On March 27th, 2013, a panel of four parents came into the Political and Legal Environment class. The parents have children with disabilities; Muscular Dystrophy, Deafness, and one parent whose daughter had damage to one part of her brain which led to issues with walking and eating. At the beginning of class it was brought to attention that an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) is not to be confused with an Individual Education Plan (IEP). The IFSP covers children from the ages of zero to three, however, the IEP covers children from the ages of three to 21, if they are still in high school at the age of 21. The following are their stories and suggestions made by the parents to the class on how Teachers of the Deaf can advocate for students and even parents.
One panel member explained that his daughter was placed in a classroom with students all of whom were in wheelchairs. He and his wife did not agree with the placement, so they requested a change to their child's IEP. What they did not realize was that their daughter had to stay at home until a meeting was held to discuss changes. The panel member mentioned that her services were on hold until then. Another panel member mentioned that she felt her neighboring school district had a hidden agenda, meaning a strong perspective on placing her son in a separate school instead of in a mainstream environment with other students. She requested a teacher whom she knew to advocate with her at the meeting held to discuss this. She did win and her son was the first child with a disability to be mainstreamed in that school. The other two panel members mentioned that their students at first were placed in a school for the Deaf for half of the day and then went to a mainstream school for the other half of the day until the back and forth between both schools became too stressful, then they were both mainstreamed throughout the entire school day. One parent mentioned that reading the IEP can be a challenge because it is loaded with unfriendly terms unknown to parents and only to school administrators and teachers who had experience with the terms and studied IEPs extensively as part of their program requirement. This does not allow for parents to properly advocate for their children. Another parent admitted that after IEP meetings she would cry until she was able to fight back for her child's needs. Part of the issue was that the parent's philosophy of education was different than the schools philosophy on how to educate her child.
In order to become a good advocate for students, the parents offer these suggestions:
The first step is to always stay in contact with the parents. A good way to stay in contact is through email and/or through journal entries where the teacher explains what the student struggled with during the day as well as what they had success with.
Another suggestion is to look at parents and teacher relationships as a partnership. Teachers shouldn't feel interference or criticized by the parent, for example, if there is a new technology out and the parent wants to show the teacher how to use it. This instance should be looked at as a plus in our favor because it gives us more tools to work with when teaching students. More options are better than none. When it comes to advocating during a meeting, a specific comment stood out; not to take the easy way out and side with administrators because "...they know more about numbers and scores, stupid stuff." As teachers, we know more about the students' capabilities because teachers are with the student for six hours five days a week. This is the time to stand behind the parent. With these suggestions in mind, it is also important to remember that teachers will encounter a range of parents from those who are always contacting the teacher with a complaint or concern to parents who don't show up to meetings and just don't care. Another panel member added to this, "Personalities [of the parents and teachers] are included."
More information about IFSP and IEP
In conjunction with what was said earlier regarding IFSPs and IEPs, another valuable but costly, service offered is for parents and siblings of those who are disabled is to apply to be legal guardians once the child is 18 years of age. This maintains the family's right to say what happens with their child for the remainder of their life. This does cost $3,000 for each person who wants to apply to become a guardian. If parents or other family members do not apply, then automatically at 18 years old, the person classified as having a disability becomes a ward of the state. This law is set up to take care of the child; making sure that they are not abused, sent to an institution, or warded. This is also to prevent the parents from taking advantage of their child such as, for monetary gain. *Note: this applies to New York law and probably differs from state to state. This law would set up the assurance for parents that once they have passed, there will be others to step up and ensure the well-being of their loved one. https://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/family/faqs_guardianship.shtml