Trust but Verify

All parents have expectations about their child’s school experiences. They dream of the moment when their child gets on the school bus with a backpack full of school supplies, surrounded by friends, and waves goodbye with a smile on their face.  They can’t wait for the meet-the-teacher night when parents get to hear all the amazing things the students are accomplishing in the classroom.  They eagerly anticipate the first parent-teacher conference, looking forward to hearing from the teacher about all of the wonderful academic milestones their child is meeting.

But, for some of us, those things just never seem to happen the way you would expect.   Our child’s story may include fear of going to school, trouble making friends, or difficulty meeting academic expectations. When something doesn’t go according to plan in the public school, parents typically defer to the educators to provide the appropriate recommendations and solutions.  After all, they are the experts and aren’t we all supposed to be working together to help the child?

We need to rely on our school partners to help our children. Most people in education care deeply and have our children’s best interest at heart. But, we have to remember that public schools are bureaucracies serving many children, which requires parents to stay focused on their child’s individual interest. Parents need to fully understand the impacts of any recommendation or suggestion offered by the school team and feel comfortable asking questions if something doesn’t make sense or doesn’t feel right. In other words, trust but verify. If something doesn’t sound right, often it isn’t. 

Just this week we had a few calls that required parents to verify what they were being told was accurate. 

A mom called concerned about her 5th-grade child’s reading ability.  His grades in school were good, however, the teacher called parents in to say she had concerns with reading.  We suggested the mom begin by sending an email to the school to get a meeting to review her child’s educational records or “cumulative file”. 

The school told mom they did not allow parents to review the education file but, she could simply request what records she wanted and they would make copies for her.  This was problematic because the mom did not know what types of records were kept by the school and we had no history with this child to provide specific guidance for the request.  We had mom send an email and request the law or policy that the school was relying on to refuse for her to come in and review her child’s file. Their response was again cryptic and inaccurate.  The bottom line is the school CANNOT deny access to a parent to view their child’s educational record. There is federal law, FERPA, which provides parents a right to review their child’s records and to have the school explain any records that the parent may question.  

Another parent contacted us because her child’s class was participating in a school-wide reading program. Students who attained a certain number of points for reading and answering comprehension questions could earn rewards.  The parent was told her child would have to meet the 3rd grade benchmarks to be eligible for the prizes even though the child was identified with a learning disability, read below grade level and required accommodations to level the playing field. The teacher said it would not be fair if the child had individualized goals since this was for every student in the school and point levels were determined for each grade level.

This child had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Of course, she should have a reading goal that was realistic based on her abilities and allowed her to participate in the program with the same opportunities as her non-disabled peers.

The parent contacted the special education coordinator at the school and shared her concerns. The school team held a parent-conference and an individualized point system was designed to make the prizes attainable for this student at the same rate as her classmates. If the parent would have accepted the first answer she received, her child would have been penalized for having a disability. We often see teams trying to say the student with the IEP must be held to the same standard as others in the class in order to go on a field trip, attend a party, participate in recess, or fill in the blank.  This is simply not true. 

Parents are frequently given inaccurate information. Sometimes this occurs because staff is ill-informed, other times a policy has been applied differently than was intended, occasionally the misinformation is intentional because the school is trying to save money or avoid accommodating a student who needs something different. It is part of the parent’s role to ask questions, research policies and advocate on their child’s behalf.

Again, if you are being told something that doesn’t sound quite right, reach out to get more information. Then, recap the conversation in writing to document the results so later you aren’t told you didn’t understand.  It can be as simple as an email saying:

Thank you so much for your time today, I just wanted to confirm you said (whatever they said) and this is what we will do as next steps (list the who, what and when). 

Follow up is always in writing, always!

Take a cautious approach when accepting information. Ask questions; request rules or policies in writing; meet other families and learn about their experiences; and always trust your instincts.

Never IEP Alone!

Sue & Susan