Even though it is mid-June and the school year is over, I find myself in the office and on the phone not infrequently—and, at the moment, the gentleman I am talking to is highly agitated. He has said at least a dozen times that he “frankly doesn’t even understand what the procedures were” and “is pretty sure that this happened last time, too.” The more he talks, the more he thinks to say,... and the more agitated he grows. Luckily, I know how to calm him and, as soon as I can get a word in edge-wise, I do.
“I understand and can hear your frustration, sir. I’ll answer all of your questions one-by-one. [I’ve written them on a sticky note as he has talked.] But let me first tell you this: You have the right to appeal this decision, and I think you should.”
The decision we are talking about is whether or not his son should be admitted into the gifted program in our school division. His son, while truly bright, did not, as it turns out, meet the requirements this year. He was screened two years ago, according to the documentation I see in the child’s cumulative records folder, with similar results: not eligible to receive gifted services. My guess is that the parents were confused then, but they decided to let it go another year. Now, the notification that this father received in the mail a few days ago has prompted this phone call.
I’m not just trying to calm this man down in order to make my life easier. My suggestion that he formally appeal this decision is genuine and there are plenty of reasons for him to do so—even if formally stating his concerns to someone above my own pay grade is just one. Over the course of the next ten minutes or so, I’ll address his concerns individually and then I’ll walk him through the appeal process. After all, that’s where the real final decisions can be made.
How to Appeal Against a Gifted Placement Decision
Nearly every school district in the United States (and Europe) has some kind of formal process for handling situations like the one described above. I’ve written in the past about how you, as a parent, have the right to be an advocate for your gifted child. Formally identified or not, you must acknowledge that role and embrace it now as you prepare for this process. The steps that school divisions require will differ from one to another but, really, they are all similar enough to paint the appeal process with these broad strokes.
Step One: Gather and maintain all records sent to you initially. Most likely, you'll receive a letter from your school system’s gifted department stating that your child has not gotten a place in your local school’s gifted program. It will also likely tell you how to lodge an appeal against this decision, whom to contact, and the deadline by which you need to do this.
Step Two: Respond to the appeals authority in writing and by phone. This is not overkill. Do both. If your letter gets lost in the mail, your phone message is a back-up to ensure your case is not lost in the shuffle. Typically your written notification requesting this appeal must be submitted within 30 days and the school division must then respond within another 30 days. Note that I write “respond.” This means merely that you will be informed of the next step in the process, typically a date discuss the appeal in person.
Step Three: Find out how the appeal process works, if you are not sure. Some school divisions post this process on-line or explain it in a handbook of some kind. If it is not so readily available, ask for this information, as it will help you prepare properly for the scheduled meeting. Again, while the precise process for appeals differs across localities, an initial meeting should be part of the appeal—a conference with some kind of convening board. (In my own division, for example, this panel includes the central office administrator of Elementary Education, at least one school psychologist, two school principals, all of the gifted resource teachers, and the division’s central testing administrator.) The purpose of this appeal panel is to listen to you, consider any additional information you’d like to bring to light, and then reassess your case. At the hearing, the panel should be able to further explain why your child was not qualified, if this has not been made already clear to you. The committee will also verify that the school’s admission decisions were in compliance with the district’s admissions policy.
Step Four: Prepare what you will say to the committee. It’s likely that you’ll be invited to say why you’re appealing against the school district’s decision. You’ll need to explain why you think this placement in the gifted program is best for your child’s unique needs and offer any special circumstances that support your application. Be sure that your reasons correspond to what the division’s requirements are for gifted services. Merely because you’d like your son to be in the gifted program is not enough. You’ll need to find other evidence that indicates his giftedness—anecdotal evidence you can supply, teachers’ observations from the classroom, perhaps even additional test scores administered from an outside source.
Write down what you plan to say at your appeal hearing. You may even find it’s best to read out loud rather than speaking from memory, and there is nothing wrong with doing precisely that. Know your arguments and practice what you’re going to say in advance. Remember that this is not a hostile occasion, it is an informational one. Everyone—you the parent and those in the school division—want the same thing: the best placement for your child. You'll need to explain why this placement would be the best. Concentrate on this, not on why the alternatives would be so horrific. To bolster your points, take written copies of any additional evidence or documents you gathered—that doctor’s records, the anecdotal notes, etc. Be ready to distribute them. Before you leave, be sure to ask how long the placement decision will take.
Additional sources of information can be helpful to you as you prepare. Ask other parents what they have done, seen, or experienced if they have a child in the gifted program. This might help you further support claims why your child, too, needs placement there. You might also consult national organizations such as the National Association for Gifted Children for more information on gifted education and the appeals process. They have many many resources readily available online that might be perfect for your particular concerns.
Step Five: Be patient. Once the appeal has been heard, the panel has to decide whose case is stronger—yours or theirs. You’ll be informed of the results by mail in a timely fashion, typically within a week. The decision is binding for that school year. If your appeal is successful your child will be given a place. If your appeal is unsuccessful, you can usually wait and ask for the screening to be conducted again in the next cycle. Some children, in my experience, have not qualified for gifted services until third or fourth grade, even though they were screened in previous years.
Some final thoughts.... You really have to remember only one truth here: it is your right to appeal this decision. It is not antagonistic of you to do so; it is not a waste of anyone’s time to demand it. There is a process already in place to handle precisely this, and you should be ready to use it so that your concerns have been heard and responded to in a thorough manner. Take the time to gather your resources and go. You’ve got this.