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School advocacy

Overview: Education and Schools

All children have the right to be equally and meaningfully educated in an environment that fosters growth, supports learning, and ensures safety.  For the parents and educators of children with eosinophilic associated disorders (EADs), having a child enter the doors of a school building can bring about a variety of emotions including excitement, fear, and uncertainty.

The information on these pages serves to provide parents, students, and educators with information about how to support children with EADs in the school environment.

What are my child’s rights?
Every child with an identified disability not only deserves, but is legally entitled to an education that is as meaningful and appropriate as that of his or her nondisabled peers. This is known as a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), and it is guaranteed by federal law. All qualified persons with disabilities are required to be provided FAPE (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. 794.)  It is important to recognize that FAPE does not provide for “the best” education, but it is designed to ensure that all children with disabilities receive educational support necessary to make their learning experience as meaningful as that of nondisabled students.  

My child is protected under federal law to receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education.  So now what do I do?
Every state and school district has different local regulations regarding how children are identified and provided with the supports and services necessary for FAPE.  However, it is important that the parents and educators be the voice for the child.  This is where the advocacy work begins.  Here are a few important guidelines for getting started.  Specific details for securing and implementing student support can be found under the Getting Started.

1.  Get EVERYTHING in writing.  Avoid phone calls, verbal agreements, and “unofficial” conversations when negotiating supports for your child.  Request that all communication occur via email or a communication log between home and school.  If a phone or face-to-face conversation is necessary, follow up with that conversation with an email to solidify the agreement in writing.

2.  Check your emotions at the door.  It can be frustrating to try and explain a confusing disorder to educators and people who help support your child all day.  It is inevitable that you will be faced with difficult situations that generate feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, and isolation.  However, it is absolutely critical to focus on the factual information available.  

As parents, caregivers, and decision makers, we can falsely make the assumption that if we provide the education team with emotional insight into the day-to-day responsibilities involved in raising a child with an EGID, we will appeal to the sympathetic side and thus deepen the relationship and foster a more productive support process.  However, the opposite outcome is the most likely result.  Instead of being seen as a parent or caregiver who needs the help of the school, we are likely to be viewed as vulnerable and overwhelmed which can undermine the legitimacy of our child’s needs.  

Engage with the school as though you are entering into a business transaction.  There is an identified problem or need that must be addressed.  The goal is to find a resolution that creates a win-win situation for the child and the district.  Emotions do not have a place in most professional situations, and the same is true when dealing with the school system.

2.  Remain child-focused.  One of the most effective tactics to employ when advocating for a child’s education is to remain unemotional and stick to the facts of the situation.  This is an extremely difficult task for both parents and teachers of children with disabilities because of our basic human nature.  However, if you can remain focused on the facts and securing the safety of your child (either as a parent, teacher, or school nurse), relationships are more likely to be maintained and the end result will ultimately benefit the child.  

3.  Become familiar with the key points of federal regulations.  Do not rely solely on your child’s teacher, nurse, or principal to provide all information about rights and options. In a time when resources are scarce and the demands on school administration is high, knowing the right information and identifying key decision makers is critical to the success of any interventions that are put in place.  Being an effective advocate for your child also means knowing when to advocate for the individuals responsible for your child on a daily basis.  

The information on www.apfed.org will give you a framework within which to begin this process.  Federal guidelines provide the foundation for all information you will find about the rights for children with disabilities.  From there, state and local policies provide additional framework from which you and the school can identify specific supports and services.

Next: Getting Started

School Advocacy Webinars: APFED’s Educational Webinar Series

Authored by Jennifer Cardenas, The Right to Learn, http://therighttolearn.net/.©2012, The American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders.