It’s back to school time—2020 style. What. A. Mess.
This is perhaps the scariest, most confusing time for parents and teachers that I ever remember experiencing in my life.
This new hybrid approach has challenged teachers in unprecedented ways. Behind the scenes, I hear of many teachers and administrators deciding to resign. Teachers, administrators, and the school-based IT staff all need our patience right now.
Patience, however, does not mean that problems should be ignored or student’s educational needs denied. Patience means that you, as the parent, you need to:
- Be able to clearly state all the components of your child’s IEP or 504 plan, including accommodations, (IEP only) related services, and (IEP only) modifications
- Be able to identify who are the people in the district that are the best to address your child’s specific problems (not all requests will go to the teacher)
- Be ready to try new approaches that the school suggests and tweak as needed
- Encourage your child’s team to think outside the box when it comes to delivering the services that will help your child continue to make progress.
Be Able to State Your Child’s Needs
Being able to ask for help means that first you clearly know what your child needs help with. These needs should be outlined in the 504 plan or in the IEP. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
504 plans: If your child has a 504 plan, do you know what your child’s accommodations are? Do you have easy access to that list in their plan? Does the plan say who will implement this if your child is using virtual learning?
IEP: Do you know where your child’s IEP is? Have you read it recently? Are you familiar with your child’s IEP goals? Which goals have been put on hold due to the on-line learning restrictions? Have you been coached in how to take data (for those in virtual learning)? Are the conditions of the IEP available to your child at home? (If the IEP mentions graphic organizers or visual schedules, did your teacher provide you with those?) Are you familiar with your child’s accommodations? How are those being implemented? Are you familiar with the amount of services that your child is supposed to receive (listed on the related services page)? If your child is using a modified curriculum to participate in a gen ed class, are you receiving the modified curriculum BEFORE the lesson? Are you receiving lesson plans at the beginning of the week?
- If your child’s accommodation list calls for your child to have access to fidgets during lessons, do you have similar ones at home?
- How will proximity to the teacher be implemented over a zoom screen?
- What should you do if the only device you have doesn’t support the school’s chosen platform?
Know Who Can Best Address Problems
While the teacher is usually the person parents turn to with problems, please understand that teachers are overwhelmed right now. Also, they may be just as confounded by some of these issues as you are. Ask your questions in writing and get the answers back in writing. Remember, promises are only as good as the paper on which it’s written.
I usually recommend to the parents I work with to take some time at the beginning of the school year to create a new contact list of important people for the year. There are often changes to school and district staff over the summer, so it’s something that you should do at the beginning of each school year.
This should include the teachers, vice principal, principal, 504 coordinator, special ed chair, special ed managers, school improvement officer, names of any service providers (i.e. school SLP, dyslexia specialist, behavior specialist, or OT) as well as the district supervisor for that related service, special ed director, superintendent, and school board trustee.
It’s important that you understand that there are a whole variety of people you can ask for help when you have problems. This helps the classroom teacher tremendously if you take the initiative to contact the different people directly, because often teachers are at a loss to find who is supposed to be providing particular services. It will reduce their workload if you don’t approach them with every little question.
504 plans: Who is the 504 coordinator at your school? Who is the district 504 coordinator? Who is in charge of IT for the school? For the district?
IEP: If you are needing a meeting with your child’s team, email the school special ed chair (usually the person who organizes the ARD meetings), always copy the principal on those emails.
Who is responsible for IT for the school? For the district?
Who is the OT consultant who provides fidgets and other adaptive material for the classroom (special paper, writing grips, etc.)
Who is the speech pathologist responsible for providing any speech services? Who is the district speech supervisor?
Please note: a 20-100 page general packet of material IS NOT providing speech services. You should be receiving specialized activities that are for your child with the IEP goal they are meant to address attached.
Who is the dyslexia coordinator for school & district? The behavior specialist? The reading specialist?
If your child attends a larger district, there are two more people that you need to know about. The first is someone called a special ed program manager. This is a person who is based out of the district office and supervises/oversees the special ed programs at several schools. When you don’t get a response from the school special ed chair, that is who you should turn to. Call the district special ed office to find out if your child’s school has one.
The next person you need to know about is someone called the School Support Officer or School Improvement Officer. This person supervises principals at several schools. If you run into problems with the principal, find out who this person is by call the district main office and asking.
Finally—you need to know who your school board or school trustee officer is. The superintendent of any school district is hired by the school board. The members of the school board are elected by citizens. You may not remember electing them, but you did. Usually these elections are considered an unimportant part of regular elections.
School board members are very important to you as the parent of a child with disabilities. They are the ones who approve the budget and decide priorities for the school district. If you are having issues getting your child’s needs met by the school, it is extremely important to bring this to the attention of your board member.
Also, one last resource to add to your toolbox is the local regional educational center. For the Houston area, that is Region 4. Check to see which regional educational service center supports your particular school district. These regional service centers are a part of TEA, and are filled with experts ready to help you on a variety of subjects: behavior, reading issues, communication devices, transition, etc. When the pandemic calms down, they will return to offering great conferences on topics related to special education. I highly recommend that you check them out.
Thinking Outside the Box
Teachers are just as eager for your child to make progress as you are. Sometimes the best way to find that successful approach is to just talk it out in a team meeting. By really understanding what your child is supposed to be learning as well as their obstacles to learning, you and the teachers can often brainstorm a unique solution that works for everyone.
Rather than focusing on the problem, try to look at it as an opportunity. We are moving towards a more technological world. What a great chance for your child to gain the skills necessary to be successful in it!