Common Legal Mistakes Parents of Children with Special Education Needs Make, But Can Avoid: Part VI

Published on April 26, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

Part six in the Series:  Unfortunately, prevailing in a legal dispute against your school district is very difficult, so if you can avoid some common traps, why not just avoid them? If you’ve already done one of these things, don’t give up hope, but do try to rectify the situation. If you haven’t done any of these things, DON’T.

MISTAKE #6:  Insulting the Staff

The level of frustration Parents feel in fighting with their school district to obtain appropriate special education services can sometimes reach a fevered pitch.  Very often when I am brought in, parents tell me horror stories about how exhausting and contentious their battles with the administration have been, sometimes just to get the most basic of services for their child.

It is enough to make even the most kind and patient parents ready to snap.

I absolutely appreciate that.  However, if you do end up in a legal dispute with your school district, you can be almost guaranteed that one of the strategies they will employ is to portray you as unreasonable.  They will say your expectations of the school district are disproportionate to their legal obligations, that you are in denial about your child’s abilities, that you are impossible to please, and just basically hard to work with.

Don’t help them prove their point.

If you are rude to the staff, you are feeding their argument and playing into their hand.  I am not suggesting that there are no times where it is appropriate to get more assertive with the district.  In fact, I highly recommend that.  It is how you handle those situations that can dramatically impact the outcome of a legal dispute.

When occasions of serious disagreement arise, I suggest not putting anything in writing until you’ve had time to calm down and take a deep breath.  I absolutely want you to document your concerns, but as you do so, consider the long term ramifications.

Expect anything you write to one day be an exhibit in a Due Process Hearing.

Do your best to make sure that any letter or email you write would ultimately be supportive of your case, and not theirs.  I suggest reviewing it several times before you send it, and asking yourself if a neutral party reading it would think you were being reasonable.  If you don’t think you can do that objectively, ask a trusted friend or relative to read it before you send it.

This goes for verbal communications as well.

As an example, telling your special education administrator exactly what you think of him or her is not always prudent, nor is asking the special education teacher if she received her degree from an infomercial.

There are more productive ways to document a school district’s failure to provide an appropriate program and to express your disagreements than to do so in an insulting manner.   While the more diplomatic approach may not be as immediately satisfying, it will be far more influential if it becomes necessary to prove your case.

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