This post on Special Education Etiquette was written by Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves who spent fifteen years in special education with their son and now they are trying to help other parents avoid the problems they encountered. These problems include evaluations that are vague and don’t convey useful information, IEP goals that aren’t measurable, conflicts of interest for school employees and even outside professionals, and graduation standards designed to push special education students out of the system before they receive an appropriate education.
The experience advocating for their son made the Graves realize that every single year of a child’s education matters and that parents are the only constant advocates their child will have during these years. It is an enormous responsibility, but it can be an ultimately rewarding one and their book will help you help your child with special needs. Read their guest post introducing their book and their online interview with Special Needs Book Review.
The best results for a child with special needs can be arrived at when all the parties involved work together for one common goal… having a child with special needs reach his potential. We thank Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves for their following guest post.
Special Education Etiquette
Parents Have the Power to Make Special Education Work
by Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves
Special education can be both rewarding for parents and a source of frustration when things don’t go the way they should. While some experts believe that conflict between parents and schools is normal and inevitable, it is too easy to become frustrated with the special education system and take it out on the individuals in the system you encounter most often. For the most part, it would be unfair to confuse the individual with the system. Teachers and other professionals who choose special education as a vocation usually do so out of a genuine interest in helping students and can be as frustrated by the system as parents. Whenever you are tempted to display your anger and frustration, our best advice (paraphrasing investor Warren Buffet), is to remember these two rules:
1. The special education experience is not about you, it is about your child.
2. Never forget rule number one.
What we mean by this is that no matter how many violations of the special education law the school commits and no matter how angry that makes you, do not take the situation personally. Always do your best to maintain a cordial relationship with the people who are teaching your child, providing services to your child, or administering the program your child attends. You need their help for your son or daughter to get an appropriate education. Confrontation only makes school personnel defensive and less cooperative. To quote one expert: “Unless you are prepared to remove your child from public school forever, you need to view your relationship with the school as a marriage without the possibility of divorce.”
If necessary, you can seek remedies for problems in a due process hearing, but if you do, the hearing officer will want to know that you first have made every effort to cooperate and try reasonable suggestions that school personnel offer. It is fine to point out problems and seek to negotiate solutions, but if you go to a hearing with a history of confrontation and lack of cooperation, that will inevitability be factored into any judgement the hearing officer makes. In short, there is no downside to being polite, even if you feel that the courtesy is not reciprocal. To that end, we have the following suggestions to help you maintain an appropriate relationship with school personnel:
1. Treat the people working with your child as you would like to be treated. What you perceive as lack of cooperation may be the result of being overwhelmed by having to work with too many students or being hamstrung by lack of resources, rather than an intentional slight. It doesn’t help to be rude or dismissive of people who are doing their best in less than ideal circumstances.
2. Don’t assume that school personnel understand all the details of your child’s disability. Be willing to spend some time educating Team members about your child’s particular needs. Sometimes parents mistake a lack of understanding as a lack of cooperation.
3. Prioritize what is most important for your child’s education and do not make a habit of complaining about small procedural errors or trying to control all the details of your child’s school life. Save your energy and credibility for the important problems. Ask yourself if you would rather be angry or get appropriate services for your child.
4. Find a forum other than a Team meeting to express anger or frustration. Use a spouse or trusted friend for animated discussions about things you feel the school is not doing appropriately. A trained advocate can be a good sounding board for your concerns as well as a source of advice for how to proceed when you encounter roadblocks.
5. Keep an open mind at Team meetings and consider all suggestions thoughtfully, even ones with which you might disagree. If you find a discussion over a disagreement becoming too heated, or if a Team member starts to lose emotional control, ask for a short break or, if necessary, ask that the meeting be reconvened at a later date.
6. Insure that your child gets the help he or she needs. Even if your school is not following the letter of the special education laws, your job is to insure that your child gets help, not to point out the school’s failures, or worse, try to get the school to admit its failures. School districts, like all bureaucracies, will hardly ever do that. To this end, concentrate on the solutions to problems, not on the failure that might have caused the problem.
None of this means that you have to accept improper behavior from school personnel or not stand up for the rights of your child. Your goal is to create a positive working environment in which you can advocate for your child and negotiate for appropriate services and supports.
About The Authors, Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves taken from their guest post introducing their book
We are not educators, lawyers, or clinicians. We are parents with typical jobs and interests who happen to have spent 15 years in the special education system trying to obtain an appropriate education for our son. Through trial and error, success and failure, we managed to learn what it takes to navigate the bureaucratic maze and the often hidden agenda of school culture so that our son could receive the education he deserved and by law was entitled to. Our goal is to help other parents achieve similar results for their children.
Follow Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves
- Guest Post by Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves, Introducing their book, Parents Have The Power To Make Special Education Work
- Interview with Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves, Authors of Parents Have the Power to Make Special Education Work