‘The school district took the very blunt stance, ‘It’s my way or the highway.’ Special education is under attack with little pushback.’: Special needs mom urges ‘we must draw a line in the sand’

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“Mommas, that fear you’re feeling right now. That fear of the unknown and not knowing what is going to happen to your school-aged child. Of not knowing what is best or the right answer. Of not knowing how programs and best-laid plans are going to play out.

That awful sinking feeling of dread. That feeling is the feeling most special needs parents feel every year at the IEP meeting and every start of every new school year. That feeling is constant for special needs parents. In addition, that feeling of dread is currently amplified for special needs parents.

Special education is under attack. As most special needs parents would tell you – this is nothing new. However, what IS new is the level of attack.

With the Coronavirus, everything in life came to a screeching halt. A part of that halt was services for special needs students.

For children who are school-aged, the school district is generally the primary provider of services. Speech, OT, PT, education, and social skills. Yes, some children receive services outside of school. Coronavirus halted most of these services, too. Yes, some services were transitioned to an online delivery model. SOME services were transitioned and this transition took a long time. 

For parents of special needs children, this means that any in-home help likely stopped. In addition to in-home help stopping – IF a parent is LUCKY they now have to sit in their home next to their child and assist them for all of their services and appointments.

For this to happen, a perfect storm of universal alignment has to occur: the service has to be available remotely, a parent must be home and not working remotely, the parent and child must not be distracted by a sibling(s), and a quiet environment must be readily available.

Plus, the kid has to be willing to sit at the computer.  Think about how hard it would be for a mom to actually pull this off on the regular.

As we begin the start of an unprecedented school year, everyone is on edge. Parents of students with disabilities need to be especially alert.

Disability Scoop wrote a piece recently, which sounded the alarm very loudly.

‘Concerned that the pandemic will prompt an onslaught of special education litigation, school leaders want federal lawmakers to grant them liability protections related to their obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. AASA, The School Superintendents Association, as well as the National School Boards Association and the Association of Educational Service Agencies are calling on Congress to include the protections in the next COVID-19 response legislation.’

I’m going to tell you from personal and professional experience, school districts very rarely get sued. On average, the total number of due process hearing complaints received per year equated to approximately 1% of the special education population.

I am a social worker by profession. My first full-time post-college job was as a vocational evaluator. I was young, naïve, and had little interaction with the special education system. What stood out to me most was the number of parents who brought their disabled children in for evaluations and the kids were homeschooled.

It’s been a decade but I still remember thinking how strange it was that parents who lived in rich, powerful neighborhoods with extremely high taxes and top rated schools – felt the need to pull their child out and home school. It made no sense. Until it happened to me.

School districts have the ability to do whatever they want with little pushback. Giving school districts more freedom to disregard the law and do what is best for them and not the disabled student is outrageous.

Educational lawyers cost tens of thousands of dollars. Only the wealthiest of families are afforded the luxury of suing. For everyone else – if a parent does not agree with a school district’s decision there is little to nothing the parent can do. I know this because I have lived this for the past year.

For the past year, I have watched as a school district took the very blunt stance of ‘it’s my way or the highway.’ I have contacted advocates, senators, legislators, department of education heads, and news companies.

Then COVID hit and the priority of my son receiving a free and appropriate education essentially went from being of little concern to being of absolutely no concern to anyone but my son and me. I asked a head of a school what happens in cases like mine.

Her answer was the most on-point thing anyone had said yet, ‘Parents accept what the school says. Parents just give in. Or, they go ‘in hock’ to pay tuition at an appropriate private school and for a lawyer to sue the school back for the tuition and legal fees.’ Or, as I witnessed a decade ago – they pull their child from the education game altogether.

Allowing school districts more freedom to not properly serve, at times difficult, special needs students, and calling it a result of COVID is a mockery of justice for special needs students. It is unfair, unjust, and cannot be accepted.

Parents as a whole and especially parents of special needs students need more support than ever. As parents and a community of special needs advocates – we must draw a line in the sand. Now.”

Courtesy of Jacqueline Waxman

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jacqueline Waxman of New Jersey. This story originally appeared here. You can follow her journey on Facebook. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more from Jacqueline here: 

‘His 2-year-old sister hit him. ‘I don’t know how you do it, you’re so strong.’ If it was a husband, I’d be told to pack up and leave.’: Mom of autistic child says ‘most days are hard, not just quarantine days’

‘I was late to work today, again. Holding back tears, visibly shaking after a coworker belittled and broke down whatever piece of soul I had left that.’: Special needs mom’s plea for kindness

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