I grew up as a teacher’s pet. I always had my homework done and I aced every test my teachers threw at me. I could already multiply in first grade, so I “peer tutored” the other kids who were learning to add and subtract. I never understood the kids who didn’t just “get it”. Then I had my son, *that kid*. That kid who can’t sit still. Who can’t fill out a worksheet to save his life. Who has to learn something in his own way for it to make any sense. Basically, I had a child who did not fit my idea of a typical perfect student.
Now you may think you know a lot about *that kid*. Maybe you think that it’s obviously some fatal flaw in my parenting that’s caused him to struggle with traditional education. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that because your child can learn in a “normal” class without help, all kids should be able to. Unfortunately for both of us, there’s a lot that you don’t know. I’m writing you now to fix that. Here’s what you need to know, Mrs. Betsy Devos.
What You Need to Know, Betsy Devos
I watched your confirmation hearing hopeful but apprehensive. Of course I’m always hopeful that the government officials that are appointed will do the best possible job, but knowing your history and the fact that you have absolutely no experience with this left me apprehensive.
Unfortunately, you didn’t take long before crushing my hopes. During your hearing, you said that IDEA should be left “up to the states”. Later, when clarifying, it appeared that you had no idea that IDEA was a federal law. Since you’re so unclear on IDEA, let me try to clear this up for you.
What Does IDEA Actually Mean?
IDEA stands for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and it is a federal mandate that’s existed (though at first under a different name) since 1975. There have been amendments in 1990, 1997, and 2004.
IDEA was designed to ensure that children with disabilities would be granted a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment, just like typical children do. Specifically, it requires that all disabled children receive special education and related services to meet their individual needs, are prepared for employment and independent living, and are protected by law.
It also ensures the efforts of institutions providing services to disabled people and provides assistance to states, localities, federal agencies, and educational service agencies in providing for the education of children with disabilities.
Got that, Mrs. Betsy Devos? I know it’s a bit legal-y and filled with a tiny bit of jargon. But since this is your job, I’m expecting that you have it figured out by now. Basically? IDEA is really freaking important. It is the only reason that many children with disabilities receive an education.
IDEA should absolutely not be left up to states. It should not be a question. It is our right. It is the right of our disabled children to receive an education. That’s what you need to know about IDEA, Mrs. Devos.
How We Have to Fight, Even With IDEA
The other thing I don’t think you quite realize, as you’ve never actually had to experience putting a disabled child through public school, is that special needs parents still have to fight quite a bit for our children even with IDEA.
We struggle through countless IEP meetings with teachers who refuse to see our children’s potential. We go to the Supreme Court just to prove our children should be taught instead of just babysat. We fight with parents of typical children who complain about our kids receiving “special treatment” or say that their children shouldn’t have to share a class with the “lowest common denominator”.
Our children are bullied by their peers, and sometimes by teachers and staff as well. Our children are given up on, and they eat alone in the cafeteria. They don’t get invited to the birthday parties, and they don’t get the individual class help that they need.
There are still people who believe that our children should be kept in “special classes” and institutions, and when our educational leaders, like you, show a lack of understanding for disabled education, it feeds the ignorance that we face from educators and other classroom parents.
I hope you’ve learned.
More than anything, Mrs. Betsy Devos, I hope that you’ve learned something from this embarrassing lack of understanding you’ve shown. I pray that you have a new respect for special education in public schools.
I hope you’ve learned from this, but let me tell you this. Special needs mothers are very used to fighting. We fight tooth and nail for everything our children need. Therapies, Diagnoses, IEPs, 504s, FAPE, LRE, and more.
You don’t want to be our enemy, Mrs. Betsy Devos, so please, learn from this embarrassing mistake you’ve made. Because you do not want the full power of special needs parents fighting against you. We put up a hell of a fight.
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