Advocating for The Exceptional Spanish-Speaking Child | Our Voice Matters Too!
By Meshell Baylor, MHS
Parenting a child with exceptional needs is a full-time job. You, as advocates, learn to navigate multiple streams of the system. What happens when language barriers impede your need to advocate effectively for your child? How do you become a change agent for your child when citizenship is involved? Undocumented parents fear that they are unable to effectively speak up for their exceptional needs child when the school system is not properly addressing the child's issues.
According to the Department of Education, the percentage of Hispanic and/or Latino Students with Disabilities served under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part B is 27%. ranging in age from 6-21. Many of these families struggle with navigating the special education system due to language barriers and resources. I had the opportunity to speak with a panel of mothers on their opinions of the school system and the worries their communities face.
The panel of mothers believes that individuals in their community are often not seen or heard. Their concerns to advocate for their children go unnoticed. When asked if the issues regarding their children's education were ever addressed, they replied that many families fear their citizenship status would compromise the situation. Other concerns they mentioned in the group are:
Fear of Acceptance
Translation of Special Education Documents not being converted to Spanish
Requesting the Right Interpreter or advocate to speak on their behalf
Unaware of their rights and the provisions of education that govern their exceptional child
Under IDEA, all children are governed by the right to free appropriate public education no matter what race, status, or cultural background. To improve education and partnership with families we need to create a safe space for everyone to have the opportunity to know that their children have educational rights as well as the parents. Cultural competency is the ability to understand, learn, and hear the voice of the community whether African American, Hispanic, or any race--it is our job to practice cultural competency to serve our children and community for the better. Many of our parents fear that voicing opinions on their children's education will come with a backlash but here are the rights governed to their children under the IDEA:
Provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to every child with a disability
Conduct "appropriate evaluations" of students who are suspected of having a disability
Develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
Receive a copy of the assessment in their preferred language
Right to Interpreter to assist in the Educational Plan and future IEP meetings
Advance time notifications of future meetings
Right to have a support system accompany/attend future IEP meetings (family member, advocate, friend)
Notifications of the child's progress goals
Provide the Least Restrictive Environment
Allow Parent Participation
Provide Procedural Safeguards
Right to question any comments or concerns in the documentation
There are numerous advocacy programs today are created to assist families in crises. One that teaches parents/caregivers about how to navigate special education and learn how to read documentation is Learning Rights. Learning Rights is a law center non-profit organization that teaches parents about special education rights, provisions, and laws. The course is taught in both English and Spanish for all parents to feel the wealth of inclusion. A year-long course is broken into three tiers beginner, intermediate, and advanced teaching parents about understanding documents, IEP goals, and composing request letters for future meetings. A program in the heart of Los Angeles geared toward turning a parent into a professional advocate for their child is now available online by Zoom.
Since the pandemic, many of these organizations teach these courses online if a parent wants to go in person or view it from the comfort of their homes. The main goal is to educate the parent and give them the right information that will help them steer their child's education on the right path without the fear of worry. The program is free at no cost and taught by special education attorneys who will also be available for consultation on addressing delicate topics about rights and immigration.
Parents have the right to question if their child's educational needs are being addressed, it is unconstitutional to keep a parent from advocating for the welfare of their exceptional child, every child has a right to receive the proper educational plan in place. The parent is the overseer of their child's future if we fail one we fail them all. Below are resources for organizations that will provide a wealth of information.
Department Of Education OSEP Fast Facts: Hispanic and/or Latino Children With Disabilities - IDEA (ed.gov)
Disability Rights Of California: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org/
Learning Rights: Learning Rights Law Center
California Department of Developmental Services: Home - CA Department of Developmental Services
TACA: Home - The Autism Community in Action (tacanow.org)The Autism Community in Action (TACA) provides education, support, and empowerment to families and individuals affected by autism to enrich their lives
ACLU: Know Your Rights | Immigrants' Rights | ACLU Regardless of your immigration status, you have guaranteed rights under the Constitution. Learn more here about your rights as an immigrant, and how to express them
Meshell Baylor, MHS, is a mother of four children—two of whom are on the autism spectrum. She serves her community as a social worker and advocate within the Los Angeles area. She has a bachelor’s degree in human services from Springfield College and a Master of Science in Human and Social Services. Meshell continues to volunteer and give within her local area while serving the special needs community.