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Parents Vs. Teachers?

To provide the SpEd services that a student needs, the IEP team must work collaboratively, recognizing what each member brings to the table.

By Carl J. PetersenPublished about a month ago 4 min read
Based on photo by Arisa Chattasa on Unsplash

No school can work well for children if parents and teachers do not act in partnership on behalf of the children's best interests.

– Dorothy H Cohen

As I helped guide my daughters’ journeys through the Los Angeles Unified School District, I can only think of one time when I had a serious disagreement with one of their teachers during an IEP meeting. Already frustrated by a lack of cooperation, I was surprised when I was presented with a writing sample that showed my daughter was showing academic progress that I had not witnessed at home. While my wife and I had tried multiple ways of helping her express herself, we had been unable to coax anything beyond stringing a few words together. However, this teacher presented a full paragraph that gave us insight into what our daughter thought about an activity.

Excited about this development I pressed the teacher about the methods she had used so we could try them at home. Happy to take credit for the achievement, the teacher only came clean about the writing sample after several rounds of back and forth. The words on the paper did not represent the thoughts of my daughter but were words that she had copied off the blackboard.

This incident stands out because it is unique in what we experienced. In all other cases, we built relationships with our daughters’ teachers, allowing us to become meaningful partners in the mission to help the girls reach their full potential. In past articles, I have expressed gratitude for the teacher who risked her job by telling us that what we had requested at one IEP meeting would benefit one of our daughters, but that the LAUSD would not allow it. I have also highlighted a teacher’s success in implementing a program that brought inclusion to a special day class. In another case, I spoke in favor of a teacher as she successfully appealed the district’s decision to fire her because she dared to stand up to bureaucrats who thought they knew how to reach her students better than she did.

Given this history, I was taken aback when a person identifying themselves as an “Early Childhood SpEd Teacher” criticized me “for painting SPED teachers in a negative light” in a Reddit post where I shared my article “Things I Wish I Knew Before My First IEP Meeting.” This tutorial was written following a conversation at a Community Advisory Committee meeting where advocates for children requiring Special Education services discussed the difficulties faced by parents who were new to the system and the need to provide them with information. It was concerning that anyone would interpret this attempt to empower parents as an attack on teachers.

Rereading the article, I wondered how the teacher had misinterpreted my words. In fact, I cautioned parents to “always be patient with the [IEP] team, as they may be acting as required by the district and cannot give you what you are requesting, even if they agree with your assessment.” I remind them “it is better to have them as allies than to alienate them and ruin any chances of future support.”

The Reddit poster took particular offense to my referring to school district staff as “gatekeepers” and insisted that when participating in an IEP they did not care about the district’s opinion. It is great if that is this person’s experience, but I have been told twice by LAUSD staff members that they would be disciplined if the District found out they were the ones who had provided me the information they were giving me. Other parents have shared similar experiences with me. For this reason, my proposed “Improving Special Education Within the LAUSD” resolution includes protections for District staff so they “have the right to discuss all educational options with parents and guardians in their school community.” It requires “they must inform the parent of the District’s policy” but states they “cannot be punished in any way for expressing their own opinion.”

Another commenter showed a concerning hostility toward parents questioning my ability to be an advocate for Special Education based on my experience as a parent because I lack a “viable background, training, or actual working knowledge of how schools function.” This is the type of staff member I had in mind when I cautioned parents to remember: “While the rest of the team may be formally trained, you have insights as a parent. Listen carefully to what the team reports to you but do not let yourself be bullied into taking an action you feel will not benefit your child.”

This poster thinks parents should just “trust the system” and condemns those who hire lawyers. I question the motivation of anyone who advocates against bringing outside help to an IEP because “all those people do is muck up the process.” Any team member who is acting ethically should not fear their work being observed.

As if to prove this point, the poster falsely claims that “schools are not required to convene a new IEP in 30 days when you make a request” claiming it is “a common misconception.” This directly contradicts the California Department of Education that confirms “whenever the parent requests a subsequent IEP meeting, a new meeting must be scheduled with 30 days of that request.

Hopefully, this anti-parent attitude is rare among Special Education educators. A successful IEP requires all members of the team, including parents and teachers, to work together to craft a document that provides an education plan that will help the student reach their full potential. Isn’t that what we are all working for?


Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for public education, particularly for students with special education needs, who serves as the Education Chair for the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him “a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles.” For links to his blogs, please visit Opinions are his own.


About the Creator

Carl J. Petersen

Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with SpEd needs and public education. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Opinions are his own.

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    Carl J. PetersenWritten by Carl J. Petersen

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