Information for parents of disabled children

Saturday, April 9, 2011

In a perfect world, we'd all be lawyers.

US Supreme CourtImage by dbking via FlickrParents of disabled children already wear many hats. Since IDEA, we've had to don yet another and hang out our shingles whether we wanted to or not. At least, those of us who were able. It's the rest of that population that is our subject today.

As I've said before, Indiana's Article Seven and IDEA guarantee certain rights for the disabled student. Is that enough?

Most emphatically, NO.

In order to navigate the system, I had advantages. One, I had only some college, so my husband and I recognized my time was most valuable at home. Little did we know, it would be imperative. Two, I found training in the law fairly early on in our journey, and made a study of it ever after. Three, when I did get part time work, it was as a substitute instructional assistant in my son's school. The rest was history.

Our son has needed a lawyer almost from day one, and we couldn't afford one. We had to make do with my makeshift law degree. This gave us access to the complaint system, but it still denies us access to due process. Without access to the courts, our battle has had to be a political one. Squeaky wheel gets the grease.

The primary problem with that is that I didn't stop squeaking. I discovered a whole school of students without speech therapy and went to war alongside their parents to make the school do the right thing. One thing led to another, as our parent's group discovered violation after violation of the law and went to work on them. Now, I attend conferences and consult with parents on their IEPs in my spare time, and we still miss things.

Article Seven is a law with all the whys and wherefores that entails. It isn't easy for a housewife with some college to navigate, and, for some, it isn't possible. Many of my friends work a job, or a job and a half, on top of parenting a disabled child. They can't put in the hours that I have. Single mothers, forget about it. Many parents don't understand the law because it's a law, and that's why we have lawyers. A majority of us are broke what with all the medical bills.

A law without access is like a dance without music. It's missing something. When lines are drawn on a socio-economic basis, it's called disenfranchisement. Being unable to enforce your child's education because it's too expensive isn't much off the days before the wheelchair ramp.

So, families need a ramp. Teachers are a natural advocate for a student. They know the information and usually have the willingness (or did they pick the wrong job!). However, teachers answer to administrators who answer to superintendents who answer to politicians. You can see the problem. Our schools need to get back to the days when teachers were the advocates for families and let them make the recommendations that make sense for the child.

In the event this relationship breaks down, the simplest, second-best thing is to get the school, who failed to nurture the parent/teacher relationship, to pay for the family's advocate. The advocate doesn't have to be a lawyer.  Most often, it's a mom who did this on her own. Every advocate I know was the mother of a special needs child.

This would give all parents access, and advocates are more like coaches. Therefore, the training the parent would receive as a result could allow them to advocate for themselves in future. At the very least, it would put the parent back in the Case Conference Committee as an equal player and not a subservient.
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