The South Dakota Navigator Program is a new and innovative effort in this rural/frontier state that includes a Native American population of approximately 8%. The focus is on providing assistance in communication facilitation and early dispute resolution to both parents and schools, regarding students ages birth to 21. It is funded by the state Office of Special Education Programs and managed by the state's only Parent Training and Information Center. The partnership of the South Dakota Parent Connection and SD-OSEP models the relationship that we want to nurture in individual situations.
The program goals are to:
- enhance communication between individual parents and schools,
- provide another mechanism for resolving disagreements locally and voluntarily, and
- promote broader development of skills in these areas.
The front-line work is carried out by carefully selected and trained independent Peer Navigator Consultants in each region of the state. This program is not meant to compete with the state's protection and advocacy services, and in fact, appropriate referrals have been made between the two agencies.
This program is unique in that Navigators take on a neutral and objective role, providing individual guidance to both parents and schools with an understanding that they are "guiding, not deciding." The emphasis is on clear and respectful communication between the parties, rather than on the finer points of programs, regulations, and laws. This involves attending IEP meetings, but the majority of the work is done behind-the-scenes.