The assumption is parents want the best possible education for their children. Getting this sometimes requires some insistence. Occasionally, a child will need something beyond what the curriculum and first tier of supports will provide. The school should notice this and respond, but sometimes it won’t. Other times, for various reasons, it will be reticent to act. When parents notice a need and want something done about it, some courses of action work better than others. Below are some tips for those parents who might need to petition for services.
1. Understand the Need – Before seeking services for their own sake, a need of some kind must be identified. This might be a delay in reading, or perhaps a difficulty with focus. In some cases, the parent will either notice this—or at least consider it to be a problem—before the school does. Parents typically don’t have access to the diagnostic tools schools use to determine deficits. What parents see might differ somewhat from what testing indicates. However, if evidence exists that performance or development in some area is stagnant or slipping, parents have cause to at least bring up the possibility of some intervention.
2. Understand the Services – The school should be the entity deciding what service is necessary to address a need, just as a physician should be the person prescribing a medication or other treatment for an illness. That doesn’t mean parents should have no part in the decision. Certainly, parents should consent to whatever the school recommends. They must do so in the case of special education evaluations. For parents to consent to a service, they should be as informed as possible about what the service entails. Schools have an obligation to explain this to parents, but parents can preemptively educate themselves. They can research common reading interventions, behavioral programs, or whatever other interventions are associated with existing deficits. They also can research the range of services, from tutoring and response to intervention to 504 Service Agreements and IEPs. Doing so will help them be knowledgeable contributors.
3. Be Involved – While a school has an obligation to provide support regardless of parental participation, parents could undermine their cause by appearing uninvolved. Whether or not this is justifiable, a school might pay more attention to the parents who are most involved.’ This means parents should attend conferences, return requisite paperwork, and generally be a presence in their children’s schooling. Involved parents might get the support they desire for their children without having to petition for it. There also might be less of a chance of becoming embroiled in disputes over services when participation has been consistent.
4. Communicate Diplomatically – Barging into a school unannounced and demanding a reading intervention begin immediately might not be the best way to request a service. Parents should cultivate a continuing dialogue with teachers and other school officials. Even though schools should be taking the lead with this, parents can do their part to maintain productive communication. If this is ongoing, less of a chance for sudden surprises about performance exist. A better chance for civil discourse exists, too. Parents and school officials can have many reasons to disagree, but finding common ground can happen more readily when communication has been frequent and polite. Keeping interactions friendly goes a long way towards having productive conversations about services.
5. Document – In-person conversations are cordial, but the adage goes “if it isn’t in writing, it didn’t happen.” Parents should at least keep dated log of conversations with teachers. These could remain subject to scrutiny over authenticity, though. Requests of any kind should be in writing. If making a request through a letter, parents should keep a copy for themselves and possibly get a receipt confirming delivery, depending on the nature of the request. Texting is ubiquitous and some teachers choose to text with parents. Texts easily get lost, though. Email is time and date stamped and possibly more permanent. When seeking support, parents want to be sure they document their requests and do so using the most reliable means.
Parents in search of ways to support their children can reach out to other available resources as well. They can talk with other parents, explore online forums, or even hire an advocate. Starting with some of the tips outlined above can be a good start. With the goal of meeting student needs being paramount, parents can pursue support via the channels most likely to yield results.
Written by Jeff Hartman