Family Involvement is a Right and a Responsibility (page 3)
Today, as we have discussed, families are considered to be an important and essential component of the educational community. Family involvement and family-school partnerships are important to all educators. Through IDEA, families with children who have disabilities must be offered a great level of involvement in educational decision making concerning their children. IDEA (2004) guarantees families the right to:
- Unbiased education assessment
- Inclusion in the decisions concerning placement of their child
- Inclusion in the planning and development of an individual educational plan
- Confidential treatment of materials concerning their child
- Not participate if they decide
- Engage in mediation or a resolution session in an attempt to resolve disputes with the school
- Take schools and districts to a hearing for issues relating to the special education of their child
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 also requires that schools afford parents certain rights. In fact, Section 504 and the IDEA guarantee that parents have specific legal rights related to educational services for their children. These rights are viewed not as the maximum level but as the beginning point for schools to assure family participation at the level the family chooses. School personnel should go beyond the minimum legal rights to develop true collaborative relationships with family members.
Another major federal legislation requiring the involvement of family members is the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. This law “is a landmark in education reform designed to improve student achievement and change the culture of America’s schools.” (U. S. Department of Education, 2002) The act requires schools to provide extensive information on students’ progress so that parents know where their child stands academically. It also provides information to parents related to the performance of their child’s school and provides opportunities for parents to receive tutoring for their child or even transfer their child to an adequately performing school in some circumstances (U.S. Department of Education, 2004).
Responsibility of Schools
Professionals have a responsibility to provide an appropriate education for the students they serve. Research and effective practice make it clear that this requires moving beyond the legal minimums regarding family involvement. The Council for Exceptional Children’s Code of Ethics and Professional Standards devotes a section specifically to “Parent Relationships,” stating that professionals are to “seek to develop relationships with parents based on mutual respect for their roles in achieving benefits for the exceptional person” (CEC, 2003, p. 3).
When parents and families first begin working with schools on the education of their child, they may not be knowledgeable concerning their role and its requirements in the planning, conducting, and evaluating of programs for their child. Therefore, CEC states that professionals should “extend opportunities for parent education utilizing accurate information and professional methods” (2003, p. 3). When needed, professionals should attempt to offer educational opportunities that meet the needs of the families of students with disabilities. Sileo, Sileo, and Prater (1996) identified four areas in which parents might request information in order to facilitate their involvement as members of family-school partnerships. These areas might include:
- Parent education programs that focus on skills
- Parent education programs that help parents influence their children’s education
- Awareness programs to help family members’ understanding of how to interact as partners
- Informational programs and employment opportunities in areas that benefit both the school and the family
Educators who seek to encourage and support partnerships with families should adopt and implement practices that include developing and providing programs requested by the families that are relevant to their needs.
The President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education issued a report in 2002 entitled A New Era: Revitalizing Special Education for Children and Their Families. One of the major recommendations in the report is to increase parental empowerment and school choice. Under this recommendation, the report states “Parents should be provided with meaningful information about their children’s progress, based on objective assessment results, and with educational options” (p. 35). In addition to this recommendation, the report states “IDEA should empower parents as key players and decision-makers in their children’s education” (p. 35).
Responsibilities for Families
There is little argument that family involvement is not only a right but also a responsibility for family members. To fulfill their parental responsibility, parents will need support from their educational partners to:
- Learn about the services being provided to their child with disabilities.
- Learn about the curriculum that is being followed by the school.
- Become knowledgeable of the school and district policies that affect their child.
- Influence administrative decisions concerning their child.
- Influence policymaking of the organization providing services.
Educators must realize that parent responsibilities will not be fulfilled unless they cooperate and work with families assisting them in the process of learning about and working within the educational system. However, as significant changes continue to occur in our social structures, family involvement has become more difficult. School personnel need to recognize that soliciting family involvement is their responsibility; but simply inviting parents to attend meetings is not sufficient. Educators must take specific steps to encourage and reinforce family involvement.
© ______ 2006, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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