Parents, Students, and Advocates
When decisions are being made concerning a student with a suspected or documented disability, the best interests of the student and her family must be represented. The parents—or a person serving in the role of a parent, such as a guardian or foster parent—have the right to participate in virtually all aspects of their child's educational program (Al-Hassan & Gardner, 2002; Dabkowski, 2004; L.G.L. Nelson, Summers, & Turnbull, 2004), a topic addressed in more detail later in this chapter.
Often parents are strong allies for general education teachers. They can assist teachers by reviewing at home what is taught in school, rewarding their child for school accomplishments, and working with school professionals to resolve behavior and academic problems.
Whenever appropriate, students with disabilities also should be active participants in decision making about their own education. Increasingly, educators are involving students so they can directly state their needs and goals and learn to advocate for themselves, a concept referred to as self-determination (Chambers, Wehmeyer, Saito, Lida, Lee, & Singh, 2007; Test, Mason, Hughes, Konrad, Neale, & Wood, 2004). The extent of student participation on the team depends on the age of the student, the type and impact of the disability, and the professionals' and parents' commitment. In general, the older the student, the greater her ability to contribute, and the higher the value placed on her contribution, the greater the participation. Thus, first-grade students with disabilities usually are not expected to participate in very many decisions about their education. However, high school students with disabilities usually attend and participate in their team meetings, and their priorities and preferences are central to decision making (Arndt, Konrad, & Test, 2006). These students often have strong opinions about what they would like to do after high school, and they also take on more responsibility for monitoring their progress in reaching their goals (Gringel, Neubert, Moon, & Graham, 2003; Martin, Marshall, & Sale, 2004).
A final team member is an advocate. Sometimes parents sense that they do not know enough about the policies and procedures that govern special education to represent themselves. In other instances, they are not sure school district personnel are acting in the best interests of their children. In yet other situations, parents may be uncomfortable interacting with school personnel because of language or cultural differences or for other reasons. Parents have the right to bring an advocate to team and other school meetings concerning their children. This person serves as their advisor and sometimes their spokesperson. Advocates sometimes are professionals who are compensated by parents for their services. Alternatively, they may be volunteers provided through a professional organization or parent support group or by friends or relatives.
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