Contributed by Heather Eckner, M.A.Ed. – Education Consultant, AAoM

The challenges of abrupt school closures in March left many students with disabilities and their families scrambling. With so much uncertainty about the school year ahead, families of kids in special education continue to have many concerns.

Among the many worries parent have, addressing learning loss and meeting kids’ special education needs is a top priority. Whether students are fully remote for their learning, going back to face-to-face, or some hybrid option of the two, parents have been sharing that they are stressed about the return to school.

Students with autism often depend on structure and routines in their daily schedules. For families managing adult work responsibilities along with overseeing the education for potentially multiple children, being able to provide the specialized supports and services that would typically be delivered by a team of several school professionals (special education teacher, general education teacher, occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech language pathologist, school social worker) is just not possible. 

And yet, the vast majority of students in special education have not received the services as outlined in their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) since Spring.

Now, six months later and another school year beginning, what are parents supposed to do?

When it comes to Education Advocacy, let’s focus on getting back to basics.

Determine the concerns and priorities you have for your child.

TIP #1: depending on your child’s unique needs, make a list of concerns and priorities that need to be addressed by the school team.

This may include –

  • working on skills like wearing a mask.
  • addressing areas of learning loss or where there is regression.
  • adding new accommodations that are needed to access remote learning.
  • requesting parent counseling or training (add to the Supplementary Aids & Services section).
  • scheduling periodic meetings to monitor the progress of your child’s program.

Involve your child in the process as much as is possible and appropriate.

Parents must be proactive.

TIP #2: If you haven’t already, contact your child’s school team.

Request a meeting to discuss your concerns and priorities. Ask the school team to explain how services documented in the IEP are going to be delivered.

Parents, you should participate in the education decisions about your child. Provide input from your documentation and observations for what went well and what didn’t work with remote learning in the Spring.

Ask lots of questions – especially WHY?

TIP #3: If you ask your child’s school team to consider a parent request and they respond that it is not possible, ask – WHY?

Example: Student’s IEP lists 30 minutes of speech service per week.

Parent request: Can the speech service be delivered 1:1 virtually?

Share your reasoning for the requests you make and ask the school team to provide their rationale for their recommendations and responses.

Help the IEP Team think outside the box – you don’t have to accept ‘No’!

TIP #4: You know your child best. Offer suggestions to the IEP Team (of which you are an equal member) based on your child’s strengths, interests, and their unique, individualized needs.

Flexibility, creativity, and collaboration will be necessary for both schools and families during this time.

Have everything in writing.

TIP #5: If the school team tells you a request you’ve made (e.g., speech therapy provided 1:1 virtually) is not possible, ask WHY? and make sure the school’s response is documented in writing.

For parents to have meaningful participation, you must be adequately informed and involved.

Remember: 

  • Nothing under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) has been waived.
  • Your child continues to have a right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
  • A Contingency Learning Plan does not replace an IEP.

Be aware of anything from a school district asking you to sign agreement, acknowledgement, consent, or receipt. 

  • A great tip is to never sign anything on the spot. 
  • Read everything very carefully.
  • Compare documents to prior versions, like an IEP.
  • Do not sign anything that waives your child’s rights to a FAPE under IDEA or Section 504.
  • Be specific in agreeing to any kind of time-related extension, like for evaluations.

If you do not understand what has been put forth as the learning plan for your child and/or you have not been involved, note this in writing to your child’s school team. If you are not sure, ask (in writing) for your school team to explain and confirm information in writing (email counts). Make sure you understand everything that is being discussed and decided moving forward for your child’s education. View the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) Statement on Protecting the Rights of Students with Disabilities as States and Districts Reopen Schools. Additional information to inform your advocacy efforts is available in the AAoM Back to School Parent Resource Guide.

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