I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Who Can Accompany a Parent to a Meeting With School Officials?

If a farmer's barn is on fire, yet the farmer does not see it, does not want to see it, cannot see it or is too preoccupied to attend to the fire ----should the fire department not respond if they know the fire is burning?  

If a Good Samaritan tries to tell the farmer that his barn is burning and yet the farmer smiles and does nothing or shrugs his shoulder and says "What do you think I should do?"--should the Good Samaritan call the fire service for the Farmer?  Uh, Yes.

But what if the fire service dispatcher tells the Good Samaritan "We can't respond, you are not the owner of the barn, we must wait until the farmer calls us!"  "You are not the owner of this barn!"

I ask these questions rhetorically and use an analogy to illustrate a problem--this blog entry is not about William Faulkner or Barn Burning or structure fires and emergency responses----It's about people trying to help students and bureaucrats getting annoyed by this. 

Some parents do not know how to best advocate for their own children.  Some parents want to do what is best for their children, but they often let things slip and do not make the right decision for their students--hoping and believing that the system will make sure their students are appropriately looked after.

And well-meaning staff do their best in most instances but even still sometimes mistakes are made.  The wrong class is assigned, the wrong GPA is calculated, the wrong information is given, and the list goes on.

So what happens if a parent that is not necessarily sophisticated with  the world of college eligibility requirements, GPA calculation, or academic scheduling asks another parent for help navigating the

 bureaucracy of the system?  What if this other parent has extensive knowledge in this area and is willing to help?

This sort of scenario recently played out and the student, thankfully, was given the schedule necessary to satisfy college requirements.  But it took a lot of calls, school visits, emails, text messages, and significant gnashing of teeth to get this student's situation sorted-out.

Along the line, several administrators stated flatly that the other parent, the Good Samaritan if you will, could not help this parent navigate the system to fix scheduling and other issues--even if the student's parent requested this!  A meeting was to be held, and the family friend that wanted to help was told she could not participate--administrators would not talk to her, only the student and the parent.

Well, that does not seem right to me so I asked the attorney about this:  Specifically, I asked if administrators could tell a parent that such a parent could not bring another adult to a meeting to help with a school situation.

As I suspected, the answer is no.  We can't tell a parent they can't bring a family friend to a meeting to assist them in getting services for their child.  It is actually a state law.  From attorney Donna Waters in 2013, Sec. 1002.20 was amended to add a section which addresses a parent's right to bring another adult of their choice to a meeting with district personnel. While the bill was titled as being specific to ESE education, the language adopted and put into the statute was broad, apparently applying to all meetings.

The language of Section 1002.20(21) follows:

(a) Meetings with school district personnel.—Parents of public school students may be accompanied by another adult of their choice at a meeting with school district personnel. School district personnel may not object to the attendance of such adult or discourage or attempt to discourage, through an action, statement, or other means, the parents of students with disabilities from inviting another person of their choice to attend a meeting. Such prohibited actions include, but are not limited to, attempted or actual coercion or harassment of parents or students or retaliation or threats of consequences to parents or students.
1. Such meetings include, but are not limited to, meetings related to: the eligibility for exceptional student education or related services; the development of an individual family support plan (IFSP); the development of an individual education plan (IEP); the development of a 504 accommodation plan issued under s. 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; the transition of a student from early intervention services to other services; the development of postsecondary goals for a student with a disability and the transition services needed to reach those goals; and other issues that may affect the educational environment, discipline, or placement of a student with a disability.
2. The parents and school district personnel attending the meeting shall sign a document at the meeting’s conclusion which states whether any school district personnel have prohibited, discouraged, or attempted to discourage the parents from inviting a person of their choice to the meeting.

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