Parents contact us asking for advice on how they can convince, persuade, or argue with their school district to include their child in general education all the time. The fact of the matter is that there is no guarantee that your school district is going to listen to you or take you seriously. But there are a few things you can do to help prepare yourself for when administrators do push back. Here is a list of five essential actions that will get you well on your way to including your child in whatever context you and your family find yourself in. Please note: Some of the links are to paid products or services but we do not receive any commission or kickback from them.
1. Download the iAdvocate app on your iPhone or iPad.
iAdvocate was created by the wonderful people over at Syracuse University. Their goal in creating the app was to “share and develop specific strategies with parents for working collaboratively with a school team to improve their children’s education. iAdvocate uses problem-based learning strategies, simulations, and provides contextual access resources to build parental advocacy skills and knowledge.” It features a list of journal articles that are required reading for any inclusion advocate, what to say when your school district gives you a reason why they “can’t” include your child, and strategies on how to work with the school district to ensure the success for your student. This is one app that your school district does not want you knowing about.
2. Do your research and read “Does Self-Contained Special Education Deliver on Its Promises?” and share with your administration (or anyone else).
It is a common argument that self-contained classrooms prepare children with disabilities better for their future than the general education environment. This of course is because special education is a self-perpetuating system that requires for certain students to have “specialized instruction” which in turn means that some with have “specialized environments”. In addition, self-contained classroom are supposed to be where students can learn in a “less distracting” environment. While this is nice in theory, how it is played out in real life is far from perfect. Self-contained classrooms tend to be one of the most distracting learning environments of all. This is one of the best research articles to have in your back pocket as you advocate for your child to be included in general education.
3. Get trained as an advocate. Listen to our interviews with Dr. Julie Causton and Dr. Cheryl Jorgensen to get more information about how to become one.
We have referred several people to listen to these interviews because they are chalk full of information on the philosophy of inclusive education and what we need to do to change how inclusion is done. One of the biggest things that we have learned from both of these talks is that real and lasting systems change needs to come from the top-down (from the district or administrative level). It is virtually impossible to make changes to a system as entrenched as education from the inside out. While that realization is harsh, it should focus us on what we can do to make a difference. Outlined in these interviews are ways how you can be trained as an advocate that can immediately help your child or anyone else that needs assistance in this area.
4. Join your local PTA or PTO.
While Parent Teacher Organizations (PTOs) vary in their scope of advocacy, the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) has always had a particular focus in diversity and inclusion. Here is an excerpt from the National PTA’s website:
PTAs everywhere must understand and embrace the uniqueness of all individuals, appreciating that each contributes a diversity of views, experiences, cultural heritage/traditions, skills/abilities, values and preferences. When PTAs respect differences yet acknowledge shared commonalities uniting their communities, and then develop meaningful priorities based upon their knowledge, they genuinely represent their communities. When PTAs represent their communities, they gain strength and effectiveness through increased volunteer and resource support.
The recognition of diversity within organizations is valuing differences and similarities in people through actions and accountability. These differences and similarities include age, ethnicity, language and culture, economic status, educational background, gender, geographic location, marital status, mental ability, national origin, organizational position and tenure, parental status, physical ability, political philosophy, race, religion, sexual orientation, and work experience.
We encourage all the parents who contact us to make an effort to join the Patent Teacher Association to fully experience what their school community has to offer. Many times the school doesn’t think to plan for the inclusion of students with disabilities because the don’t have any parents with children with special needs on committees or the board. This is will undoubtedly make it easier for your child to be included.
5. Hire a professional advocate or special education lawyer.
Sometimes it is necessary to bring in professional help when your family and the school district are not seeing eye to eye on matters of inclusion and inclusive best practices. While we are not in the business of recommending specific advocates or lawyers, we do highly recommend becoming a member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA). You can’t do this alone and COPAA is the perfect place to start to connect with people who have done it before. Here is a list of the some of the things they value taken from their website:
COPAA works to:
- Enable parents to work more effectively with school personnel to plan and obtain effective educational programs for their children with disabilities;
- Encourage more attorneys and advocates to undertake representation of parents of children with disabilities in their efforts to plan and obtain effective educational programs;
- Provide advocate, attorney, parent and other professional COPAA members with the practical resources and information they need to obtain effective educational programs for students with disabilities;
- Enable members to network and share information and legal resources;
- Provide training for special education advocates on all aspects of special education advocacy and informal conflict resolution;
- Provide training for attorneys on legal practice: including due process, litigation, and informal conflict resolution;
- Enable parents to locate advocates, attorneys, and related professionals through COPAA’s website directory;
- File amicus curiae briefs in cases of national significance.
You can also find specific legal advice for your state at the Wrightslaw Yellow Pages For Kids. This is another fantastic resource to find attorneys, advocacy groups and other resources that are geared toward your area.
We hope that these five action steps have given you a little bit of hope as you plan for inclusion for your child. If there is anything we can do to help we would be happy to point you in the right direction. Thanks for your time and attention.
Photo Credit: Aurélien aka ores/Flickr