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Parents of Students with Health Needs

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How to Exercise your Parental Rights in Public Schools

A friend of mine knows her rights as a parent. And she goes to her autistic son’s IEP meetings with her rights listed in her Kindle. But when she wants to make an impression, she carries her well-worn and tabbed copy of Wrights Law: Special Education Law.
Last year, she and her husband questioned whether their son’s school had been teaching their son the academic content standards as required by state law. So they made a Families Rights and Privacy Act request for all his educational records. As a result, they found out that he was being taught two grades beneath his academic grade, even though his IEP required the school to teach him at grade level. Because of this, they filed a lawsuit with the US Department of Education.
And since the school was not giving him free appropriate public education (FAPE), she and her husband exercised their right to transfer their son to another school. At the new school, an assigned aide works with him on social skills, impulse control and academic remediation. As a result, he increased his reading level by two grades and is now performing at grade level. He passed every single class, and performed better than he had ever performed on the state standardized test. The teachers also taught his classmates about autism and helped them learn how to relate to him. And over the course of the year, his confidence started growing. He now has friends for the first time ever.
Would this have happened if she and her husband had just accepted the first school’s opinion that their son was incapable of working on grade level? Probably not.
As parents of special needs children, it is imperative that we know our rights and assert them. Being assertive does not mean being unpleasant—unless you have exhausted all other options. You need to be an active part of the IEP/IFSP/504 team. Even if you don’t feel confident, act like you are. Being part of team goes beyond just showing up to meetings and making sure homework gets done. Volunteer as your schedule allows, spend time in the school with the team members and ask how things are going. This opens the doors of communication and mutual understanding.
Every parent receives a copy of these very important rights during IEP, 504 or IFSP meetings.
Parents of special needs children have the right to:

1) Information in a language we understand
2) Written information about any changes in our children’s early intervention or special education services
3) Accept, refuse and change our minds about education professionals’ recommended evaluations and interventions
4) Confidentiality
5) Specific procedures and protections if certain disciplinary actions are taken
6) A new evaluation/plan if our children’s discipline issues are a result of disability or failure of the school to carry out an IFSP/IEP
7) Free appropriate public education (FAPE) or reimbursement for private education in certain circumstances
8) Keep parental rights for our adult children, except under certain conditions
9) Resolve disputes through mediation, State complaint and due process complaint
10) Reimbursement for attorney fees in certain circumstances
My friend and her husband would not have been able to have success in their child’s situation if they had just accepted the first school’s opinion that their son was incapable of working on grade level. They knew their rights and fought for them to be implemented. It’s a shame that they had to fight to get an appropriate public education, but with limited resources and over-extended staff, schools can sometimes drop the ball. That is why all parents need to be empowered to require the school system to give quality appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. When schools are held to that standard, they provide quality education.

By MarylandCAN Blogging Fellow Beth McCracken-Harness
Originally Published under the title "How to Exercise your Parental Rights in Maryland Public Schools"
posted on Monday, August 20, 2012 - 11:24am, http://marylandcan.org/news-blog