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Natural Awakenings Northwest Florida

Special Collaboration for Back-to-School Preparation

Jul 31, 2013 10:00PM ● By Lee Day, Ph.D.

Throughout the summer, your special education child has worked regularly with his therapist in your home to learn new skills. During visits to a library, museum or local business, he has practiced and applied his newly learned skills. You are thrilled with the progress he has made.
 
School starts again in a matter of weeks. As you prepare your child with special needs to begin a new school year, utilize the following simple guidelines to access a new Florida law that allows for collaboration between your child’s private instructional personnel, such as a summer therapist, and his classroom teachers. 
 
The new law expands certain parent rights, giving them a greater voice in major decisions regarding their child’s individual education plan. It also states districts must now allow private instructional personnel hired by parents to enter classrooms to observe and collaborate with public instructional personnel and provide services to the student.
 
Realize this change is very new, so procedures for its use may not yet be in place. Plan to meet with your child’s teacher and the principal during the pre-planning week of school, when teachers have returned and before students have their first day. Share what you have learned regarding this new law and make your request for professionals to collaborate.
 
Using clean, courteous language and short sentences to state your point, write a letter to the school principal. Provide him or her with a printed copy when you meet with the teacher during pre-planning. Follow up by sending the letter to the principal in an email and include contact information where you can be easily reached. 
 
Remember that your child’s school is a bureaucracy, so keep copies and notes of all conversations, calls and meetings. Creating a paper trail means taking steps to protect your child’s interest. If there is a dispute with the school, your documentation will be key to supporting your position and finding a resolution.
 
By law, special education is individualized, and proceeds in a manner that considers requests case-by-case. Your principal may have legitimate concerns surrounding this new ruling that empowers parents, but does not relieve the district of any of its obligations to provide services as outlined in your child’s existing individual education plan. To be effective, collaboration needs to begin early on in the first weeks of the new school year. 
 
Any attempt between professionals to collaborate in providing services to your child in this new way will require negotiating a reasonable time and place during the already hectic school day. Your success at arriving at a workable plan will likely depend on the personalities of the personnel involved, the culture of your specific school and the manner in which you make and follow up on your request. As you proceed, keep in mind and do not hesitate to reiterate that the goal of all concerned parties is providing the best educational outcome for your child.
 
The new law began at a town hall meeting in the Florida Panhandle and is the result of listening to parents that want the best educational outcome for their children. Provide feedback to Representative Matt Gaetz and other supporters, and keep the focus of special education issues foremost in the minds of our elected officials. Write your representative at [email protected]
 
Lee Day is a longtime educator and advocate for individuals with special needs and their families. Contact her at 850-221-7793 or [email protected].
 
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