How to Advocate for Your Child at School

6 min to read
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At some point in your child’s educational journey, you may have to advocate for your child’s needs at school. Whether for access to special education services, accelerated instruction, medical accommodations, or intervention with bullying, you can use the strategies below to talk with your school to help your child.

What is an Advocate?

An advocate is a person who represents the views or needs of another person. In this case, as a parent or Learning Coach, you are your child’s first and best advocate because you know them best. You see their triumphs and sorrows, achievements, and challenges and can communicate to their school about your child’s needs.

What Does an Advocate Do?

If your child has ongoing needs at school that require intervention, accommodation, or a change in academic instruction, schedule, or setting, getting involved may be your best course of action. As a Learning Coach or parent advocate you can:

  • Provide insight into how school impacts your child’s academic, social, and emotional development.

  • Give the school documentation from outside specialists who have conducted academic and mental health testing and screenings, IQ tests, medical records, etc.

  • Request that the school conducts academic or behavioral observations and tests. 

  • Attend meetings with the teacher and other school representatives to discuss an action plan and solutions.

Why Does a Child Need Advocacy in School?

As caregivers, we like to think we are aware of everything that’s going on with our child; if something was wrong, or if their needs are not being met, we would know. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. For one reason or another, the need for advocating for your kid may present itself unexpectedly.

The most common reasons a child may require a parent or school advocate include: 

  • Accelerated instruction needs

  • Special education needs 

  • Action against bullying

  • Medical needs 

Here are some signs and suggested action steps so that you can learn how to advocate for your child in the way that best suits their needs. 

An online school student, who uses a wheelchair, speaking with her teacher through a video chat.

How to Determine if a Child Needs Accelerated Instruction

While many school districts conduct assessments to identify gifted students, you may want to reach out to your school if you feel that your child’s educational programming currently is not meeting his or her needs. 

Here are some signs that your child may need support in the form of accelerated instruction:

  • Your child seems bored with school or their homework assignments

  • You never notice your child studying, yet they still perform well on tests and quizzes 

How to Advocate for a Child who Needs Accelerated Instruction

According to the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), there are no federal requirements for schools to provide gifted instruction. Rather, each school district sets its own policy. To advocate for your child, you can:

  • Speak with the teacher. Establish a team approach that prioritizes open communication.

  • Identify strengths. Highlight the areas in which your child could benefit from accelerated instruction.

  • Educate yourself. Get in touch with your school district and find out what resources are available for advanced learners. 

How to Determine if Your Child Needs Special Accommodations

While there’s no “one size fits all” diagnosis to determine if your child may require special accommodations, here are some common signs to look out for:

  • Your child has a hard time paying attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork and other activities

  • Your child doesn’t seem to listen when spoken to directly

  • Your child has problems following through on instructions 

  • Your child is excessively fidgety or squirmy

  • Your child has a hard time waiting their turn or blurts out answers before questions have been completed

  • Your child doesn’t seem to be recognizing letters

  • Your child has poor spelling or reading skills 

How to Advocate for a Child who Needs Special Accommodations in School

If you suspect that your child may have a learning disability or otherwise require special accommodations, even if you do not yet have a diagnosis, send an email or letter to your school about your concerns and that you would like your child to be evaluated, if needed. To be an effective advocate, you should:

  • Cite specific examples. Document what your child has experienced both in and out of the classroom that has been concerning. 

  • Communicate in writing. Even if the school calls you, write back and restate what was said to you and outline any next steps.

  • Attend meetings. As a caregiver, you are part of your child’s decision-making team. You should try to attend meetings often to advocate for your child and weigh in on potential solutions. 

An online school student, who uses a wheelchair, studies for school on a tablet. 

How to Determine if Your Child Is Being Bullied at School 

If you suspect your child is being bullied, it can be difficult (but necessary) to step in and understand how to advocate for your child at school. Here are some warning signs:

  • They have unexplainable injuries

  • They have unexplainable lost items (clothing, books, etc.)

  • They feel sick or you suspect they are faking illness to avoid school 

  • They have difficulty sleeping and/or nightmares

  • They exhibit changes in eating habits

  • They avoid social situations

  • They show a decreased performance in school (declining grades, loss of interest, not wanting to attend school) 

How to Advocate for a Child Who Is Being Bullied at School 

When common strategies to deal with a bully do not result in a safer, bully-free school day, you may need to advocate for your child by:

  • Escalating the issue. Contact the teacher, principal, guidance counselor, and other school administrators to set up a meeting. Be sure to bring any documentation, evidence, or correspondence about the issue.

  • Proposing solutions. Would you like to switch classes? Transfer to another school? Be prepared to suggest a solution when talking with the school.

  • Focusing on your child. Because of privacy laws, the school will most likely not discuss any actions being taken with another student who may be involved, so focus on the impact of bullying on your child’s well-being and on the need for your child to learn in a safe, welcoming environment. 

How to Advocate for a Child with a Medical Issue

Whether your child has a long-term medical condition, needs insulin during the day, requires ADHD medication, has suffered a traumatic brain injury, or uses a wheelchair, you may find yourself having to negotiate with the school for special accommodations. 

  • Alert your school. If your child takes medications during the day or may miss classes for medical appointments, they may require extra support that you will need to coordinate with the school. So, make a list of how the school can support your child, and set a meeting with the teacher. 

  • Request a 504 Plan. A 504 Plan, named after Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, is designed to help parents of students with physical or mental challenges in public school. You can meet with your child’s teacher, principal, and guidance counselor to discuss potential solutions. 

  • Review needs regularly. You should meet with the school often, either at the beginning of each year or semester to discuss how your child requires additional support. 

While learning how to advocate for your child may seem daunting, you are the best person for the job because you know your child the best and can be their most powerful advocate.

To learn how you can be more involved in your children’s education with more opportunities to provide meaningful input, consider switching to a Connections Academy online public school. Or to learn about an online private school option, visit Pearson Online Academy ’s website.

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