Mexican American parents of elementary students classified as emotionally disturbed : perceptions of rights, roles, and actions
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The goal of this study was to examine the perceptions of disability, parental rights, roles, and advocacy actions of Mexican American parents with elementary-aged children classified as having an emotional disturbance. It explored parents’ understanding of their child’s disability, knowledge of their educational rights, and their perceived roles in special education. It also examined how parents ensure their children’s needs are met by the special education system. Six parents from five elementary schools in a Texas urban school district were interviewed. In addition to data gathered from the semi-structured interviews, data was also collected through direct observation of parent participation in ARD (Admission, Review, and Dismissal) meetings and a review of the students’ special education file for documentation of parent participation, such as questions, input, and concerns given by parents. Inductive coding was used to analyze the data. Findings generated by the study revealed that despite the complexity of the special education system, parents educated and empowered themselves to ensure their children’s needs were met. They constructed various understandings of their children’s disability, perceiving it to be a genetic illness, gender specific (“boys will be boys”), or the result of having an absent parent. In regards to the parents’ understanding of their rights in the special education process, parents had a general understanding or limited awareness of these rights. Parents also perceived themselves in a variety of roles, from advocate to educator to caretaker, within the special education system. Parents engaged in a number of actions to ensure their children’s needs were met; they questioned the special education process, maintained high expectations, met with administrators, researched their rights, and pursued outside resources. Contrary to previous research that suggested low rates of parent participation in special education, the parents in this study actively participated in their children’s special education. These findings contributed to the limited research in this area, providing valuable insight into the perceptions of Mexican American parents of children classified as emotionally disturbed.