If you are a parent of a child with a learning difference, you most likely know firsthand that in order for your child to receive the best education possible, you will have to advocate for them at some point in their school career. When it comes to discussing your child’s education with his or her teachers and the school’s administration many parents feel they can handle it on their own. However, sometimes parents aren’t aware of their rights and the school district’s obligations.This is where the role of an educational advocate comes in.
The primary responsibility of a Special Education Advocate is to represent the best interests of students in seeking Special Education supports and services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. They help parents prepare for, and accompany parents to a variety of public school meetings, including: Individualized Educational Program (IEP), Section 504, Student Study Team (SST), Informal Dispute Resolution (IDR) meetings, and Expulsion Hearings. They utilize a multi-modal approach to learn about the student and make educational recommendations. Advocates review school records, Special Education records, 504 plans, and private assessments and evaluations; they consult with specialists who are knowledgeable about the child and they observe the child in the classroom; they inform parents/guardians of their educational rights.
Having an Advocate to assist in determining your child’s rights can be very valuable; not only from a legal perspective, but also by reducing the stress or intimidation parents may feel by meeting with school administrators. Advocates empower and educate parents by helping them formulate appropriate IEP goals, accommodations, modifications, behavior plans, and identify appropriate related services such as Speech and Language, Occupational Therapy, Assistive Technology, Adaptive PE, and aide support as appropriate. They provide expert opinions in exploring school placement, draft dispute resolution proposals, state Department of Education complaints, letters, and written requests to district personnel and administration. Educational advocates assess each student’s case, and when appropriate, they assist parents in seeking reimbursement for outside services and school placement for past, present, and future educational expenses. When appropriate, an advocate will refer their clients to an attorney who specializes in Special Education law.
I recommend that a parent consult with a Special Education Advocate when they suspect or know that their child has a disability that is interfering with their ability to make meaningful educational progress, and they have not been offered appropriate supports and services through an IEP or 504 Plan through the public school system, or they believe such a program or plan is not properly developed and/or being appropriately implemented.