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Historical and Current Roles of Families and Parents

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Historical and Current Roles of Families and Parents

The central theme of this essay is empowerment and the roles that parents, schools and professionals take on in the quest for the best educational decisions for those children with disabilities and those children that are gifted and talented. It is important to understand the historical development of family-professional relationships to fully comprehend the significance how far we've come and how far we still need to go.

In Chapter One, the authors discuss the eight major roles that families and parents have experienced over time. These roles range from the eugenics movement (1880-1930) which pointed to the parents as the sole cause of a child's disability to today's view which states that parents can be the cause of some genetic disabilities as well as those disabilities that are caused by drug use or alcohol abuse, but are not to blame for most developmental disabilities. In any case, blaming parents for their child's disability causes a barrier that impedes progress when we should be expending energy finding ways to support families. Professionals should avoid placing blame on parents and instead, concentrate on empathy and caring and providing support.

Once parents began to organize because of a lack of professional response to their children's emotional and educational needs, progress has been made in terms of public awareness of disabilities and educational reforms. Professionals no longer expect that parents will assume a passive role in the decision-making process for their children, as has been the case in the past. Instead, the authors advocate that an environment should be established where collaboration between parents and professionals create a bond of trust that benefits everyone involved.

To create such an environment, it is important for professionals to recognize the important role that parents provide for their children in terms of teaching them, as advocates in the political process, as educational decision-makers and as collaborators. Collaboration refers to the relationship between families and professionals whereby resources are shared and decisions are made jointly, with the child's best interests in mind. Recent trends in the collaborative process include input from families, students, classmates, teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals and other related service providers. In this way, appropriate decisions can be made that are the result of information gathered from a variety of sources. These educational decisions will be much more likely to be successful when everyone works together for a common goal- that of providing the best educational environment for a particular child.

Chapter 2


Chapter two describes the general education reform movement that has resulted in enhanced curriculum for all students. There has been a separate reform movement in special education that has also resulted in restructuring student placement and service delivery systems for these students. Most recently, the two reform movements are beginning to converge. The general education reform was started when a national commission report, A Nation at Risk, recommended educational improvements because U.S. students did not compare favorably in testing results with their counterparts in Japan and Germany. This has resulted in local school districts taking more direct responsibility for decision-making that would affect all students and has included a stronger parent role in advocating for change. Along with this type of school reform, there has been a focus on schools providing comprehensive services for students and families that face multiple hurdles so that families can have their needs met for social, mental and public health services and coordinated in a single point of entry- the school.

The special education reform movement established a free, appropriate public education for all in P.L. 94-142 (renamed in 1990 to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA). This public law was needed because of the distinct difference between the education of individuals with and without disabilities. Many students with disabilities were educated in separate classes and schools and were excluded in many aspects of education. IDEA mandates that all schools will receive state and federal monies to assist them in the education of students with disabilities. To receive this money, schools must abide by six principles of education for these students. They are: zero reject, nondiscriminatory evaluation, appropriate education, least restrictive environment, due process and parent participation. The result of IDEA was to provide a partnership between families and educators in the educational decision-making process. The authors expressed concern because this aspect still is the exception to the norm.

A second phase of special education reform focuses on more inclusive placements for students with disabilities and more meaningful curriculum. This is taking place through the Regular Education Initiative (REI) and the current emphasis on inclusion. Inclusion reform believes in providing placement for an individual based on the student's strengths and abilities. The attempt at merging special and regular education has been a difficult one, and the authors say that more attempt must be made to include parents in the partnership between special and regular education.

When speaking about parent involvement in special education, provisions were made in the IDEA for parents to collaborate with professionals to develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) from birth to age 3 that documents the family's resources, priorities, and concerns related to their child's development. When a child turns 3 and until they are 6, early intervention services begin in the form of early childhood special education. After the age of 6, the student receives special education services. The child is provided with an IEP or Individualized Education Program which details the services that a child is to receive under law. Parents are encouraged to participate in the development of the IEP, but participation varies widely. Still, schools need to do more to encourage active participation of parents by providing more communication to parents and more opportunities for decision making for them.

Another reform that is attempting to bring together special and general education is referred to as united systems reform. This system is one outcome of the enactment of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act of 1995. With this act, emphasis is placed on improving and assessing student outcomes based



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