Navigating Special Education- Tips for Success

If you are new to the world of special education, it can be overwhelming. There’s a million acronyms to learn, laws you hear about, procedures, timelines and so much more. I’ve put together a list of 10 tips for parents to get you heading in the right direction.

  1. Stop talking on the phone. If the school calls, email them back and explain that email is the best way for you to communicate. When disagreements arise (and they will) you’ll have a record. This will quickly alleviate headaches in the future.
  2. Don’t go to meetings alone. These can be overwhelming for any parent. Instead, bring a friend, relative, or advocate to provide support, to take notes, and/or to help translate what occurred.
  3. Record your meetings. Invest $25 now in a good recorder and record your meetings. When disputes arise, you can refer back to the recording. Be sure to notify the school in advance that you’ll be recording.
  4. When talking with the school team, remove the word “best” from your vocabulary and substitute “appropriate.” The school is not legally required to provide the “best” program. The school is required only to provide an “appropriate” program.
  5. Be professional.  Leave your emotions at the door. Getting angry or “venting” may feel great temporarily. However, giving in to this impulse may damage your credibility, may hurt your relationship with school staff, and therefore is likely to harm your child’s program
  6. Before any meeting, be sure you know the purpose of the meeting, so that you may be prepared to make decisions as an equal member of the team. If the school requested the meeting, what does the school team want to discuss with you? What do they intend to propose? Ask for the conference announcement form. In addition, develop a parent agenda, listing what you would like to discuss in the meeting, including any requests that you may need to make.
  7. Ask the school team (via email) to provide you with any materials to be reviewed in the meeting at least three school days before the meeting to “ensure meaningful parent participation”. These materials may include assessment reports, drafts of IEPs, or other important documents.
  8. If you are feeling overwhelmed during a meeting or if you simply need more time to consider a proposal, ask to take a break or to reconvene the meeting on another day. This is fine.
  9. After the meeting, always factually document any important areas of agreement or disagreement in polite letters to the school. Remember, “If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.”
  10. Remember that no single meeting will determine the outcome of your child’s education. If you believe another meeting is needed, you may request this at any time. You do not need to cover all issues in one meeting. Before each meeting, set your priorities, know what issues can be addressed later, and consider what compromises are acceptable to you.

p.s READ your Safeguards! 

If you need help with your child’s education, please contact me. I’ve helped over 100 students in Hawaii and I’d be honored to help your student too. You can call Brian Hill at 808.280.9884 or email at

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