Don’t Expect the “Matlock” Confession

Published on April 16, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

So often I will be discussing strategy with a family as we prepare for an upcoming IEP meeting, Mediation or Due Process Hearing for their child. I will be going through what the Parent can expect, asking them what I am likely to hear from certain staff members, and generally, well, preparing. For each of these meetings, it is essential that the Parents, and I, have a clear expectation going in as to what we hope to accomplish. What is the goal of having me there? This is where it sometimes gets tricky, as the revenge factor comes in.

I can absolutely understand the inclination to want to, finally, be in the position of power. After all, parents often have spent years suffering through meetings where they were the ones who were anxious, nervous, and under scrutiny. Now, with their lawyer there, they envision getting to watch their special education director “sweat” under the pressure of legal accountability. However, is this really the goal of having an attorney or advocate with you? I know it isn’t for almost every parent with whom I’ve ever spoken. When I first speak to them, they tell me their goal is simple: to secure an appropriate special education program for their child. But as the meeting approaches, I can hear it in their voices…they are starting to feel giddy with the idea of retribution. And I don’t blame them one bit. But vengeance is of limited utility.

Parents, resist the urge to want revenge in such meetings. It may feel good in the moment, but it will not result in long term benefits to your child. In my experience, you are more likely to win the Powerball than you are to have your special education administrator openly apologize and repent for previous mistakes made in your child’s special education program. It almost never happens. Moreover, even if the school district has clearly violated the law and not met their legal obligations to your child, sometimes you can get the services or programs you want by giving the school district a “face saving” device at the meeting. In other words, even if the record is crystal clear that your child has needed something for years which hasn’t been provided, if your school’s administration can “justify” providing it somehow (now that you have representation) by relying on an updated evaluation that is agreed upon, or some “new” information, do you really care? If your child ultimately is getting what you want, why does it matter?

Stop looking for the Matlock Confession. Trust me, the “I told you so” will be much sweeter when it comes in the form of your child making progress with the services you have been saying, all along, would work.

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