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Four Timely Tips for the New School Year

Every school year offers a new beginning. It provides opportunities for parents to take some steps to work alongside the school to ensure that a child with a disability has access to the supports they need to succeed, and to define what success means for your child in particular.

Here are a few tips from the staff at Disability Rights Nebraska, including links to our Law-In-Brief series on specific topics:

1.    Timing:  The sooner you let the school know that your child has a disability and may need special education services – especially if it’s a new school – the more likely you and the school will be able to work together effectively.  To be eligible for special education, a multidisciplinary team (MDT) must conduct an evaluation and determine that the disability is impacting the child’s education, or the school may complete their own assessment before gathering the team for a meeting. Statutes that govern these activities build in time for the school to process information, so this may take some time.

2.    Communication: If your child is receiving special education services and you have concerns, communicate that to the person responsible for overseeing the implementation of the child’s Individual Education Program (IEP) and ask for a meeting so you can discuss your concerns with the IEP team. If you’ve met with the team, things are not improving as you feel they should, and maybe you could use some additional advocacy support, PTI Nebraska is an excellent resource for special education advocacy.

3.    Expectations:  Even the best Individual Education Plan, perfectly implemented and managed, may not completely balance out the effect of a disability on a child’s education. An IEP is very much a dance, dependent on the nature of the disability, the demands of the educational program, and stressors from inside and outside the school environment. Also, school is a different environment than what your child experiences at home, just like work is different from what you experience at home. It may be helpful to focus on what CAN be adjusted and do your best to keep the lines of communications with school staff open.

4.    Resources:  Did you know that every IEP requires that the use of assistive technology be considered? It’s a good idea to become familiar with some of the assistive technology that has been used to address the cognitive, behavioral, or physical issues that are “typical” to the type of disability your child experiences.  You don’t have to become a master at it, but if there are behavior concerns or physical impairments that you feel could be addressed by assistive technology, ask the IEP team for an Assistive Technology Assessment, or contact the Assistive Technology Partnership for a consultation. Beyond classroom tasks, sometimes assistive technology can also help a child more easily eat lunch, interact with his or her peers, or just provide another level of independence in everyday tasks.  All of these things are important and part of their education. If you’ve presented what you feel is a good case for your child to get an assistive technology assessment and the school refuses to do so, or if the assessment recommends a device and the school refuses to follow up, contact Disability Rights Nebraska.

We’re aware that there are occasions when, no matter how well you communicate and participate, things go wrong. Verbal and/or physical abuse can come from other students in the form of bullying, or from staff in the form of improper use of restraints or seclusion.  Take these issues directly to the principal, and if the situation does not get resolved, contact Disability Rights Nebraska for assistance.

Here’s to a growth-filled school year!


Thanks to Disability Rights Nebraska Staff Attorney Michael Elsken and Case Advocate Karen Masterson for their contributions to this blog post!