School Advocacy for Disabled Children

Build an army, and expect change!  As an advocate in the past for student safety and youth mental health, one of my biggest issues has been the way the school system treats parents. One very smart phycologist friend of mine once compared the school system as acting like a bunch of scared cows towards parents. When confronted with a school board that doesn’t want to co-operate it’s important to know what proactive steps you need to take as an advocate.

David Lepofsky of the AODA Alliance has some very good tips for parents on how to advocate the school system in a recent talk with Osgoode Hall Law School.  You can view that talk below:

Some helpful tips to add to this presentation that I found very useful in my advocacy towards school boards as a parent and also as a youth advocate:

  • When you go to any in person or teleconferenced meetings with the school make sure you record everything, and I mean everything.  This bit of advice has saved my ass as a parent on numerous occasions.  Install a voice recorder app on your phone.  Yes it’s legal to record conversations and in Canada only one party needs to consent to the recording.  You don’t need the board’s permission to record a meeting.  Just make sure you are discrete about it.
  • We had an excellent service coordinator working with our family. The last one we had, we got very lucky.  She reminded me of our Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland in her negotiating skills. She was an awesome support for my son and I. She was an excellent “go between” with the school and other services we have, and was a very skilled “negotiator” with the school. It helps to have a good rapport with your child’s case manager/service coordinator in order to for them to step in and advocate for you when you just don’t have the energy to. Check in to your local service provider and see what options are available for a case management/service coordinator service.
  • School boards have in the past intentionally tried to burn parents out hoping they would just give up. If you don’t have a case manager/service coordinator service, don’t give up. Call a lawyer or Arch Disability Law if you need assistance.
  • Get familiar with the Ontario Human Rights Code on accommodation. Most of my successes in advocating the education system as a parent come from a strong knowledge of the human rights code and the education act.  Law isn’t for everyone, but it does help out huge if you don’t want to get lawyers involved and try to come to a “negotiated” agreement with your board. The more you understand what your rights are, the more leverage you have over the boards position as David somewhat alluded to during his presentation.
  • If the school board responds to any complaint or request you might have with board policy. Call a lawyer or Arch Disability Law.
  • David made some excellent points in this video about the school board having to accommodate you as a parent. Accommodation can take on many forms such as accommodating a disability, but most importantly accommodating to your stress and mental health levels as a parent as well. Us caregivers of the disabled can shoulder a tremendous amount of responsibility. The board and staff need to respect this.  Advocating on any level does take its toll. Make sure you point that out in writing to the board if they are being uncooperative, or give you a response to a request/complaint loaded with board policy or are just being difficult.

As a parent that has successfully advocated the school system on behalf of my son, if you’d like to contact me for some advice on what other steps we’ve taken to get our son supported in our board, you are more than welcome to reach out to me at [email protected]

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