During the many years I advocated for my daughter to receive her free and appropriate public education, I repeatedly heard denial statements like the following:
- We don’t provide that service
- That isn’t available
- You must do this before we can do that
- That is too expensive
- We’ve never done that before
- This is always how we do it; we can’t do it that way
These sorts of denials, which I like to call “soft denials,” are one of those rare cases when NO doesn’t really mean NO. In this case, NO means, “We won’t do this unless you make us do it.”
There is one easy and effective way to give a nudge to the school to help get what you need: using a technique I like to call “Show Me the Rule!”
What is “Show Me the Rule!”?
“Show Me the Rule” is an effective technique that can be used by parents to convince a school administrator or IEP team member to reverse a denial without needing to become confrontational or belligerent. Whenever you encounter a soft denial like those listed above, simply ask–as innocently as possible–to be provided with a copy of the rule in writing.
The way you ask the question is of critical importance. It must be done with innocence and kindness, such as in these approaches:
- I’m not that familiar with special education law. Would you mind showing me where in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that rule is?
- Could I please have a written copy of your policy that does not allow nurses in the classroom so I can find an alternate solution?
- I’m not sure I understand the process of obtaining an augmentative communication device. Could you give me a written copy of the policy that shows what benchmarks my child must achieve before she is eligible for a device?
- Can I have a copy of the state policy that limits Occupational Therapy to once a week?
You would be surprised that more often than not, no written policy exists. Instead, you might get a lot of hemming and hawing that this is just how things are done. At this point, it is critical to persevere, stating that you are more than happy to follow any guidelines that are written into federal or state law, as well as official district policies, but that if one does not exist, you don’t see why things can’t be done differently.
If the school does say there is a written law or policy but cannot produce it (or says they will get it to you in the future), give them the benefit of the doubt. Follow up with an email or written letter requesting the rule, law, or policy again, along with a follow-up meeting to discuss the issue further.
When is “Show Me the Rule!” Effective?
You cannot use “Show Me the Rule!” all the time. It only works when the school draws an arbitrary line in the sand that is not based in law or district policy. Often, schools do things a certain way because that is what they are used to. Unwritten policy may also be based on what is less expensive or even what the school thinks it can get away with unless challenged.
Overusing “Show Me the Rule!” can also be a problem. It should be used rarely and wisely, and only for important issues.
When a rule does not exist, you have the opportunity to create an alternative to the way things are done. However, you must be prepared to have an alternate plan and justify why it is appropriate and necessary for your child.
Come from a Place of Cooperation
In general, techniques like “Show Me the Rule!” work best when they are asked in a spirit of cooperation. Remember, the IEP team and school district usually aren’t out to get you. If you treat them with respect, but also remember to be kindly assertive and cooperative, you are likely to achieve a better outcome.