May 20

Three Crucial Negotiation Skills for Effective Advocacy

This week, I attended the WIN Summit focusing on Women’s Insights on the Art of Negotiation. Strong negotiation skills are essential for parents involved in the special education process. I hope these tips will help you prepare for future meetings:

1) Be confident, says Michele A. Roberts, the Executive Director of the National Basketball Players’ Association. That’s difficult when you are facing a group of professionals who are conversant in the language and terms that are foreign to you, the parent.

2) Face your fear fiercely, advises Beth Fisher-Yoshida of Columbia University’s Negotiation Conflict and Resolution Program. Fear and intimidation will not enable you to engage in all of the steps necessary to advocate for your child. Engage in self-reflection to figure out what you are telling yourself that undermines your confidence.

3) Prepare. Greater familiarity with your legal rights, evaluation terminology and the language used by educators will increase your confidence and will permit you to be a stronger advocate. Understand your school district’s position; whether they are adversarial or seemingly collaborative, the priority for school districts tends to be preserving resources, personnel and money. For you, it’s personal. For the district, it’s business.

4) Remain calm! Emotional or heated exchanges will not serve your advocacy goals.

There are ample resources on the internet and retaining a trusted advisor can help you navigate the process and reduce your stress.

March 15

Trump’s March 13, 2017 Agency Reduction Executive Order – An Alert for Parents

Who ever thought executive orders would be interesting. Well, a new Executive Order asks agency heads to “eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs.” Agency heads are to submit reorganization plans to the Director of of the Office of Management and Budget that will improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of that agency. Public comment will be solicited.The Director will submit a reorganization plan to the president 180 days after the end of the public comment period. The Director’s the plan must include “…recommendations to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs, and to merge functions” as well as “…recommendations for any legislation or administrative measures necessary to achieve the proposed reorganization.” Among the factors to be considered are whether the agency functions are best left to the states and whether public benefit justifies the cost of running the agency. Parents with students affected by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (I.D.E.A.) should be concerned, alert and ready to make public comment!

Section 504 is administered by the U.S. Education Department, Office of Civil Rights (OCR). They are an extremely helpful office when students and parents are subject to discrimination because of disabilities, among other things. The U.S. Education Department Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) provides I.D.E.A. specific guidance, which requires unique expertise and knowledge of the statute, regulation and robust case law that has developed over 30 years. The cumulative knowledge of these departments gives parents an invaluable resource that must be protected. Having these discrete departments is important. They permit ready access and responses that a larger department could not deliver. Gather your thoughts so that you can share your input during the public comment period.

February 22

Exhaustion – Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools

Eight long years, and we finally have a new decision impacting families protected under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). The Fry plaintiffs asserted claims under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504)that the Napoleon Community Schools discriminated against their child, E.F., by refusing to permit her to use her service dog – Wonder, the golden doodle – to assist her in school. The issue presented is whether the parents had to first bring their claims in a due process proceeding, which is an administrative proceeding, before bringing a lawsuit. This is known as the “exhaustion” requirement. Section 1415(l) of the IDEA says that parents and children protected under the IDEA retain their rights under other laws, but that if they are seeking relief “that is also available under the IDEA,” they have to “exhaust” the administrative due process avenue first.

The Fry’s complaint was dismissed by both the district court and 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. They held that the harm suffered was “educational in nature.” In an opinion by Justice Kagan, the Supreme Court opined that the incorrect analytical framework was used and sent the case back (remanded it) to the Sixth Circuit. Instead, the analysis should have looked to whether the suit alleges educationally related injuries rather than injuries relating to access. The Court suggested that the analysis should explore whether the same ADA or 504 violations could be asserted against other public facilities or by an adult. The opinion also instructs the lower court to explore whether the parents had initiated a due process proceeding, since that information was not contained in the record. Justices Alito and Thomas agreed with the rest of the Court, but opined that the suggested analytical framework was confusing. Justices Alito and Thomas wrote that exploring whether the same claim could be brought against another public facility or by an adult works only if there is no overlap between the IDEA, the ADA and Section 504. They also wrote that looking to whether the parents had started a due process proceeding is irrelevant.

In my view, the significance of this case is that IDEA is well beyond a straightforward, simple area of law. Instead, it is an area fraught with complexity requiring guidance from a person knowledgeable in legal nuances and procedure.

February 9

Tell Betsy Devos What Parents Want – A Call to Action!

Betsy Devos’s own website includes a statement in a letter to the Detroit Free Press dated September 11, 2016, that “We believe parents, not elected officials or bureaucrats, are in the best position to determine what is in the best interest of their own children.” In her speech accepting the Education Secretary nomination, that “special needs students” are owed “…our full support.” Cool. Get active and let Ms. Devos know what parents want. she doesn’t have an email set up just yet, but…

1) CALL the Education Department: 1-800-872-5327

2) SEND MS. Devos an email at contact@betsydevos.com

Here’s a suggested script: I am the parent of a child with ____. He/she is (intellectually disabled, average intelligence or above average intelligence). If you are really responding to what moms and dads want, we want an education that maximizes our children’s potential. We want to preserve our right to have our children education in our local public schools, but we also want to preserve the right to have our children educated in specialized private schools at public expense if that is where our children will make the most progress.

In her acceptance speech, Ms. Devos also said “there is no greater achievement in the world than positively changing the life of a child by bending the arc or breaking the cycle through education….” Let’s hold her to that standard.

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