Five Ways to Get a Running Start on Your Back-to-School Advocacy
It may be tempting not to think much about back-to-school advocacy until school is almost back. We all need our summer breaks. But if you wait until the first day of school to get yourself ready for a new school year, you may find that the school has been similarly procrastinating in getting ready for your child.
To get the school year off to the kind of promising start you're hoping for, take a little time during the summer to make sure that educators will be doing what they've promised. Take these five steps to flip your advocacy switch back on. (And while you're at it, start preparing your teacher information packets, too.)
1. Give your child’s IEP a read.
A great way to start your back-to-school advocacy is by reviewing those big plans you made last school year. Gather some highlighters. Pile up some post-its. And read carefully through that imposting IEP document, probably for the first time since you signed the thing.
This time through, make a note of anything that's supposed to be in place for the new school year—like a one-on-one paraprofessional, therapists, accommodations, equipment, interpreter, bus service, or a car seat for the bus. If there are any particular types of class called for, note that as well. You'd like to believe that these will magically all be in place on Day One of the new school year, but that will probably take some prompting from you. Which brings us to ...
2. Check in with the special education office.
Call and talk to whoever's in charge for the school your child will be going to. Ask what the plans are for the IEP provisions you've noted. Keep asking until you get satisfactory answers. You may have to call over and over and make a nuisance of yourself. Be polite but persistent. Your child is legally entitled to these things from Day One. They know it, and you want them to know that you know it too.
While you're at it, ask for the number of the transportation office and check to make sure your child's name is on the bus list, and that any equipment will be present. Be sure they have the correct address and know where that is. If bus service somehow got left out of the IEP, get on fixing that. Above all, don't assume the right ride is just going to show up.
3. Request a tour.
If your child will be going to a new school, ask if you can get a tour of the building. Do this even if there's already been a tour with your child's whole class or grade. A smaller scale visit closer to the start of the school year will give your child more familiarity with the new environment. And the more familiar things are, the easier it will be for your child to adjust and adapt.
And of course, from a back-to-school advocacy point of view, you want to get in there and get a close look too. You'll get a sense of where rooms are located and how far walks between classes might be. You can then request additional accommodations as needed. This can also be a good opportunity for you to meet some of the administration or counseling staff and get the lay of the land.
4. Read up on rights and strategies.
It can be tough to find time during the swirl of school-year activities and homework and battles and tears to sit down with a book about special-education advocacy, read it through, absorb the information, and use it to make some plans. If you can bear to put aside your light summer reading and pick up something weightier, try tucking one of these into your beach bag, carry-on tote, or hammock:
5. Preview the year.
Most schools and school districts now have websites with, among other things:
• calendars of the upcoming school year
• schedules of the school day
• a student handbook with school rules and routines
• names and contact information for administrators and parent-organization leaders
Put dates for things like Back to School Night, half-days, and vacations on your calendar. (Your child can help by putting stickers on special days.) Note the times for delayed openings and early dismissals so you'll remember when those unexpected schedule disruptions arise.
Look over the phone numbers and e-mail address provided and make your own quick contact list for easy finding when you need to ask or complain about something. 'Cause as nice as it would be to settle all the problems in this pre-school time with your best back-to-school advocacy, you know it's not going to be that easy. Advocacy never ends.