EDUCATION ADVOCACY AT ATI
By Erin Vallely, ATI Advocacy Specialist
While beginning a new school year can be exciting and stressful for everyone, disabled and chronically ill students may struggle even more than their peers. If your student struggled or disliked school last year, they likely were not receiving the appropriate accommodations and/or services they needed to be successful. With as many as 15% of public-school students receiving some type of special education service as of 2021, it is easy for needs to be overlooked and go unmet by the school.
The Consequences of Unmet Needs and Availability of Local Support Services
Across the country, students receiving special education services have historically had increased dropout rates and lower rates of secondary education of any type, employment and other quality of life indicators. To decrease the outcome disparities for disabled and chronically ill individuals, it is very important students' needs do not slip through the cracks. If you have struggled to get your student the support and services they need, you may benefit from working with an education advocate.
As ATI’s education advocate, Erin supports students and their guardians by helping them navigate the complex special education system to ensure their needs are being met. Although she cannot offer legal advice, she assists clients in the following ways:
- Understanding Relevant Laws. The special education system is governed by multiple education and disability anti-discrimination laws that create a confusing, and sometimes contradictory, set of requirements and expectations.
- Requesting Testing and Evaluations. Your student will have to undergo multiple evaluations throughout their K-12 education in different areas to prove the need for accommodations, services, and to assess progress.
- Reviewing 504 and IEP Plans. 504 Plans and Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) are legally binding documents that outline each student’s unique needs and frequently are not well written or ignored by staff due to vague language.
- Attending 504 and IEP Meetings. Having a professional advocate at 504 and IEP meetings provides you with extra emotional and strategic support and helps ensure your concerns are adequately recorded and addressed by the school.
- Finding Information and Outside Referrals. Education advocates can help take the stress and time of research, strategizing, and finding outside supports off your plate which gives you more time to focus on your student.
Although an advocate’s involvement cannot replace you and your student’s self-advocacy efforts, ATI’s education advocacy services can help you navigate the system, determine how to best meet your student's needs, and offer consistent support and advocacy with the school. Oftentimes an education advocate is as, or more, effective than a costly lawyer.
Understanding special education processes as well as your student’s rights and needs is crucial to your student’s success in school even when working with an education advocate. Here are some steps you can take to learn more about the complex system:
- Read about the process of special education at https://www2.ed.gov/parents/needs/speced/iepguide/index.html
- Understand the differences between 504 Plans and IEP Plans at https://www.understood.org/en/articles/the-difference-between-ieps-and-504-plans
- Review your student’s 504 or IEP goals using the guide found at https://www.understood.org/en/articles/how-to-tell-if-your-childs-iep-goals-are-smart