Advocating for Your Child In the School Setting
By Molly A. Isaacs-McLeod
One of the most rewarding things I do is assisting parents in working with their school to obtain educational accommodation for their gifted children. Parents generally know when their children “need more.” I sincerely believe most educators would like to accommodate. However, teachers are responsible for an increasing number of students, budgets are tight, and many of the resources are distributed elsewhere. To parents of gifted children, the situation is frustrating at best.
So how can you move beyond the frustration and advocate for your child and his needs? After taking a deep breath (or ten!) develop a plan of action. You can engage a professional advocate to help you, or take on the task yourself.
Determine the applicable law in your state. Unlike IDEA, the education arm of ADA, gifted education is generally regulated by the state. A good starting point for a summary of each state’s applicable law is available on the National Association for Gifted Children site.
Attempt to make an objective assessment of the situation. As parents, we are uniquely vulnerable to anything affecting our children. Does the school believe your child is gifted? If not, do you have (or can you obtain) documentation through independent testing that might help?
What is your goal? Are you trying to get your child into a gifted program? Does your child need subject acceleration for one or more classes? Are you looking for a grade skip. I offer two SENG articles for your perusal: one addressing appropriate expectations, and the other addressing grade advancement.
Develop a well thought out plan that achieves your goal, makes it as easy as possible for the educator, and takes school policy and concerns into consideration. This may mean providing transportation for a class in another location or paying for an online class. Present a plan that is a win-win.
Start with the teacher, unless relations have become so strained as to render discussion with the teacher pointless. Explain that your child needs something other than what she is receiving. Express your belief that the teacher wants what is best for each student, and appreciation for the fact that there are many needs to be met in a single classroom. Offer the win-win plan.
Be sure to create tangible plans and try to get the plan in writing, even if it means sending an email listing what was agreed upon in the meeting and inviting commentary or correction by a set date.
If you are successful in obtaining an accommodation, be sure to follow through with anything you have agreed to do. A thank you note (of modest gift card) is always a bonus.
If you have not been successful, you will need to review your plan, think through the objections, see if the objections can be overcome, and decide whether to return to the teacher or appeal to higher authority. Sometimes exploring other options is necessary.
I wish you strength and patience in your ongoing job as your child’s number one advocate. It is not easy. It is not fun. However, you are modeling valuable advocacy skills for your child. Additionally, you are learning more about what your child needs and there is a pay off when those needs begin to be met.