“Nothing About Us Without Us”

(Ask US what we want!)

I heard this chant during my city’s Disability Pride Parade and it has been a mantra that has resonated in my ears.  How often do we involve those we influence in life-changing decisions?  I think about this often in the context of my current work.  In fact, I see that this tends to happen quite frequently when the stakeholders are what we would typically associate with disenfranchised groups.

In my current work, I see that the initiative that was put forth by parents in the district was completely diluted and its urgency was minimized by high ranking members of the department that was entrusted with carrying it out.  Likewise, I see that many decisions are made for families, children, adults with disabilities that do not involve those who would be most acutely affected by it.  This has been proven to me, time and time again, by people in decision-making positions, and by special needs families.

What can we do to change this?  This is a huge proposition, no doubt.  However, I always believe that there is strength in numbers.  For starters, it would be a great idea to get involved, participate.  It is easier said than done, I know, especially when many of us hold more than one job to make ends meet.  Find any way to participate possible:  Twitter, email, evening meetings, or any type of social media group that would help you gain perspective.  Second, you can organize, and by this, I mean get together, and reach out to those who need to hear you.  Finally, in the way that it is possible, go out and vote.  Choose candidates that are more likely to hear your concerns.  Remember that your local candidates are the ones who are most likely to influence your local decisions.  Don’t be afraid to ask.

Keep in mind that change takes time, but also remember that we must continue to be heard if we want the powers-that-be to understand how important it is for us to be included in decisions that will ultimately be life-changing for us.  Participation, to the best of our ability, is key.

If you need guidance navigating the turbulent waters of participation, drop me a note.

More to come on this subject.  Stay tuned!

Ask Me First!

Parental Rights Violations

Three years ago, when I joined the Enrollment Division at a local education department in a major metropolitan area in the Northeastern United States, I did it partly motivated by the fact that as a relatively high ranking administrator, I would get to make decisions that would influence the lives of students and parents.  I was particularly interested in improving the lives of students with disabilities and their families.  I wanted to influence the decision-making process so that it would be a fair system, equitable, and barrier-removing for all families.

Little did I know that no matter how hard I tried to remove barriers to access, the “system” would see me and my efforts as nothing more than another obstacle.  For starters, in is well known and well documented that our system has been plagued by laws and policies that have historically favored those on top.  For example, in our city, there is a policy that has been in practice in the past few years.  The policy is aptly named “the reform” and even though it claims to uphold the values of inclusion as its advocates claim that “all students must be served in the same schools as their general education peers,” it truly and many times, violates the principle of the Free and Appropriate Public Education for students with disabilities.

In the past few years I have realized that this policy mostly benefits upper-middle class, white students, as they are typically the ones who favored from this loophole between what Federal Law (IDEA) provides as a right to students with disability, and a policy enacted by a local education department.  The local policy seeks to enforce flexible programming for students that were determined to be best serviced in a particular program, typically a self-contained, small, and structured class for students with special needs.  Flexible programming allows schools to place students in large classes, as long as they work to try to meet the minimal requirements on the IEP.  Psychologists working under these conditions, have been advised to recommend programs that would not require schools to service student in small programs for the entire school day, therefore providing the necessary loophole to make flexible programming possible.

In my view, this is a clear violation of parental rights and student’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education in the Least Restrictive Environment, a set of rules set forth as provisions to one of the most important educational laws of this land.  Here is the caveat to this loophole:  The typical upper-middle class, well-to-do person, is able to consult a lawyer, sue the local education department for inability to provide services under the provisions of IDEA, and get paid thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to send their child to a private school.  As a matter of fact, in my career as an education administrator, this has been the scenario in almost the entirety of cases that crossed my desk.  The typical student whose parents work multiple jobs to make ends meet, and barely have time to sit at the dinner table and help their child with homework will struggle with whatever decisions schools make for them.  Their children will struggle too.

If you feel that your child has been left behind by a system that does not support him/her, and your family, please drop me a note.  I’m here to help.

More to come on this story…  Stay tuned!

We are all Special in our own way! We are not all the same!