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Special education guide Seattle

Individualized Education Plan is a plan that assists schoolage children access education through various therapies within a school setting. Photo: iStock.

Parent review: ‘Getting to Results: A Guide to Special Education in Seattle Public Schools’

A must-have guide for navigating and advocating for you child

When our child entered a local public school district two decades ago, we were lost. As parents, we didn’t know where to turn for help, what all the new acronyms we were hearing meant (IEP, FBA, LRE, PWN) and how to advocate for your child and push for change when, at times, his needs were not being met. 

Neither of us are educators. At times we felt we were failing our child, that somehow we should innately know not only how to protect him, but also how to wring the most out of the school district and schools on his behalf. 

I wish I’d had an organization like the Seattle Special Education PTSA to guide us.

Looking back

If your child is entering Seattle Public Schools with special needs today, it’s still just as hard to know what it all means and where to turn for help. What resources are available to help your family navigate the system? What do you need to do to ensure your child receives the services they need to reach their full potential? Who’s on your child’s team?

The special education PTSA has made the job of navigating school a little easier in its recent release of “Getting to Results: A Guide to Special Education in Seattle Public Schools.”  The guide is available in 10 languages.

Information families need

Along with helpful tips for ensuring your concerns and needs are heard and met, the 20-page guide provides:

  • a useful chart for outlining your child’s special education team
  • information on getting language support if you need
  • tips on advocating for your child
  • definitions used in special education
  • an approach to introducing your child to educators
  • steps to escalate action when your child’s needs aren’t being met
  • a comprehensive list of organizations ready to support or assistance a family through the system.
A useful road map

Perhaps most helpful, it includes an easy to follow road map (visually designed as a map) to help parents with kids experiencing challenges to have them evaluated and, possibly, set up with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or other plan.

Had we had a copy of the “Steps to Escalate” page and the long list of FAQs offered in this guide when our child was in school, I know we would have felt much more confident challenging situations that we knew didn’t serve our child. And, we would have felt less alone as a family.

10 tips

Here are the “Getting to Results: A Guide to Special Education in Seattle Public Schools” top 10 tips for navigating special education services:

Document: Request a Prior Written Notice (PWN) any time a proposed change is made regarding your student’s IEP. 

Follow up: Always follow up any conversation, formal or informal, with an email to document the discussion and any decisions made. 

Bring a Friend: Bring a note taker to your IEP meetings so that you can focus on the discussion. You can also request to bring private providers. 

Review the Data: When a team is proposing a decision, ask to see and review the data with the team before making conclusions. 

Know Your rights: Read and always reference the Procedural Safeguards which describe the parent and student rights. 

Stay organized: Create a system to file and organize all of your student’s IEP/504 records and bring them with you to meetings. Include work samples. 

Who is responsible?: When a specific action is required, be sure to ask who is carrying out that task and when. 

Personalize your student: Set up a short, informal meeting with your student’s teachers at the beginning of the year and give them a copy of your student’s introduction along with their IEP/504. This ensures they are aware of what is required in the plan and are prepared to support your student. 

Observe: In-school observations can be requested by parents or caregivers in addition to private providers. Requests must be made in writing and in advance. District staff will be present during observations. 

Communicate: Keep the lines of communication open and collaborative between you and the school team. Some find it helpful to create a communication plan and have it added to the IEP/504. Communication (documents and meetings) must be provided in your language. 

The Seattle Special Education PTSA offers parent education, connection, advocacy and support. To learn about the organization, including informal “Sip & Chat” meetings where parents can connect and discover ways to support each other, go online the organization’s website

More on Seattle’s Child:

“What not to say to a parent with a child on the autism spectrum”


About the Author

Cheryl Murfin

Cheryl Murfin is managing editor at Seattle's Child. She is also a certified doula, lactation educator for and a certified AWA writing workshop facilitator at