As a parent, what I’ve realized is that ultimately the responsibility for what happens with my child is mine. —Deanne Shields
WEST JORDAN — For parents of students with learning disabilities, navigating the many evaluations, referrals and special designations used by schools and educators can sometimes make for a labyrinthine struggle.
"By the time you learn all these things, it could be a year — a year of your child's education gone," parent Emily Rice said. "You can hear the frustration in all the parents' voices."
Rice was among a group of parents who attended a Friday meeting of the Learning Disabilities Association of Utah. The meeting, which was held in the Jordan School District Auxiliary Building, brought together parents and educators to provide information on the resources available at the local level and the need to advocate for children with learning disabilities.
Kim Fratto, an education specialist with the Utah State Office of Education, presented at the meeting and provided her perspective as both a parent and educator.
Fratto said that when her son was in elementary school, he struggled on a particular assignment that came home several times covered in red pen corrections and the word "redo" written at the top of the page by his teacher.
After several redos, Fratto said she became frustrated and wrote "reteach" with a blue pen at the top of the page and sent it back to the teacher.
Fratto said she soon realized it would be better to collaborate with her son's teacher, prompting her to go into the school with her "tail between her legs" for a meeting.
"I understand that from a parent's perspective, sometimes we wear a very different hat," she said. "We need to always keep in mind that parents and educators are working for the same thing."
As Fratto presented on the various federal definitions of learning disabilities and state policy concerning the education of individual children, she fielded several questions from parents who had encountered roadblocks at the local level.
She encouraged parents to take their concerns to teachers early on in the school year, or before classes start, and to maintain an open dialogue with them. She also advocated for some patience, noting that schools have hundreds — sometimes thousands — of individual children with individual needs.
Deanne Shields, a parent and educational consultant, stressed the need for parents to advocate for their children and to take a proactive role in their education. Shields said a child with a learning disability will transition to new teachers as the years go by but ultimately go home to their families at the end of the day.
"As a parent, what I’ve realized is that ultimately the responsibility for what happens with my child is mine," she said.
Shields said she meets with her children's teachers every year before classes start to exchange contact information and talk about specific needs. But she added that parents should not hesitate to take their concerns up the educational ladder if problems persist.
"If you feel like there’s a systematic issue in your school, you go to the principal, you go to the school district, you go to the school board," Shields said. "And if you don’t like what you school board is doing, run for school board."
Kathy Jensen, a parent who attended Friday's meeting, said she participated to learn more about resources available to her family and to better understand how to work with educators to help her children succeed.
For parents who are relatively new to the public education system, navigating schools with a child with a learning disability can be daunting, Jensen said.
"You spend hours trying to help them," she said. "I think it would be really helpful to have a liaison between parents and the school to help educate us and guide us."