In each step of the special education process parent participation is imperative.
Referral: Sometimes parents are the person making the referral. The parents must give informed consent in writing for the student to be evaluated. Also the parents must be invited to the referral meeting and meetings regarding identification, placement, or evaluation of the student.
Evaluation: The parents must be invited to meetings regarding evaluation. They must give written informed consent for the evaluations to take place. Things that the parents choose to share with the team regarding their child need to be taken into consideration by the team.
Eligibility: Again the parents must be invited to any meetings. The parents should be involved in the discussion regarding the results of the evaluations. They should be part of the discussion regarding whether or not the student needs special education services if it is determined that the student has a disability.
Development of the IEP: Parents should have input regarding what services, accommodations, and or assistance the students needs. The parent must sign the IEP or it cannot be implemented. If any changes need to be made to the IEP a parent must sign it before the changes can be implemented.
LRE (Least Restrictive Environment) is part of the IEP: Parents should also have input regarding placement of a student especially regarding placements that are outside the regular classroom.
Implementation of the IEP: It is important that parents know how and when the IEP is going to be implemented, so that they can help support their child’s success and be aware of what is being done to help their child.
It is important to keep in mind that a parent’s purpose in this process is not just one of a clerical nature where their signatures are required. Sitting in a classroom while her non-disabled classmates read out loud to each other and student with a disability sits at her desk putting together puzzles is not meaningful participation. Neither is a parent sitting in an IEP meeting while “professionals” talk at her and discuss what we are going to do or not do with or for “your child.”
It is necessary to keep in mind is that parents are often scared, worried, stressed, and intimidated by the entire process. They are also concerned for their child, love their child, and want the best for their child. It is important that they not only are able to meaningfully participate in the meetings regarding their child, but it would be helpful if there was some compassion and support for them as well. Even if it is just someone from the school giving them a booklet and saying, “This will spell out the entire process that we are about to embark upon; please call me if you have any questions”, that would probably go a long way to making the parents feel welcome and supported. Most important is that rather than having an it’s us against them approach when it comes to parents and teachers / administration it would be nice to have an it’s us against the disability and we want what is best for the student attitude.