Advocating for your Children

What parents can ask the school to do to help their children succeed.

Erika Palmer, a lawyer at Advocates for Children, a nonprofit that guides parents of children in New York City public schools, explains how parents can get school-based services for their children:

Q: What school services can help a child who is struggling in school?
A: If parents are getting called down to the school because of a child’s behavior problems, parents can request a Functional Behavior Assessment. That means the school social worker or psychologist observes the child in different classes over several days to really understand the child’s behaviors. Then the clinician will develop an intervention plan.

Parents need to be involved in making that plan, because they know what rewards and consequences work at home and what doesn’t. For instance, at a recent meeting we were talking about a child who was getting rewards in school at the end of each week, based on a point system. But this child had a very short attention span. He needed to have rewards and consequences every 30 minutes. Parents can carry over the same techniques at home. Consistency will make discipline work much more smoothly.

Parents also can ask for specific school-based supports, like counseling or tutoring. Kids with attention difficulties might try out having a one-on-one paraprofessional work with them for part of the day. But getting services in place takes a great deal of persistence. In New York City, every school has a parent coordinator, which parents can go to for information, or you can call the Advocates for Children Helpline at 1-866- 427-6033.

Q: What should parents know about special education services?
A: Children can be placed in special education because of academic or behavior problems. Special education does not necessarily mean your child will learn in a separate class. Special education is a range of services designed to help children with disabilities succeed in school.

If you do not want your child placed in special education, you do not have to give consent. You can also withdraw your consent and have your child removed at any time.

To enter special education, children must be evaluated and then school staff and the parents work together to create an Individual Education Plan (IEP), which is like a contract describing the services that the school is required to provide.

After a meeting to write the IEP, parents may assume that the child is getting the services the school agreed to, but the school may not be following through. Parents need to talk with their child and visit the school to make sure the child is in the correct setting and actually receiving speech therapy, counseling, small-group tutoring, or other services.

If the school recommends that your child move to a special education program in a different school, parents have the right to visit the new school and get information about the class before consenting to the placement.

The right specialists might not be on staff. But every school has a school-based support team: a special ed teacher, psychologist, social worker and often a parent outreach worker. Speak with the school support team to find out what help your child is getting through special education and what additional services might help your child.

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