide, by Pam Wright and Pete Wright, founders of the Wrightslaw Website (which you might also want to check out for more information at www.wrightslaw.com). I am not just a tutor of special needs and a behavior analyst working with special needs individuals--I have raised my own special needs child who has ASD/ODD/ADD and I’ve had to refer to resources many times over the years in order to make sure he got what he needed in the school setting. He is now a senior in high school, graduating this year, and it is often remarked at IEP meetings that you cannot tell he once had autism so severe, he had multiple meltdowns a day, he had zero language until after he was 4 years old, and then it was just echolalia for an entire 2 years, among other developmental issues he had. He just seems like another surly teenager to anyone who meets him now, but one of the reasons why he moved ahead so well was because I fought to have him included in the typical classrooms and I had to also fight for an aide to support the teachers in those classrooms. I have had to visit a lawyer several times, and then carry out her advice on my own (I was my son’s advocate). One time I did not sign an IEP for 3 months, holding onto it until the school district honored what was in the current IEP (the lawyer I visited advised me to do this), which was that he should have his aide in the classroom full day. I won that battle—by the time we had the IEP meeting, the school district was offering for him to have a 1:1 aide, a step UP from the general classroom aide that had been on his IEP to begin with! I just want every parent to know what I had to research myself and find out by networking with other parents of special needs children—that there is a lot that the school districts might not want you to know, but that knowledge will give you the power to be able to place your child in the situations and settings you deem best. If you can, I recommend finding and becoming a part of a parent support group—not just for the support which is invaluable in itself, but for the networking and exchange of information which happens that can help you become more powerful in what you can accomplish at your child’s IEP meetings. Did you know you can request an IEP review meeting every 30 days after the last one? Indeed, my parent support group became a hub of knowledgeable parents who took that information and used it to better the educational lives of their children, and even the school district knew about me and my group. Two parents in my group had sued the school district in the past (and won) which paved the way for other parents to just mention that they were thinking about visiting a lawyer, and then the school district would sit up and listen. Some districts are better than others in working with special needs individuals—yours might be working with you, and if so, be very thankful! But if you are like many parents I’ve talked to recently, and in the past, in that you feel you don’t have many options or choices, or you feel forced to accept what the school district is dictating to you—think again. Go read From Emotions to Advocacy. Get into a parent support group and share stories and learn what others are doing to help their child. Go speak with an advocate or even a lawyer (usually you can do just one visit here and there with a lawyer for special needs children—that’s what I did—and then take away the information and use it to advocate for your child yourself) and find out exactly what your rights are under your child’s IEP. And then remember—YOU are powerful, YOU have control of your child’s life and education, and no one can take that away from you, and there are laws to prove it! Keep that in mind, as the world changes all around us, remember that you can still steer the ship of your child’s education in the direction you want to because the power is in the fact that he/she has an IEP—a contract with the school system, supported by the national special education laws. I have sat across from the Director of Special Education when she refused to come to a meeting about why there was no aide for my son in the classroom, even though this was specified on his IEP (a signed contract that can be sued for if broken), and I told her that my husband wishes for us to go back to see Vanaman (a top lawyer for special education in southern CA who has sued and won against many school districts and regional centers) but that I wanted to try to work it out. She said that there weren’t enough aides, and I replied, ”I’m sorry to hear that. When will the aide specified for my son in his IEP be starting?”. (In other words, I wasn’t taking “no” for an answer.) It was the week before Thanksgiving. She said within two weeks—and then they actually started an aide the week OF Thanksgiving even though it was a short week! YOU have the power—never underestimate the power of that IEP—the contract that protects your child’s rights under all the legislation that has been passed to help children with special needs get what they need in order to have access to the best Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Get informed, get connected, and remember how powerful you are as the one true advocate for your child with special needs! If you are looking for help in catching your child up from this past school year, and want specified tutoring individualized to your child’s needs, contact me for a 1hr FREE CHAT to find out how I can help your child move ahead effectively and quickly! I’ve been tutoring special needs individuals for 25 years, plus bringing up my own son with autism (and even homeschooling him for 5th grade to catch him up) and I would love to help your child as well. I’m also a newly minted behavior analyst, so I now offer social skills help (I am a certified UCLA PEERS(R) provider), behavioral 1:1 help, parent training, and other help for ages 2 through adulthood. (And I offer all services either online or in person—in person with cautions in place due to COVID19). I’ve worked with young children through high school aged and also worked in group residential homes with adults. If you’re interested in those services, contact me for your 1hr FREE Chat to find out more about how I might be able to help your child behaviorally/socially/academically and thus help you as well! You can find out more here at www.TutorPaulaBCBA.com.