10.22.2014

Advocating for Allie’s Special Education Rights

By Debra Flanagan, Treehouse Educational Advocate

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Allie is a cheerful eighth grader who is never caught without a smile on her face. As a non-verbal and wheelchair bound student, she works hard but needs additional support to be able to fully participate in school. Allie spends about 75% of her day in a general education classroom and the remainder of the day in a special education classroom with a special education teacher, a speech and language pathologist, a physical therapist, and a vision teacher. I started getting to know Allie about a year ago, when her caregiver, Carol, was looking for ways to help Allie communicate in school.  We worked with Allie’s school to obtain eye and head movement recognition devices for her, but the process was lengthy and the tools weren’t able to help Allie as we had hoped. Without the aid of technology, Allie’s school decided that in order to remain in the general education classroom, Allie needed to be accompanied by a nurse at all times.

Colored Pencils in a Classroom

While her nurse was there, Allie was able to stay connected with her peers and continue learning. But, whenever her nurse did not show up, Allie was sent home. As this became more frequent, Carol became frustrated. When Allie had racked up over a dozen missed days, Carol decided to call me. She shared her concerns with me, but was unsure what to do next. Together, we set up a meeting with the school to find a way to keep Allie in class. After much discussion, it was determined that the school would not provide any additional support for Allie. Carol left the meeting feeling frustrated and discouraged, but I knew we weren’t ready to give up.

I began coaching Carol on her rights as a caregiver and helped her understand the unique laws that protected Allie as a student with special education needs. As we continued to meet together and research potential solutions, I could see Carol become more confident in her abilities to advocate on behalf of Allie. Together, we decided file a formal complaint to get Allie the support she needed in school. After weeks of preparation we submitted the complaint and Carol was granted a hearing with her school district. After the hearing, I could see from Carol’s big smile that it was a success. Carol shared how she stood before the full room of school administration and bravely explained Allie’s lack of consistent support at school and her recommendations to support Allie in her education. The school district listened intently to Carol, and agreed! They not only hired another nurse as a backup to Allie’s primary nurse, but also offered compensatory education services for Allie during the summer break so she could make up the time she had missed during the year.

This decision was not only a huge win for Allie, but for Carol, too. She left that meeting feeling incredibly empowered and confident in her abilities to advocate on her own. In fact, when another issue came up with Allie’s school this year, Carol put together a school meeting all on her own. I am so proud of Carol and am thrilled she has found the confidence to speak up for Allie.

Are you interested in learning more about the rights you have as a caregiver or how special education services can support the youth in your care? Check out Treehouse’s helpful Educational Advocacy guides here.

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About the Author

As a Treehouse Educational Advocate, Debra Flanagan collaborates with schools, social workers, foster families and foster youth to resolve difficult issues and remove barriers to foster kids’ school success.


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