Special Education/Visiting a school

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QUESTION: Hello. I have a 14-year-old son with autism who is primarily educated in a self-contained classroom. Next year, he will attend high school. I have asked to visit the high school this year  and have been told that the principal is not allowing parents to visit this year. I've never had this problem before. I'm wondering if they can legally keep me from visiting the school, and what steps I would take to go about setting up a visit.

Thank you, Michelle

ANSWER: Hello, Michelle,

Thanks so much for asking me about whether you have a 'right' to visit the high school where your child has been placed for the upcoming year. I am very sorry for my delay in my response!

Your question says you have been told that the high school principal will not allow a visit prior to school. I would suggest you reach out directly to the special education staff and principal at the high school to make the request. Explain that your student needs to have a preview of the school and the schedule, and send the IEP. Ask for an informal meeting to discuss the schedule, and implementation of the IEP. The guidance counselor assigned to your child's grade may also be a good contact. I would try to go directly to the source and have a conversation. If you are denied, ask why and follow up with me to let me know what happens.

To directly answer your question, I am not aware of any 'law' related to visitation. But, most school districts and schools have a written policy for all parents. Try to obtain that, and use it to make your request.

On a personal note, I am sorry to hear about this. I think that parents who want to partner with schools are giving the student the best chance of success. I have been attending IEP meetings for 30 years and usually, there is no issue with the high school representative coming to the middle school transition meetings and parents are welcomed to new buildings. If there is a problem with the dynamic between you and the school, you may want to reach out for help from someone like me to assist with building trust and communication. After all, you are a taxpayer and the school culture should welcome interested parents.

I hope this helps you as you advocate for your exceptional student's transition to high school and I wish you the best. Thanks again for a great question.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hello. I have reached out directly to the principal already. I have sent three email with the last copied to the head of  special populations. I have yet to receive any reply. I had thought I might have the right to observe if we looked at it is the potential placement for our son for next year. I thought we had the right to observe any proposed placement.  Does the STC classroom at the high school not count? Or am I misinterpreting this law? I'm concerned by the lack of response and the fact that they are unwilling to have parents on campus.
Thank you again for your help,
Michelle

Answer
Hi Michelle,

Thank you for following up and clarifying for me that you've already reached out to the Principal.

I am not aware of the 'law' that you are referencing. Feel free to send it to me if you have it.

While I don't have clients in Texas, my experience tells me a few things.

First, if this may be the proposed placement vs if it is the placement may be important. If the IEP meeting has been held, then it is your child's placement. While it's best practice for schools to open doors for visits and observations, the schools sometimes use confidentiality or other excuses why the parent is being denied an observation.

If the IEP meeting has not yet been held, then I would ask the middle school to invite the high school to the meeting. While I am not aware of requirements for this, the middle and high school may agree that it's a good idea, and it helps the high school to know your child.

It may be that you want to call or personally visit the school and ask to talk with the Principal secretary or special education department chairperson.

The follow up seems like you may be wanting to visit the potential program at the high school in order to dispute it or in order to decide whether to dispute it. If the school is picking up on this and if it is the case, it would not be unusual for the school to be defensive.

Why do you feel strongly about visiting? If it is simply to have a good relationship and you feel that visits are indicative of a good partnership, I would get the overall school visitation policy and follow it. I would make more personal efforts other than or in addition to email to connect with the staff.

If you think your child needs to preview the school before he goes, I would try to get that written into the IEP as an accommodation.

If you, on the other hand, have not been to the IEP meeting or are considering a private or unilateral placement, that may bring other factors in. I am unaware of any legal requirement that you must be allowed to evaluate the proposed or possible program. If this is the case, I am sorry I am not being more helpful.

Even as an expert, while the vast majority of the time I am allowed to see the proposed placement, there have been other times I have been prohibited (by attorneys for the school, for example). Especially since your child is not yet there, I would try to get bees with honey and forge relationships.

I hope this helps!

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Michelle R. Davis, M. Ed.

Expertise

I can answer questions about disability definitions and criteria for services, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004, No Child Left Behind, 504 plans, how to craft an IEP that drives the appropriate services, school placement, dispute options, and least restrictive environment. I worked in the public school system as a special educator and am now in private consulting practice where we assist parents as they navigate the special education process. I have expertise in all educational disabilities except blind/visual impairments and deaf/hard of hearing. This includes ADHD and other health impairments, medical conditions, dyslexia and learning disabilities, Autism, emotional disabilities, language processing problems, and interfering behaviors.

Experience

10 years as special educator and administrator in public school system; Director of ABCs for Life Success since 1998; Expert services such as analysis and testimony; Author: Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book: What you can do now to advocate for your exceptional child's education; Special Needs Advocacy Training Institute; internet radio show Teach Your Children Well: Hot Topics in Education; author School Success for Kids with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders released March 2010 (Prufrock Press).

Education/Credentials
Masters in Special Education with Emphasis on Inclusive Education (Johns Hopkins University); B.S.in Special Education (James Madison University); Conduct training for Universities, public and private schools, parent groups. Adjunct professor current George Washington University and prior George Mason University.

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