When it starts to go wrong with the school.....
For many families of children with disabilities, things can seemingly "suddenly head south" working together with their childs IEP team or school. Very often, I hear from parents that 'everything was fine' and one day, out of the blue, 'things went south and I don't know why'.
The clues vary. Sometimes its a decrease in communications, or no longer being asked to help in the classroom, or sitting in an IEP and feeling that all sorts of conversations have been happening about your child without you. In the worst cases, it can be a sudden increase in disciplinary incidences for a child who have previously few or none. That 'feeling' one day goes a bit further or an action becomes a little much, and then a family will hire an advocate for help.
Coming in as an advocate, the goal is two fold: repairing the relationship with the school (you cannot fix what you do not know) and ensuring your child does not suffer from the causes of the change. Please note I did not make any indications about who is at fault, who is right, or who is wrong. It's not helpful. In all but the more severe cases, the goal needs to be a good working relationship with the school built on two principles which are mutual: respectful behavior and best interests of your child.
Good advocacy is all about opening lines of communication centered clearing the air about issues, refocusing teams on the best interests of your child and driving accountability. At times, teams can get off track for reasons which have nothing to do with your child. Good advocacy will drive the team back to the only legitimate focus, which is your childs best educational interests with you as part of the team. Conducting wars, however satisfying at the moment, just doesn't help anyone.
This is accomplished several ways. Being professional and knowledgeable. These two things combine well by lifting the demand for the same behavior in return. You have a right to expect to be treated the same way you treat others, so even if others behave badly, I work extra hard to remain professional so we can demand the same in return. As an advocate, I do not have the same emotional investment as parents do, simply because its not my child. This permits me to be less easily triggered by discussions and events. It matters. The professional discussion will always benefit the room by keeping us on track, and extraneous discussions which do not help, or are not pertinent, can simply be shut down. Likewise, if team members have personal issues or agenda's they are bringing to the table, it is easier to make those clear and then move them off the table as inappropriate.
The table expands with an advocate present. For many different reasons, when you have an advocate at the table, the district will likely be expanding their side of the table as well. This is a good thing! In our world, the sad truth is that many staff are not as well trained as they should be about various disabilities or sometimes the IEP of your child and what it says that they need to know. There are also often procedural issues with conducting an IEP which can create problems. These deficits are not things you or I can resolve, but they can be skillfully brought to the attention of key leadership in a district! That person has the duty to correct them and most will take advantage of those opportunities to correct and provide training.
When things start to go wrong with a school, the good news is, there are also chances to put things right. It takes knowledge about the rules, professionalism, respect and a willingness to step into the middle. With these things, good results can be achieved!