Emotions Part 6 – Parents’ Employers & Co-Workers

I think it’s really, really important to look at the impact that special education non-compliance has on parents’ employers and co-workers. There doesn’t seem to be any research being conducted on this (at least none that I could find – if you know of any, please post a comment with more information). But, I know from talking to the hundreds of parents we’ve represented and provided with consultation that employers are hit very hard by special education issues – employees having to take off all kinds of time from work to contend with problems at school, employees making careless mistakes at work because they’re so pre-occupied with the problems their children are having in school that they aren’t thinking about what they’re doing, and employees who are so emotionally overwrought by what they’re going through that they become a morale problem for their whole department or even the whole company and other people are starting to complain.

Nobody ever talks about this and I don’t know why. It happens all the time and it’s not okay. Parents end up having to quit their jobs or get fired because their job performance is affected by the problems they are dealing with at their kids’ schools. There are things these parents probably don’t know that are hurting them and their children. Employers should be aware of these things, too, and be sympathetic to the fact that these things aren’t being advertised by the public schools and most parents have no idea of their protections. Here are some important things for employers and parent-employees to know.

IEP meetings must be held at mutually agreeable times and locations. Federal law mandates that local education agencies do everything they can to facilitate a parent’s meaningful participation in the IEP process.They can’t have the meeting without the parent unless they can show that they tried every way they could to get the parent to attend and the parent either simply refused to go or could not be located.

If the school is arbitrarily assigning IEP meeting times without first finding out if the date and time are mutually agreeable to the parents, and it isn’t mutually agreeable?, the parent has the right to reschedule to a time that will work for everyone. [34 CFR ? 300.322] When it comes to scheduling IEP meetings, it’s within reason to hold the IEP meeting during the parent’s noon lunch break, but it’s not within reason for a parent who works graveyard to expect the IEP team to convene at 2am right after he/she has gotten off of work. 

It is not okay for the school to call parents to pick up their kids and take them home because they are “having a bad day”. This often happens with children who have social skills deficits and problem behaviors. If a special education student has behaviors that interfere with learning that arise from?or are influenced by his/her disabilties, the local education agency is obligated to address them as part of the child’s IEP.

A functional analysis of the child’s behavior may need to be done to collect the data necessary to write appropriate behavioral goals, develop a positive behavior intervention plan, and determine the services necessary to support the goals and the behavior plan. [34 CFR 300.530]? The school can’t just call once the child has been at school long enough for the local education agency to get paid for the child’s attendance for the day and tell the parents to come pick the child up because he/she is “having a bad day.”  The child is difficult to serve and the local education agency just doesn’t want to?have to work that hard.   This happens all the time, but it’s unlawful.

I’ve worked with parents who lost their jobs because they had to keep going to pick up their kids from school for “having bad days” and take them home for the rest of the day. These kids weren’t suspended.They weren’t expelled. Their schools got paid for a full day’s attendance for each day they were in school long enough. In my experience, these kids usually end up getting sent home around 10:30am.

Unless a child is being suspended or is ill, the school can’t send him/her home. (I’ve seen children sent home for “fevers” they really didn’t have because staff just didn’t want to deal with them that day, though, so parents may need to verify the presence of any mystery illnesses for which they’re being called away from work to respond before actually taking the child home.) The point is that the behaviors are part of the problem the school is supposed to be addressing and parents shouldn’t be losing their jobs because public servants aren’t doing theirs.

I don’t say it that way to be crass. II’m using this language very literally. Public education employees are public servants, just like police officers, firefighters, city clerks, and librarians in public libraries. The taxpaying public has hired them to attend to the educational needs of the community’s children. They work for the local constituency. So, it always baffles me that some education agency administrators take a superior tone with parents and act like they’re doing the parents a favor when they do things they were already supposed to do. Sadly, a lot of parents submit to that kind of bullying behavior. Which brings me to the next important thing to know:

Parents can get really upset by difficulties they are having with their children’s schools. They can’t necessarily check those emotions at the door when they go to work and employers may need to consider bringing in an industrial psychologist if the situation in the workplace becomes too emotionally toxic. Productivity on the whole can be impacted when a critical employee is so overwrought that his/her job performance becomes poor.

Other people relying on a distressed parent to do his/her share of a project are put in very difficult positions when they are left correcting the distressed parent’s mistakes, listening to the distressed parent complain or cry (or both) instead of work, and covering for the parent while he/she is at school instead of at work. This is usually when a decision gets made about whether such a parent will remain an employee.

It is situations like these that compelled KPS4Parents to put together a service offering to employers where we can come in and consult with an HR department or business owner about a specific situation and then consult with the parent regarding his/her rights and what the parent can do to solve the problems they’re having (we’ve done this mostly with smaller businesses) and conduct employee trainings on special education-related issues (which we’ve done with large employers).

As the rate of autism continues to increase, now currently at the rate of 1 out of 144 children according to some sources, employers can no longer afford to think these issues don’t impact them. Any company that employs 10 people who are parents is all but guaranteed to have at least one parent among the 10 who has a child with some type of handicapping condition, and quite possibly more.  Autism is just one of a countless number of disorders that children can have. Employers need to educate themselves on this issue now because it’s going to become a righteous HR problem before they know it, if it hasn’t started to become one already. Resources need to be developed to help employers contend with the increasing number of parents amongst their employees who have children with special needs.  As much as KPS4Parents does to try to tackle this issue, this is one of those things that everyone needs to be doing something about. There’s only so much we can do by ourselves and we need your help to tackle these problem.

Our country is already in enough financial hot water. Businesses cannot afford to suffer otherwise preventable losses in productivity and declines in employee morale, right now. The business community is suffering horrendously already as it is with the financial sector practically falling apart at the seams. More and more businesses are leaving the country for places where the barriers to entry are not as great and the costs of operation are much lower. More and more good jobs have been outsourced to overseas workers and businesses are finding that they can’t afford to hire local talent. For many businesses, the only reason they are able to exist is because they have outsourced work overseas at a fraction of what it would have cost them to hire local talent. To suffer additional losses at a time like this could be the difference between being in business tomorrow or not. To suffer additional losses at a time like this when those losses could have been avoided calls an organization’s stewardship into question.

The business community has a vested interest in making sure that the public schools are able to deliver what is required to all of their students. That means that the business community should be doing what it can to make sure public schools have what they need while holding the public schools accountable for utilizing its resources, particularly those donated by the business community, to properly deliver special education services to the community’s children with disabilities.

I’d love to see Chambers of Commerce and industry-specific associations hosting parent education nights for their members’ employees who are parents of children with special needs. The more the parents know, the more they can get resolved without impacting their job performances. Once their issues with the schools have been resolved, these more emotionally grounded, focused workers can become even more productive. Never underestimate the power of parents finally overcoming what seemed insurmountable and finally feeling like their child is going to be okay. The concurrent senses of relief and accomplishment are esteem-boosting and can actually lead to improvements in employee performance. I’ve seen parents go on to do amazing things professionally after finally resolving their kids’ special education issues.

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