As a parent you are the best advocate of your child placed in the school system. You have a right to request services for your child.
In the educational experience of students, especially from Kindergarten to 12th grade parents are the greatest advocates of their children. This group includes legal guardians, as well as foster parents who have adopted children. Let’s just say whoever enrolls a child in school legally, that person is responsible for advocating for the child. Let us start with when a family arrives in the U.S.
Newly arrived Parents with school age children. Unless it is summertime. You should not keep children at home for more than 3 and maximum 7 days. School age children should be enrolled in their school district immediately. Usually the system insists on holding your child back one grade. Your child speaks and writes in English, and most likely knows a second language. What should a parent do? Ask for a proficiency exam so that your child is placed in the right grade. Newly arrived immigrants should not have children held behind automatically, just because they are new or they speak with an accent.
The Fall Semester is a good time to make sure all the necessary measures are put in place in order for your child to succeed. If a parent waits until spring, it will probably be too late to help the student. Their needs might get pushed to the next academic year of 2021-2022. Make an appointment with your child’s homeroom teacher to check your child’s progress.
Be encouraged if you are a parent of a Child with special needs. Being a great advocate of your child is the best thing you can do. In 1995 about 5% of the school population was being identified as having special needs or needing accommodations. You know about this if your child has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) but by 2011 there has been a PUSH to decrease that number to just 3% of the school population. Unfortunately it is not necessarily to decrease that percentage. However, the decrease in the school population and the services that can be offered to help is directly tied to money. It is tied to what political administration is deciding how much money Federal and State use for special education. Unfortunately, the government keeps cutting into much needed funds. But a latent effect has also meant that schools are more careful in identifying students in need. They also work hard to ensure no child is left behind, that is if all is held constant. Which in reality is not going to happen in a vacuum.
A comparison view point: Let us go abroad and compare the USA, a mega school system, and Kenya, a county whose square miles is slightly larger than the size of the State of Texas – I can conclude that the school system of my time was excellent. Imagine in Kenya a child with an IQ of 70 was considered educable. The teachers worked so hard with the student, including flogging to the extent that out of fear, the brains of students with an IQ of 70 learned how to read and write in 2 or 3 languages. How the teachers did that remains to be researched.
There is, of course, a school like Eunice Academy in Waithaka that is known for educating the brightest students despite having special needs. The owner of this school after teaching in the public school had so much compassion for special needs students. She realized that she could not serve them fairly in the public school. She left the system and opened her school, one classroom at a time. The rest is a success story of bright minds nurtured patiently with grace and kindness. That’s the difference one teacher can make in a lifetime. That’s my successful Kenya story. Mrs. Eunice Njoroge, RIP (2020) was my cousin.
Welcome to the USA.
If you or somebody you know suspects a child has a learning disability you must help them between now and March 2021. The first indicator that something is wrong is failing grades or school refusal at any age and at any grace. A failing student usually will start to hate school and probably have behavior issues…like we say here in GA “cut the fool in class.” The class comedian who is always in trouble. This is a student who is known by the Principal not for excelling, but for causing trouble. Sometimes if parents are listening and paying attention students speak up when they are having issues.
WHAT CAN A PARENT DO?
Make an appointment with your Child’s home room teacher. Share your honest concerns. This initial appointment should be followed up by the school counselor, school social worker or school psychologist. If a parent wishes to seek these services outside school they should be prepared to pay out of pocket. In short, parents cannot bill the school. My suggestion is for the parent to start building a relationship or a link between home and school for the sake of the student.
Get help with at least the following 3 basics areas:
1. Psychoeducational assessment: This of course, will include an IQ to determine grade level of placement. Sometimes Talented and Gifted (TAG) students also trouble teachers because they want their brain food. They are already wired for a higher level of learning. They want a highly structured environment and need a faster pace in learning. They seem to have a thirst for learning that cannot be easily satisfied using the curriculum the teacher is mandated to follow. They want to do more and learn more. They can be trouble makers for teachers who are laid back, who are teaching the same way and using the same style they have used for the last 10 years. For TAG students, this will not work. Sometimes they can easily give up too. This type of student longs for a slow paced curriculum, may be even do better with a creative play curriculum, which is not available in a public school. We see both these 2 students with different needs getting in trouble for different reasons. Both students might end up with a disciplinary referral to the principal’s Office and a link slip sent home for parents. Sometimes, there is a 3rd category of students. This is when a TAG student, for example, has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or just Attention Deficit Disorder. Parents and teachers have to be more vigilant and need help in understanding that a person can be gifted and still have an underlying condition. Both need a lot of specialized care in the school system. Watch especially Black boys so that they are not misdiagnosed.
2. Complete Medical Exam: Make sure the student has an annual Physical Examination. This is a great tool, which is used to rule out chronic disease. It is done by the Primary Care Physician. Once the PCP rules our medical issues, then find the school psychologist for #3.
3. Biopsychosocial Evaluation: This is done to rule out Mental Health issues like retardation, or mental illness. It is important to know more about the family history, for example, family patterns, you hear (in this family no one graduates from High School, no one has been to college even when there are opportunities), or whatever interferes with learning. Rule out grief issues & social adjustments issues, especially for immigrants. Other areas are Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD with Hyperactivity, past trauma, abuse, speech and the other issues like School refusal. The test will reveal whatever makes it tough for a student to learn. Check with your State Mental Health Providers/Psychiatrists (Behavioral Health Services). For this evaluation, the school can refer students to appropriate services in the community. Referrals can be for other services offered within the school system, in which case they do not cost the parents any extra fees. Either School District/System or Insurance can pay. Have the assessments done before March 15/for the current Academic Year 2021-2022. Alternatively find out from your child’s school the dates to have these assessments done. Even during this season of COVID-19, your school is the best place to look for help for students in Pre-K to 12 th grade. Students with an IEP can be in the public school system, sometimes until they are 21 years old. But most do graduate on time by the time they are 18 years or 19 years based on their birthday.
Please Parents in Diaspora LET US work 1 year ahead. Or at least two semesters ahead (counting summer). This is how our Schools work (we have only August-March). Anything that is not put in place by March 15 that might be carried forward to the next academic year. In other words, any remedial that needs to be done must be in place as early as possible to make sure the student is not left behind by their peers.
Remedial classes for students in need do continue beyond High School graduation. However, at the present moment, there is a great possibility that Government funded remedial classes for College/Freshman who need a little push will come to an end sooner not later. The axe is already laid at the foot of the tree. What this means then, is that, Special Ed students may in future have a harder time being accommodated in college. So, the family should do whatever it takes to put services in place before students turn 21 years old. Failure to do this might mean that a student will fall in between the cracks, and anyway, parents will have little to say after a son or daughter turns 21 years old. Failure to put services in place for the student with an IEP may also mean that they are left out of assessing Vocational Rehab Services through the Department of Labor.
Types of Special Education:
There are six basic types of special education within most of our public school settings. It might be hard for a parent to distinguish them. This is why parents need to build a bridge, or link up with their child’s school. I will not discuss these types here, but they are Push in Services, Pull-out Services, Inclusive Classrooms, and Exclusive Education. Specialty Schools and Residential Programs. ( check them through your State’s Department of Education). You will find helpful information Online as well, including interactive websites and even Apps. These days, there is an App for almost anything and everything you can think of. You might find it overwhelming when you search Online. I highly recommend you consult with your Child’s school guidance counselor for your peace of mind. You also want to select what is appropriate for your child and that which complements the school curriculum.
Disclaimer/Information shared from my notes is for raising awareness about special education among African immigrants. It is not a substitute for school requirements for student placement or for medical requirements. For the general welfare of students’ success and their families, Please consult with your school counselor for further and for all necessary tests or assessments for your child. These are my counseling notes as Child/Adolescent Counselor & with parents of students in special education.
Information in this article has been shared before by the same author/Rev Wambui Njoroge, M.Sci. (Child & Family Studies)