Updated: Jun 24, 2021
Y'all, school districts are not the enemy.
Preposterous? Maybe… but hear me out.
We are our biggest enemy. We all bring assumptions 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 concerned about the school district not giving the appropriate services and 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 premise 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 tough 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.
Tim Villegas is the Director of Communications for MCIE, Editor-in-Chief of Think Inclusive, and the host of the Think Inclusive Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @TheRealTimVegas.