It’s hard to know when to step into school situations with our kids. Putting aside serious special education concerns, situations like bad grades, difficult peer interactions, and teachers who our kids perceive as unfair all require us to think carefully about whether we should intervene. Sometimes we should not—stepping in at every hiccup is not a good idea. Some things may just not be worth the energy or the chance of being labeled a complainer. Also, giving kids a chance to work things out for themselves is an opportunity for learning (and a vote of confidence).
As an education lawyer and parent, this dilemma is something I deal with both at the office and at home. My older kids are at an age where I usually want them to address concerns independently. But that doesn’t always work. When is it time to get involved?
When your child asks
Get involved when your child asks you to, or when you ask if they want help and they say yes. Kids usually don’t ask for parent intervention unless they have to—especially in middle or high school. You can be pretty sure that if they want your help, they really need it. Show your kids that you are on their “team.” I tell my kids this outright— “I am on YOUR team. I will help you whenever you need it.” Sometimes this means helping them to self-advocate. For example, helping them draft an email that they send themselves and they follow up on. One example of this would be a missing assignment or most any grade issue—let kids take the lead there. If they make this effort and the teacher isn’t responsive, then you should consider following up.
When there is a safety issue or bullying
When you have any reason to believe your child’s physical or emotional safety is at issue, you must speak up immediately. When your child is experiencing bullying, fill out a proper, formal, written “bullying reporting form.” Many schools and school systems have these on their websites. Know what bullying is. Bullying is usually not a one-time negative peer interaction. According to the Maryland State Department of Education, bullying refers to conduct that: adversely affects a student's ability to participate in or benefit from the school's educational programs or activities; is a result of repeated negative actions (intentional, aggressive behavior) by one or more other students over time; and occurs in a relationship in which there is an imbalance of power.
When an IEP or 504 isn’t being implemented consistently
For elementary school children, brand new middle schoolers, and any student whose developmental stage dictates active involvement, you should always do a beginning of the year check in, either by phone or during a meeting, to make sure the teacher is aware of the content of the IEP/504 and has a plan (that makes sense to you) for implementation. For high schoolers, most middle schoolers, and any student whose developmental stage dictates independence, sit down with your child and their IEP/504 and review the appropriate sections. No, you do not need to show them the whole thing. Just print out the accommodations and services pages. Review them and put them in your child’s binder or backpack. Advise these independent students about how to ask respectfully that teachers implement these parts. If that isn’t enough, it’s time for you to speak up. With any age group, you need to get involved if you believe your child’s IEP/504 isn’t being implemented faithfully or if you think changes are needed to any part of the IEP/504.
When There is a Pattern of Concerns
When there is a pattern of concerns that are causing your child stress, it’s time for you to get involved. Although I suggest ignoring some minor problems and also supporting kids to handle what they can independently, your child’s mental and emotional safety must come first. If you can make a list of solid examples of minor concerns that are making school more difficult for your child, it may be time to take your list to a counselor, IEP chair, or administrator. Their job is to help your child find success in school.
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THIS BLOG SHOULD BE USED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. IT DOES NOT CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP WITH ANY READER AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE.