Question: I suspect my child’s IEP may not be appropriate, but I am not an expert.  I want to keep up good relations with my child’s school because I have 2 other children, but my friends tell me to hire an attorney or an advocate.  What consequences should I expect if I decide to fight for a better IEP?

First off, it is admirable that you want to fight for what your child needs. Some parents do not have the time or the emotional resilience to do that. As a result, the child suffers. Second, I totally understand why you may be concerned about how such advocacy might affect your other children. Many parents have expressed these types of concerns to me. But I have good news for you – in my experience, School Districts typically do not target other children. This is especially true once the parent is working with an attorney. To give you some added reassurance, there are also laws out there that protect you and prohibit School Districts from engaging in any of the retaliation that you may fear. Finally, the benefits of standing up for your child are endless. Not only do you stand to gain needed services for your child, but you also teach all of your young ones an invaluable lesson in self-advocacy by modeling it for them. Make this a teaching moment for your entire family by explaining what you are doing and feel free to weave in a history lesson or two about some of our great civil rights leaders while you are at it.

The Individual with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) is the federal law that guarantees students with disabilities certain educational rights. The IDEA was designed to ensure children with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). However, the IDEA is extremely complex, making it difficult for parents to understand whether their child’s school is meeting its legal obligations. As a result, parents are automatically at a disadvantage when it comes to interfacing with School District personnel. The language that the teachers and professionals throw at parents can be confusing, intimidating, and even scary. That is why it is so important to immediately bring in a trained professional, such as an attorney or advocate, or at the very least, consult with one when you suspect that the School is not meeting your child’s needs.

Attorneys and advocates are trained to quickly spot whether the School District has met your child’s needs and assist you in getting the School District to fix the problem. They can also advise you about additional remedies that may be available to your child. For example, if the School District has failed your child, an attorney can force the School District to compensate your child in the form of remedial educational services. This is known as compensatory education. Sometimes, compensatory education can be worth tens of thousands of dollars and can make needed services available to your child, including evaluations, tutoring, speech and language, occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychological services, transition planning, coaching, etc. Sometimes, you can even use the compensatory education to pay for private school.

It is understandable that you as a parent worry about upsetting people at the school, especially when you have other children. However, the School is supposed to be helping your child. Sometimes, the School simply does not understand your child’s needs. Other times, the School tries to cut corners and get away with the least amount of services that it can. But when either happens, you, as the parent, get the runaround and your child gets the short end of the educational stick. Fighting for your child’s education always makes sense. The consequences of getting your child an appropriate education so that he or she succeeds in school and in life will always outweigh any negative repercussions of reminding the school of its obligations to educate your child. That is why you should consult with an attorney or advocate at the first sign that the School District is not adequately responding to your concerns. Your child’s education is too valuable to wait.