Special Needs: How to Advocate for Your Child’s EducationAugust 27, 2015
By Lynn Samartino
All parents should know how to advocate for their child’s education, but for parents of children with special needs, it is especially important. As a special education teacher, I want to get to know the parents of my students, build a rapport with them and involve them in their child’s education.
Many parents focus on their child’s social, emotional, and physical well-being at home (which is very important), but leave the entirety of education to teachers. As the YOU Program demonstrates, these pieces go hand-in-hand, so a teacher-parent partnership is critical for a child’s academic success.
To ensure your child receives a highly qualified education in accordance with their special education services, work on these three things: knowledge, involvement, and communication.
To advocate for your child, you must educate yourself on school details and your child’s educational rights.
- Understand your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
All students receiving special education services have an IEP. Each year, you will review that IEP with necessary school staff to ensure your child is making progress through goals and objectives. This is the guide to your child’s education.
Prepare for the annual meetings by learning what the IEP fully entails, why your child has one, what the components mean, and how it is implemented. The IEP lays out the framework for your child’s education and the school should follow everything outlined in it.
If you need help understanding the IEP, meet with your child’s teacher or a staff member who can explain each section. Although it is discussed thoroughly during the IEP meeting, if you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to schedule a follow-up meeting.
- Speak with other parents at the school.
Get to know other parents of the school community. You can learn from each other, including how to successfully advocate for your child’s education (and possibly what doesn’t work as well).
When you are involved in your child’s education, you are well informed and have a better understanding about how to advocate for your child. When teachers and staff see and know that you’re involved, we can better collaborate and partner with you.
- Volunteer in the classroom.
By volunteering and occasionally being present in the classroom, you can ensure that your child’s IEP is being implemented appropriately. If you have a paid job in the classroom, you can help support the IEP implementation. Through these opportunities, you can communicate regularly with the teacher to make sure the appropriate services are being provided in the least restrictive environment.
- Attend parent-teacher conferences and school-sponsored events.
Plan ahead and attend parent-teacher conferences, family reading night, or any other events offered throughout the school year. Build rapport with the community, school, staff, and teachers at these events. You can learn more about education and how the school operates.
Whether asking questions, communicating your child’s needs, or just discussing an assignment, communicate regularly with all the teachers and staff that your child works with daily. Technology provides ample opportunities for communication, so use it to your advantage.
- Email key staff members.
You or your child’s teacher can start an email chain with the necessary school staff so that everyone can work together for his or her educational success. Regular emails are convenient and make it easy to check in quickly.
At the beginning of the school year, share your email address with the teacher so they can keep you regularly informed. Ask the teacher if they have a website for you to view assignments, important dates, and lesson materials.
- Say hello during pick-up and drop-off.
If you pick up or drop off your kids at school, have a brief chat with the teacher every so often. Many things can be communicated in just a few minutes and issues resolved. It is great for me to quickly touch base with my students’ parents before the day begins or at the end of the day to inform them of the accomplishments made during class time.
Think of the process of advocating for your child’s education as a three-legged stool. The stool supports us when we need to sit, but it must have all three legs to balance and stand. Those three legs are parental knowledge, involvement, and communication. By practicing those three “legs,” your child can succeed in school, no matter what his or her needs are.
Lynn Samartino, M.A. is an upper inclusion special education teacher for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students at Chicago Public Schools. In her 10+ years of experience, she has spearheaded after-school programs, developed the Inclusive Model, and managed the integration of new technology into academics.
She holds certifications in general and special education with endorsements in middle school, language arts, social science, and English as a second language (ESL).