Here are some general tips that I have learnt along the way that I wish I knew before I started down the advocacy path. I offer these as suggestions for you to consider for your own advocacy efforts. As a disclaimer: please see this list as a Sunday brunch buffet of options and not a prescription of exact steps that you need to follow. I hope this information empowers parents when moving forward to reflect on their own values and make their own advocacy decisions. I know for myself, that when I move down a path that aligns with my values, I feel that much stronger.
- Quoted from a human rights lawyer “It is not up to the teacher to be in charge of an accommodation need. The district has human rights obligations they need to fulfill.” They may use teacher autonomy as an excuse to avoid accommodations, but that is not legal. My response to that is, “Yes, while the teacher is being autonomous in the classroom they still have the legal responsibility to educate my child and offer them the legal accommodations they are entitled to.”
- Document everything. Keep dates, emails, notes from meetings, etc. Every time you get an email, just put it into an email folder. Even ones you don’t think are important, years later you can look back and be thankful you have it. Even when things are going well, you will want to keep those emails as evidence as to what needs to be in place for your child to be successful. Pretend that you have to collect evidence for a trial, even though you are not. If that is your mind frame, you’ll have more of what you need. I even suggest you keep a timeline document. Keep logs and even a journal I find to be very helpful. For myself, I keep notebooks of everything I write down, or thoughts that pop in my head. That way I can always refer back. Even if at the time I don’t think it’s important it has happened, that what I think is unimportant becomes very important.
- Document everything about YOURSELF. How many work hours you have missed, any physical or emotional adverse effects. You can use this later for if you ever have to file a human rights complaint. You can add yourself onto your child’s complaint under family status. Click HERE for more info. If you are struggling emotionally, go see a counsellor who can verify or diagnosis you with any conditions that can be corroborated at a hearing or a settlement meeting. Rhodes College has student counsellors who are supervised and their counselling rates are $0-$25 per session. Click HERE.
- Collective evidence. Some parents have found it to be very beneficial to collect evidence through recordings. To read the Canadian laws around privacy and recording click HERE.
- Collect parent testimonials and ask other parents for evidence, if you don’t have what you need. Parents are willing to help. Extra eyes are always helpful and they sometimes see things that you don’t.
- Bring an advocate or someone to take notes during a meeting. Sometimes talking to administration can feel like you are walking through a verbal minefield and they are very sneaky with language. You’ll want to refer back to notes. Those notes may be needed for future complain processes either Ombudsperson, Professional Conduct Unit, or Human Rights Tribunal.
- School Act. This is your legislative legal tool. Read section 11 and find information on the process on your districts website. The appeals process click HERE.
- If your child needs to see a counsellor, any counsellor connected to the government will not be able to testify at a human rights hearing. It’s one of the systemic loopholes that is very wrong with our system. See HERE for more of them. This is the top 10 shocking educational advocacy discoveries I have learnt.
- Confidentiality. If they tell you that your meetings are confidential at the beginning, you don’t need to agree. It’s your child, you determine what is confidential. This is a tool they use so that you agree to the confidentiality and don’t report what THEY said during the meeting.
- Diagnosis confirmation. Give your child’s school written confirmation of their disability or any diagnosis. Even if it doesn’t lead to a designation or IEP, legally you will want them to be aware of their disability. Without this awareness, you wont have any human rights complaint options. They are required to accommodate even without a designation or an IEP.
- Research policy and laws. Parents have rights and responsibilities. Students also have rights and responsibilities. These are all outlined on the Ministry of Education website and BCCPAC. For their legislation and policies click HERE.
- Advocacy Path. There is a clear advocacy path that should be outlined on your school districts website that they expect you to follow. For serious issues – you can CC and jump the hierarchy list while still climbing the list. Give the people in the admin roles an early awareness of what is going on, and they will address it faster.
- Email Example:
It is my understanding that _______. Please inform me of any information I am missing ……
My concern is ……..
(State your ask)
(State the follow up expected action with a TIMELINE)
(Build the relationship)
- Introductory letters. I send introduction letters to all teachers at the beginning of a class, even though they are getting the IEP. It really does set everyone up for as much success as possible. Open communication is always helpful and it’s the beginning of building that relationship.
- Student file & Access to Information. You are allowed to have a copy of your child’s student file or to view it. Don’t be afraid to ask for it, it’s your right to see it. I was surprised as to what was missing. If you have any doubts that they are not showing you everything, submit a Freedom of Information request. For how to submit a Freedom of Information request click HERE.
- Policy. If schools tell you what you are asking for is not possible, ask them to show you the policy that says that.
- Meetings. I have benefitted immensely from being prepared before meetings with listing all of my questions and exactly what I want to say in written form. At home in a calm environment, I can think and focus and write everything down. I find this preparation works like a boat anchor and keeps me connected to the true purpose of our meeting. I can read my notes in the meeting and not allow them to take over and manipulate the meeting into something else. I also have time to think strategically and word my questions exactly how I want them.
- Info on district website. Look through your own districts policy and by-law manual. They have A LOT of information on their sites and it’s like walking through a maze to find everything. Some districts are clearer than others. It’s like they do that on purpose. 😉 They must follow their own policies.
- Poke the bear. If things are intense, I have heard of them trying to trigger you on purpose to create an emotional reaction and then they will use your outbursts as a way to shut down communication. Be aware of this tactic. They will look for ways to legally ban you from the school or in a human rights complaint look a way to add costs to the process or file for dismissal. They will use silence as way to get you to go away. For how to cope click HERE. All districts have a code of conduct page. You’ll want to read it and make sure they can’t use that against you.
- Reach out to your PAC, DPAC or BCCPAC for help.
- ERASE website. I have heard from another advocate that parents can also fill out the erase bully form online, it’s not just for kids and they have noticed a change after filling it out. It’s anonymous. ERASE BULLYING
- I have found it to be very helpful to have a good music play list of music that either inspires me or pumps me up.
- Self care, self care, and more self care. I highly suggest intentionally reaching out for support and finding a support group or asking for help from your support system.
- It’s ok to fail forward. Keep going. You’ll make mistakes along the way, and that is fine. Just don’t give up.
HIGHLY RECOMMEND visiting BCEdAccess to Education
For a list of great resources please visit https://bcedaccess.com/resources/
I highly recommend you join the Facebook group for BCEdAccess. There is so much wisdom and experience being shared in that group. Do a search for BCEdAccess Private Parent/Guardian Forum – Action for Access to Education. They have almost 4,000 members. You are certainly not alone.