Prepare for Conflict
Conflict is virtually inevitable when you are negotiating with your school to receive special education services for your child. If you know that conflict is normal when negotiating with the school, you’ll be ready for it before your first meeting. The key word is “prepare.” If you are lucky enough to get the right special education services for your child without conflict then congratulations! But it’s wise to be prepared for conflict; it’s the most likely scenario.
Why is there conflict? The three major sources of conflict are:
- Eligibility - Is the child eligible for special educations services? Is an IEP required or will a 504 accomodation be adequate in delivering services? Often times, the school will fight right away on the need for special education intervention. Parents report administrators telling them their "child is fine" when the parents know better. Schools will try to save money by advising parents that their son or daughter does not have special needs and does not qualify for special education services. Be prepared for this kind of pushback from the school.
- Placement - The second major area of conflict surrounds where your child will receive special education services. Does the placement fit your child's disability or is it the only program available at the school? Many parents complain of the 'one size fits all' aspect of special education services in the public school system. Once the IEP is established, the law requires the school to provide the services whether they are avilable at that local school or not. If the local school can't provide the required special education services, they must pay for service delivery at an outside location or another school...and that costs money. As such, expect the school to claim that their special education services are perfectly fine and there's no need for outside placement.
- Implementation - While the incidences of conflict tend to be lesser in this area than the previous two, conflict can still arise if parents do not think the IEP is being implemented properly.
This section says "Prepare for Conflict". However, preparing for this conflict is a much different war than you have ever been in. Before going into battle, a good soldier must have adequate supplies, knowledge of the terrain, and a battle plan. In your battle with the school, you should be armed with a professional attitude and demeanor. We could even use the word "dispassionate" in describing your body language as you meet with the special education school administrators.
You will need a notebook to write everything down and to keep all your documents in one place. You should have selected a special education advocate, and that person should accompany you to the very first meeting with the school. It would be best to have a solid understanding of special education vocabulary prior to the meeting; however, your advocate can help you with any unknown terms.
Most parents are astonished when they see firsthand the conflict often involved in special education meetings and generally walk into these meetings unprepared. Preparing effectively for this conflict can help you defuse the situation quickly and professionally. Remember, the ultimate goal is to work with the school to get the proper level of services for your special needs child.