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Parent Educational Advocacy

By Darcy Nee

In recent months, we have heard from several Kinetic Konnection’s parents about the challenges they face when dealing with school-related needs for their children. For many parents, the ability to understand an IEP, a 504 Plan or Triennial Review can be daunting. However, there are local resources parents or guardians can tap to help them become informed advocates for their children’s right to an appropriate education. Northbrook, IL based special education attorney, Charles P. Fox, is one of several such resources.

Fox, who has been working in special education law for 14 years, said he wants to provoke “parent empowerment” and provide them with the practical strategies when addressing the school district.

“It’s not always realistic to have a lawyer with you at every meeting,” he said in a recent interview. “So, I want to help parents develop their advocacy skills. They can learn to do this effectively and efficiently, and ultimately recognize when they may need a lawyer.”

Parents may feel uncertain about how to approach a school district with concerns regarding their child’s education. Fox suggests that prior to a meeting, parents create an input statement which describes the child, their needs and the resolution. This is a way for parents to commit their ideas to paper and to provide the school district with their desires. Secondly, he said to document all information. If there is any point of contention between the parent and school district, he said to “write it down.” Lastly, he stressed the importance of focusing on the purpose of the IEP.

“We need to think long term from the beginning,” he said. “For example, let’s say you have a three- or four- year-old with autism who is fascinated with touching fabric. When the child turns 16, he may touch the teacher’s clothing and that teacher now wants to call the police. How are these behaviors and child placement going to play out for long-term? We need to look at what skills the child should develop now to help him or her live in our society safely and with confidence later.”