Parents, staff discuss helping students with disabilities

Tracy Lee

WOODSTOCK – Parents and school staff in Shenandoah County listened on Tuesday to suggestions on collaborating to help students with disabilities achieve success in class and at home.

At the Special Education Advisory Committee meeting, Tracy Lee, family engagement specialist in the Office of Dispute Resolution and Administrative Services at the Virginia Department of Education, said there are two goals parents should remember regarding their children’s education.

The first is to build and maintain a working relationship with all school personnel involved with the child.

“It is imperative,” Lee said. “It’s vital.”

It also includes working through any disagreements that arise about the best way to educate the child, she said.

The next goal she stressed is ensuring that each child receives free, appropriate public education.

She said in order to reach the two goals a parent must develop and understand the rights and obligations of the families and of the schools.

It’s important to be informed of changes, such as moving from No Child Left Behind to Every Student Succeeds, and ask for assistance, she said.

Parents have the right to advocate for their child without fear of retaliation; have advance notice of meetings; have a meeting at a mutually agreed upon date, time and location; have audio record eligibility, have individualized education program and manifestation determination meetings; request video records; and bring and have reviewed any documentation, among other rights.

Parents “need to find your voice,” Lee said. Ask questions throughout meetings to be fully involved and understand what is best for the child.

She added that the school division is required to provide a written document of procedural safeguards each year to parents of students with disabilities, and that parents can request another copy of the document from the division.

Parents can also request a new evaluation of their child if the child displays a new disability area or needs related disability services, and that the parent has a right to request an independent educational evaluation for any evaluation the parent disagrees with at no cost.

She said that prior written notice must be provided when the school division proposes or refuses any action regarding identification, evaluation, educational placement or provision of free appropriate public education.

Written parental consent must also be given for an individualized education program during meetings.

“We are one of the few states in the nation that require it,” she said.

“The parent has been fully informed of all information relevant to the activity in their native language or other mode of communication,” she said. “Your consent is voluntary and revocable.”

Only one parent needs to provide consent, Lee said, and when a student reaches 18 years of age, the student can give consent.

Lee said it’s important for parents to be self aware and not go into meetings with preconceived notions of how the meeting might go. Prior to a meeting, parents should gather all of their child’s records and read through any information sent home from the school so they can ask informed questions at the meeting.

During the meeting, remain respectful, she said. Offer and listen to options and start and end the meeting on a positive note. She added that parents should explain their unique situations at home with their child for the teachers to better understand what is being asked of parents and how to better assess the student in the classroom.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com.