School System Solutions
When a child has a disease, disability, allergy, chronic health concern, learning challenge, or other need for accommodations within the school system, most parents and guardians stop by the guidance counselor or nurse’s office and ask for advice. These two professionals are usually great resources, and they can help guide you through the process of establishing an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and/or 504 Plan for your child.
However, not all schools are receptive when parents make requests for accommodations. We hear quite often from parents who have had to argue, fight, and even litigate to get their schools to provide the legally required minimum accommodations their children need. Particularly when those accommodations are for potentially life-threatening issues such as diabetes and food or insect allergies, such roadblocks seem unthinkable. Yet it still happens to families every day.
Over the years and many, many conversations with staunch advocate parents, we’ve learned the Five Best School System Solutions:
1. Get it in writing: It’s not enough to stop by the health office and tell the school nurse about your child’s bee sting allergy. When your child has a severe allergy requiring immediate treatment with, for example, Benadryl or an EpiPen, s/he needs something called a 504 Plan, which is a document outlining your child’s health needs and how his or her health care must be managed at school and during school events.
2. Talk to the nurse and guidance counselor: Your child’s school nurse and guidance counselor, as mentioned above, are often not present during IEP and 504 meetings because they’re not paid to attend meetings outside of school hours and they simply cannot be present for every child’s meeting(s) or they would never get anything else done, especially now that so many school districts are trying to cut costs by having these professionals oversee multiple schools at once. But these two professionals are in the best positions to help your child. Ask to meet with them and discuss your options for seeing to your child’s needs at school. They are often very helpful and able to provide some of the best advice around.
3. Be nice but firm: When you walk in with an adversarial attitude, you tend to get one back. Parents who approach school officials in a collaborative, respectful manner tend to get more assistance and less resistance. It’s the old adage, “You catch more flies with honey.” Yes, there are times when, unfortunately, a school will just stonewall a family and lawyers need to get involved. But in general, a calm, pleasant manner while making reasonable requests is really all you need.
4. Hire an advocate: If you reach an impasse with your child’s school or if you’re truly just not sure what your child’s rights are, consider hiring an advocate. Advocates will review your child’s records and attend IEP and/or 504 meetings to advocate for your child, his/her rights, and the best possible services. This can be an expensive proposition, but it’s less expensive than an attorney and is almost always well worth it.
5. Be involved: Actively involved parents who volunteer at their children’s schools, show up to scheduled meetings, attend school activities, and demonstrate that they really are paying attention tend to get better results. Additionally, when you’re actively involved in your child’s life and regularly discussing his or her condition(s) with your child and his/her teachers, therapists, or other providers, your child will learn to self-advocate, and this is an extremely helpful tool for kids to learn. Finally, when kids see their parents advocating for them regularly, they know that people are aware of their conditions, and this makes them less hesitant about wearing medical ID jewelry, which is yet another essential tool.
How do you manage your child’s care when you cannot be physically present? Have you found your school to be amenable or resistant to providing accommodations?