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Nov 05, 2012

Why School Districts Are Not The Enemy

by Guest Blogger Tim Villegas

Preposterous? Maybe... but hear me out.

We are our own biggest enemy. Our assumptions that is...and we all bring them to the table when thinking about the role of school, special education, and inclusion. Let me see if I can boil down the issue (as I see it) as succinctly as possible.

Teachers, principals, therapists, district administrators, psychologists, lawyers or any other educator representing the district are extremely anxious about unrealistic expectations from parents.

Parents, advocates, self-advocates, students, lawyers representing the families or any other party are extremely anxious about the school district not giving the appropriate services and/or placement for their child with disabilities.

Can you see the problem? It is trust.

So...what happens when you do not trust the other side? We try to negotiate the best “deal”for our side. There is something inherently wrong with this picture...and it has plagued how we implement the Least Restrictive Environment in special education. It is the proverbial “special education elephant” in the room. Now...I understand, I am an idealist. I know that what I am about to suggest is not reality. But if we don’t start thinking of how another world is possible...then I am afraid we have lost before we have attempted anything.

Here is the part of the solution. Let’s create some new assumptions.

School district employees:

♦  start with the assumption that children with disabilities should be educated side by side with their peers in general education classrooms in their neighborhood schools

♦  start with the assumption that families are making the best of a very difficult situation and they need support just as much their children who are enrolled in your school
 
♦  start with the assumption that students with disabilities should be given access to the same curriculum and materials as every other student
 
♦  start with the assumption that students with disabilities can learn and are interested in learning

Parents, Families and Advocates:

♦  start with the assumption that the people who work with your child have the best interest at heart and want to see them grow and reach their full potential

♦  start with the assumption that even though budgets are tight, local schools will try to make the best use of their staff to support the needs of your child

♦  start with the assumption that you are a valued piece of the process in figuring out what is the best way to meet your child’s needs in the school setting
 
♦  start with the assumption the school district cannot provide a free and appropriate education without your support (two-way communication, attendance to IEP meetings, and timely responses to paperwork requests)

This is in no way an exhaustive list...but I think it is a good start. Best of luck to all those who are in the business of advocating for children...educators, parents and the like.

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Tim Villegas is the founder and curator of the blog Think Inclusive. He is a special educator living in Georgia with his fetching wife and three adorable children. You can find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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  • Re: Why School Districts Are Not The Enemy

    Excellent blog and excellent suggestions! I'm a parent of a special education student and have had very successful experiences for my child with the school system and everyone working as a team. I must add that as parents we should have high expectations for our children first as well as for the school system staff, but we also need to have high expectations of ourselves and be able to self-critique and consider whether the expectations we have are realistic- are they based on fear, assumptions, or lack of knowledge or information. As parents we need to place high expectations on ourselves that we will analyze the situation and consider many factors. I have seen demanding parents create impossible situations for their child that hurt the child and his/her development because staff attempts to honor those requests or are bullied into honoring them. I was given the gift of a 4 letter word once, by a very wise mentor- I share it here- "STOP". Live in this moment of your child's development and do not allow your brain to race ahead light years because you cannot know today exactly how your child will develop to that point in time and all you will do is create anxiety and fear in yourself, your child, and those around you. Our special needs children will dictate the time they require to find their level of success- hopefully they can do it with the support of the entire team that they need!

6810 Deerpath Rd, Suite #300, Elkridge, MD 21075 / 410.859.5400 phone / 410.859.1509 fax / mcie@mcie.org

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