Tuesday’s Tip: No Water Walking but I Do Work to Move Mountains
Today's tip focuses on the roles of the advocate. This could be the honest request of those parents who have the distinct feeling that, at the IEP table, their comments are magically heard by team members only in a foreign language. Another common perception is that all comments by parents will be met with rolling eyes, sighs, and the utter of (a comment) disapprovingly if not another adjustment in the team member seats and a chorus of clearing throats. While this may be an exaggeration, if you are a parent feeling this way, something is definitely straining the lines of communication between the school district and parent and correction is the only acceptable outcome. Correction is what leads to an IEP that is scholar focused and oriented to functional outcomes. Enter the Professional Education Advocate.
THE ROLE OF THE PROFESSIONAL EDUCATION ADVOCATE
Advocates develop a relationship in which the parent’s concerns are heard and acted upon, decreasing conflict and creating a cooperative environment.
Increasing communication and collaboration between the school district (SD) personnel and the parent, thus creating better IEP under-standing, outcomes, and compliance.
Facilitate the IEP process so that the parent feels like an equal part of the educational team, where questions are raised, answers are researched, plans are implemented, education provided,
Responsibility is taken, assessment and credit taken, praise given, anxiety relieved, and where cooperation and a client focused attitude is the norm.
Diffuse sadness, anger and frustration when parents mourn over:
o The loss of the ability to fix their scholar’s issues
o The loss of potential as the parent sees their scholar’s inability to achieve to the same degree and in the same manner as other neuro-typical peers
o Seeing the active and passive rejection of their scholar by peers
o The persistence of low expectations by education professionals
o Their scholar’s loss of self esteem
o Not knowing what the answer is
Facilitate the acquisition of Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)
Facilitate the identification of education needs.
Prevent the blaming of the scholar or the parent for the scholar's failures.
Develop a team approach where parents and teachers are supported with information, training and research-based programming available to address the scholar’s disability and how it effects their ability to be educated.
Support development of an Individualized Educational Program with an awareness of the continuum of services and placements available - so as to promote FAPE.
Support development of behavioral interventions that appropriately and adequately address disability associated disruptive behaviors and behaviors that interfere with a scholar accessing their education.
Assist in managing the time and resources spent resolving differences through effective communication.
Advocates promote the development of appropriate education and community support service plans. The goal of the plans is to identify and address the scholar's needs while creating societal inclusion, functional skills and adequate measurable progress in both educational and community environments. Advocacy by Education Advocates occurs in both a school and community forum. It requires that the advocate work with parents to ensure that their scholar receives a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE). They facilitate the development of an appropriate and IEPs that results in functional outcomes. This is based on expert input, resolution of non-legal disputes with a school district related to appropriately addressing a scholar’s individual needs through evaluations, disability identification, progress monitoring, documentation, placement, and provision of FAPE. There is a well- defined IEP process in IDEA that is separate from the legal process of Due Process. There are clear lines of delineation between Education Advocates advocating in the educational and community service environment versus advocating in an administrative or legal capacity or legal forum. They do not deal with the judicatory aspects.
According to the US Department of Education, "Professional special Education advocates have been shown to improve the efficiency of the Local Education Agent (LEA) to comply with disability and education regulations. Education advocates assist in the administrative aspects of the responsible agency to administer the law." Professional Education Advocates are highly familiar with all the aspects of the special education process. They are highly cross trained individuals who stay current with the many changes and best practices in disability and education law, related services, evaluations, transition community services, research-based programming, generalization of skills across environments outside of a structured educational setting, low incidence presentations, as well as behavior management.
Education Advocates are different than lawyers. They are IEP DEVELOPMENT and MANAGEMENT EXPERTS.
GARBAGE IN - GARBAGE OUT
Education Advocates assist in the gathering of valid data. We often see what lawyers call “legally sufficient IEPs” that are not appropriate due to poor quality documentation. Advocates provide a highly valued service- by identifying systems and data quality errors that prevent FAPE.
When the data is poor or incomplete the following occurs:
Lack of quality scholar specific information
Lack of identification of unique and individualized educational needs.
Lack of truly valid baselines (baselines without prompt data or that do not measure the actual area of need)
Lack of appropriate Specially Designed Instruction (SDI)
Lack of Functional and Independent Skills that can be generalized out into the natural environment.
The need for additional expertise outside of the school’s experts Independant Education Evaluation (IEE)
Correspondence that promotes a parent to jeopardize Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)
Interference of procedural safeguards
Non-needs specific goals with inadequate or inappropriate progress data
Environmental or administrative focus vs. a scholar focused process.
Lack of scholar self-determination and safety that occur.
Inability to find common ground.
The feeling that certain IEP members don’t have a valid voice – not listened to. (85-90% of parents per a national survey felt they did not have a valid voice at the IEP table and we wonder why there is a lack of parent engagement)
WHAT DO EDUCATION ADVOCATES DO?
Parents need to understand that schools do not control the IEP process. They are only there to facilitate the IEP process. They are not in control of the outcomes. Professional Education Advocates do not represent the scholar or parents, but rather consult and facilitate communication and participation in meetings related to the scholar’s education so they can receive FAPE. Education Advocacy is not done in a legal forum. It is done in an educational forum with different rules, language, and nuances. Advocates don’t talk in legal terms, service provider terms or disease specific terms. We translate all that language into terms a parent can understand so they have informed consent in the process.
Education Advocates talk about individualized needs unique to THAT SCHOLAR, in a Scholar focused process. Advocates help parents and IEP teams develop appropriate functionally outcome oriented Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). We facilitate the attaining of appropriate and individualized special education services for scholars within a public- school system. A professional Education advocate refers to an individual who speaks out in the best interests of a scholar and protects a scholar’s rights which may be ignored or abused in multiple areas within the educational process. Education advocates assist their clients in reaching informed consent. Advocates provide education around the broad disability education process and facilitate a parent’s active participation in the development of their scholar’s individualized education plans.
Education Advocates promote a scholar focused environment, facilitate communication and participate in the development of an outcome focused IEP and monitor its implementation.
Education Advocates define roles clearly and collaborate to create better outcomes. The result is better understanding and compliance with IDEA and better communication that is fostered with decreased conflict. Use of Education Advocates is used as ADR (alternative dispute resolution) and can create cooperative environments where:
questions are raised,
answers are researched,
plans are implemented,
responsibility is taken, accurate assessments done,
credit taken and praise given to the Team,
professional monitoring done,
application of best practices is improved, and
where cooperation and a child focused attitude is the norm.
This collaboration is what should happen in the educational environment instead of the school district and their lawyers' characterizing parents and advocates as criticizing, blaming, venting, angry, highly frustrated and/or seeking revenge.