A Special Education Advocate is a professional who helps families navigate the laws surrounding both Special Education and Section 504. An Advocate is usually called in when a family feels that the school district is not acting in the best interest of their student. An advocate has working knowledge of state and federal laws that pertain to students with learning differences of all kinds.
An advocate is hired in order to ensure the best interests of the student are being met. Here are some scenario’s when an Advocate might be involved:
- When a school refuses to acknowledge a diagnosed disability that has been presented by an outside agency
- When it is perceived that the school is not following the written plan (IEP or 504 Plan) that was put in place for the student
- When a school refuses services that the parents believe are in the student’s best interest
- When there is a disagreement regarding the best placement for a student with a disability
Sometimes, it is just nice to have an advocate with you. When parents attend a special education (ARD) or 504 meeting, it is often very overwhelming. At these meetings, the following school personnel are usually present:
- Classroom teacher (sometimes more than one depending on the grade)
- Administrator (Principal or Vice Principal)
- Special Education teacher
- Related services personnel (speech therapist, occupational therapist, dyslexia teacher, etc)
It can be very overwhelming as a parent to walk into a room full of people that you may or may not be all that familiar with. Then, once the meeting starts, there are lots of acronyms and words that a parent is likely unfamiliar with. The staff tend to through these around with little respect to the parent’s working knowledge of the terminology. Often, parents end up signing forms and walking out of the meeting not really sure of what they just agreed to.
Having an Advocate at these meetings is kind of like having an interpreter. The Advocate can ensure the parents understand what is being discussed. In addition, the Advocate can ensure that the parents concerns and needs are being heard and met by the school.
The school is not always happy when an advocate shows up to a meeting. The school does not like having someone scrutinize their paperwork and often take a defensive stance. So, it is important to give them a heads up before the meeting that the advocate is not coming because you have an issue but because you just want someone else there that can help you understand how all of the information presented pertains to your child.