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Advocating for students with disabilities in schools

In Focus look at some red flags and what parents can do
Virus Outbreak Special Education
Posted at 8:02 AM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-04 18:10:19-04

BALTIMORE — For parents, it can be hard to know what rights your child has as a student in public schools.

This can be especially true for parents of kids with disabilities.

And if a school is telling you they can't accommodate your child's needs - that might seem like the end of the line.

Lawyers with Disability Rights MD say that's not the case and spell out some red flags that parents should look out for.

  • "If families are told, well, your child needs the service, but we're really sorry, we can't provide it. We don't have the money to give your child one to one aid or we don't have speech pathologist at the school. So we can't provide the service," Leslie Margolis identified as a very explicit example as a red flag.
  • Megan Berger adds that "If a student, you know, they want to have their meets need in that general education environment, you know, with non disabled peers, but maybe the student is having, you know, some challenges and, you know, so a red flag would be if the school sort of rushes, right, to try to remove that student from the general education environment, and places them in a more restrictive environment, or, you know, a separate, a separate school, just for special education students." The student has a right to an education with their non-disabled peers as much as possible.
    "The law is really very, very clear that the presumption is kids will be in general and they will be with their non disabled peers to the maximum extent they can be and the assumption is, they will attend the school they would attend if they did not have disabilities."
    -Leslie Margolis, Disability Rights MD
  • Margolis also says, "Red flags would be if a child has the same IEP from year to year because they're not making progress. That should be a red flag. If you see the same goals and the same objectives or if the team is finding the child is not making progress. And and then the team wants to revise the goals downward."

The lawyers, Margolis and Berger, said that its important for parents to request meetings with the IEP (Individualized Education Program) team if they feel that they are having issues, by contacting the child's teacher or the school.

If things seem to be getting into more legal-territory, the experts say, there are organizations out there that can help.

"If a parent feels like there's a legal issue," Berger says, "And they may need legal representation, then they can reach out to Disability Rights Maryland, since we're, you know, a nonprofit law firm that provides that legal representation, they can reach out to Project HEAL, they could reach out to a private attorney."

And we've been covering teaching and school staffing shortages over the last few months, so what can you do if a school system really doesn't have the staff to accommodate your child?

Berger says, "staffing shortages are absolutely.. impacting students across the country, we have, you know, we've had many families call us, their their children are being impacted by staffing, nursing shortages, you know, para shortages.. In those instances, you in those instances on the back-end, the student, you know, will likely be owed some type of compensatory education services."

The last piece of advice, they say, "trust your gut."

"Trust your gut and trust your instincts," says Berger. "And if you feel like something's not right with your.. child with your student, than it probably isn't right. And to not be to sort of not be afraid to reach out to the school and say I want an IEP meeting because they have that right."