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Advocate and Achieve: Securing Your Child’s Educational Rights - Part 1

Ali Katz


As the parent of a child with special needs, you are more than just a caregiver; you are a vital advocate for your child's educational rights. Your involvement can significantly impact how well your child's needs are met within the school system. In this first part of a two-part series, we'll delve into practical steps you can take under two cornerstone pieces of legislation: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

 These laws are powerful tools designed to ensure that children with disabilities receive an education that is not only accessible but also tailored to foster their growth and learning potential in environments that challenge them without overwhelming them. Knowing how to use them for your particular needs is crucial.

So let’s get started!


An Overview of Applicable Federal Law

Understanding and utilizing IDEA and Section 504 can be extremely helpful in allowing you to effectively champion your child's education. Both laws share a common goal: to provide children with disabilities the support they need to thrive academically. IDEA focuses on customizing education plans that meet the specific needs of each child, while Section 504 extends its protections to eliminate barriers across all areas of the educational experience, ensuring every student has equal access to learning opportunities. By grasping the nuances of these laws, you can unlock educational opportunities and resources that might otherwise remain out of reach, ensuring your child benefits from a learning environment that is as boundless as their potential. Now let’s discuss the specifics of each law. 


Understanding the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”)

IDEA is a pivotal law that mandates states to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to children with disabilities. This law covers children from birth until age 21 or high school graduation, whichever comes first. You play an integral role in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process (which comes from IDEA), if you collaborate with school officials to set specific educational goals and outline the necessary services and accommodations. Understanding IDEA is the first step towards ensuring your child receives education tailored to their specific needs.


Leveraging Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

Section 504, on the other hand, provides protections that are broader than those of IDEA, covering any child with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This section requires schools to provide reasonable accommodations to ensure that students have equal access to education, which might include changes in the physical arrangement of classrooms or the provision of assistive technology. Knowing how to request and arrange these accommodations under Section 504 can help you ensure that your child's educational environment is as conducive to learning as possible.

Now that you understand the nuances of each law, let’s shift and discuss a few practical steps you can take to ensure your child’s educational success.


Prepare for IEP Meetings

Preparation for IEP meetings is critical. Gather all relevant assessments, doctor’s notes, and educational evaluations that provide a comprehensive understanding of your child's needs. Before the meeting, draft a list of realistic, attainable goals for the school year, along with the types of support you need to achieve these goals.
Your list of goals might include improvements in certain academic areas, behavior management strategies, or social skills enhancements. It's also helpful to think about the types of resources or services your child might need, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, or one-on-one tutoring. Prepare a detailed agenda for the meeting that includes time for discussing each goal, updates on progress, and any concerns you or the educators might have. This approach helps keep the meeting focused and productive.


Make Regular Contact With School Staff

Maintaining regular communication with your child's school staff is key to staying informed and involved in their education. Beyond attending scheduled parent-teacher meetings, you could establish a routine of brief, informal check-ins with teachers and support staff. For example, you might send a bi-weekly email to inquire about your child's academic progress and social interactions, or you could set up a short monthly phone call to discuss any new developments or necessary adjustments in the education plan. Utilizing digital tools such as a classroom management app can also facilitate smoother communication, allowing you to view homework assignments, upcoming tests, and school events. These actions can help you stay informed about your child's experiences so you can quickly address any issues that arise.

Next time, we’ll go through 5 more practical steps you can take to advocate for your child, including effectively collaborating with educators, using community resources, and dealing with conflicts when they arise. So be sure to check back in two weeks. You don’t want to miss it!


Let Us Be Your Trusted Advisor When Planning for a Child with Special Needs

As a Personal Family Lawyer Firm, we understand that every child with special needs is different, and that's why we offer a personalized approach and a comprehensive range of estate planning services, including Special Needs Trusts and legal Guardianship nominations, to create a plan that’s unique to your child and ensures your child’s success. If you aren’t sure where to start or what your child may need now and in the future, including educational planning, contact us today. As a trusted advisor, we’ll walk you through your unique situation and develop a plan that ensures your child has the physical, financial, and emotional support they need now and for years to come.