ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- House Bill 222 would create an ombudsman program to advocate for families that have children with special needs.
Jennifer Sanchez said having a child with special needs in the education system can be overwhelming.
“I was given a pamphlet and said these are your parent rights,” Sanchez said when describing her child’s first individual education plan (IEP). “Sign here so that we can jot that you got them, and then the meeting started.”
The meeting included representatives from the classroom, the district, a special education coordinator and therapists.
“It’s all of them creating this plan on the side of the school, and then you’re the parent on the other side of the table, and it’s just you,” Sanchez said.
She called the experience traumatizing. Since then, she’s volunteered at the school to learn about the system, and make sure her kid got what he needed.
“We want our child to succeed,” she said. “But we need to be able to have the information and understand it, so that we can be active participants.”
Sanchez’s concerns are among the reasons why Rep. Liz Thomson is sponsoring House Bill 222.
It creates an ombudsman program under the Disabilities Planning Council.
“If the school district is not providing the appropriate services or they’re not getting an evaluation done in a timely manner, or any of the millions of problems I’ve heard about through the years, they can have somebody to go to outside of the Public Education Department,” Thomson said.
Schools will be required to tell students and families about the program.
“It’s very it’s very frustrating. It’s very emotionally draining. It’s physically draining, so we’re just trying to get out front, and tell families, if you’re struggling, if you, if you start to struggle, please let someone know, and we will do all that we can to help you,” Thomson added.
Parents will also be allowed to have the advocates with thema t meetings.
“It makes you feel like a failing parent when you don’t understand,” Sanchez said. “And I’m hoping that with this ombudsman, I actually really believe that with it, e are going to be able to provide those parents with the information that they need, ahead of time
The bill is expected to be introduced soon. It has the support of the governor.