Teachers spend far more hours on their students’ education than the children’s parents can ever hope to.
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But that doesn’t mean teachers are the best people to identify when students need extra help learning. That responsibility also falls to parents, who have the right to call on their child’s school to determine if the student needs to enter special education.
“The school districts, you know, they’re busy with lots of kids. And sometimes really well-meaning, good professionals don’t see some of the nuances that mom and dad see,” said Onnie Shekerjian, a longtime parents’ advocate. “And when mom and dad see them, they don’t have the educational expertise to say, 'Wow, this is a red flag that my child may need special-ed.’”
If red flags lead to discovery of an actual learning disability, the student receives an Individualized Education Plan or IEP . Such a program “is the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability,” the U.S. Department of Education’s Web site says.
An IEP details exactly how a school is supposed to teach a special-education student.
As important as it is for students in need, the process of proving a child truly requires an IEP is complex. Parents must navigate a web of federal laws and school policies.
Step one, however, is simple.
Parents concerned about their children must speak out, said William Santiago, special education director for the Mesa Unified School District.
Every district school has a “teachers’ assistance team” that includes regular teachers, a special-education teacher, the school’s psychologist and sometimes an assistant principal.
Once a parent or teacher refers a student, this group reviews the student’s educational history. This review aims to determine whether the problem is with how the child learns, or simply with how the child’s teacher has taught.
If the team concludes that the problem is likely the student’s abilities, Santiago said the school psychologist conducts a full analysis of the child.
“This is all a team process,” he said. “We’ll get input from the parents. If there’s been a medical history, and the parent gives us consent, we get input from the doctors.”
That examination should lead to a diagnosis, which determines whether the student receives an IEP. Federal law requires that the analysis be finished within 60 days, unless certain complications arise.
If such a plan is prescribed, the school has another 30 days to draw one up.
However, parents don’t have to rely on their child’s school as the only information source on special education.
Shekerjian, who is also a Tempe councilwoman, recommends that parents contact the Parent Information Network, a program run by the state Department of Education.
The network provides special-education news and guidance to parents as well as specialists that parents can call with questions. Every Arizona county has its own specialist.
Who: Parent Information Network
What: News and resources for parents of children with learning disabilities