Tuesday, May 20, 2008

shark filled waters: let's cut to the chase

Thank you again to all who have been reading and commenting, and I hope you do not find me ungracious for not responding individually to these comments on a regular basis. I dream of a day when I will have time. But I assure you all I do read them and cherish them.

I want to start the slow, agonizing process of detailing what we have experienced with the Seattle school district from the time we first called them with concerns about Sharky's development. It's not a very happy story.

It was May of 2006 that Lillie took the step of calling the "Child Find" people of Seattle Public Schools (SPS). We were told that we were too late for an evaluation this school year, and it would be done in the fall. This seemed unfortunate to us, as we would have liked for him to have been evaluated in time to begin school in the fall.

September came and proceeded to go, and no word came. We called, and were told that the evaluation staff were swamped with work, it being the beginning of the year and they having been gone so long.

It seemed immediately preposterous to me that schools would not have 12 month contracts with evaluation staff for special education. After all, the summer seems like the perfect time to meet with children not yet in school with suspected disabilities to assess where they should go to school in the fall.

But at the time I was still of the mindset that the district, and the people that worked for it, were our friends and allies. They were merely constrained by budget. It was the fault of the military budget, the diversion of tax dollars to building stadiums for sports teams, and the general misplaced priorities of our culture that were to blame.

These days, I still believe that the military budget, the diversion of funds to sports stadiums, and the misplaced priorities of our culture are problems directly impacting children with disabilities and the vast scores of other people who are in need of some sort of assistance. But I have come to realize one very important thing: the school district is NOT our friend or our ally. They are not a progressive-minded entity doing all they can for us and our children, empathizing with our struggles and frustrations and helping us to find creative ways to work around the limitations of the system.

Rather, they are more of an enforcement wing of the greater system of neglect. They are a police force, barking at us to take what has been offered, be grateful for it, and don't dare ask for more.

Our society neglects its children, and especially the children deemed to have "special needs," or "challenges," or "barriers to learning," or "disabilities," or as SPS chooses to call them, "students with IEPs."

Naturally, the parents who love their children, as I love Sharky, raise objections. In raising these objections, inadvertently or not, we attempt to skewer this giant, filthy, stinking system of neglect.

We, as parents of children with the myriad of hurtful labels, have access to a portal, through which we can potentially alter the priorities of our society for the better. In other words, we can use the vantage point and the passion that our love for our children provides us to demand change.

The entity that stands immediately before us is the school system. The school district is here to guard and protect the larger system against those who would question it. When we challenge the authority of the school system, the school system responds with the intensity of an entity not only trying to protect itself, but also to protect its master. And it is a finely honed weapon.

The aforementioned system of neglect is a system that has no use for children, for beauty, for art, for poetry, for happiness, or anything that does not present itself as immediately exploitable for monetary profit. It is a system that has no use for nature, except for how it might exploit it for monetary gain.

And as such, we have an educational system with no other purpose but to mold children into adults who will be able to fuel that same system for monetary gain.

Our children, the ones with "disabilities," the ones whom we love so much, the ones who have so many beautiful gifts and imbue our lives with such immeasurable grace and love and beauty....do not have the qualifications to sufficiently feed this system at the same rate as those without "disabilities." They are therefore substandard in the eyes of the system.

It has only been through the tireless work of activists that the system has begrudgingly afforded us certain rights, and allowed laws to pass that ensure our children of certain educational opportunities.

What I do, in demanding fair treatment for my child, I see as a continuation of a greater struggle for human rights. My fight is born out of my love for my child, but it is not done only for his benefit. There are certain types of love that immediately explode into the universal realm, wherein the love you feel empowers you to feel compassion and love for everything, and suddenly you discover a well of strength right in the center of yourself that you had no idea existed. And you feel nothing but optimism, because it seems only logical that if this love can exist, anything else you ever imagined and hoped for must be able to exist as well.

I told you this would be a slow and agonizing process, and it is one I have no intent to speed up. We haven't even gotten to the part where Sharky enters the system yet, and I, for one, am done for the evening.

Thank you for reading.


Sheri said...

I could have written this myself. I only wish other parents had the knowledge you have in this area. I hear them talking about the school system and they are so full of praise, little do they know that their child is not getting even half of what they are eligible for.
Do you have a copy of your rights??? And is there a state-run agency there where you can obtain them??? We live in Indiana, and if Sharky lived here, he would be eligible for preschool the day he turned 3. Also, if he were receiving early intervention, our special education cooperative took their recommendation of services into account. The most important thing to remember when requesting services is when they say, "It isn't in our budget." Show them your copy of Article 7 and your state laws/rights and say, "Jeez, lack of funds is not a reason for denial of services." And then ask them to find that clause for you. You would be surprised how quickly they turn around. And ESY (extended school year) is a state requirement here, meaning Sharky might be able to attend a summer program. They also have to take any doctors diagnosis into account when considering placement.
Good luck. If you want to e-mail me, my address is minniemama68@hotmail.com. Give Sharky a hug from a fan in NW Indiana.

ted said...

Thanks Sheri. The Seattle schools seem to favor the tactic of hiding available services. They have a limited budget, yet they have to provide the services, but they don't have to provide them if no one knows they exist! They can't even help themselves from saying, "who told you about that!" when we ask for things.

I always picture them with their hands behind their backs, and us saying "what's that in your hand?" They hold out one empty hand and say "oh nothing." We demand to see the other hand, and they clumsily switch what they're hiding to the other hand, hold out another empty hand, and say "oh nothing."

They can play that game for quite a while. And it's very effective, because most people who have young children with disabilities are too overburdened as it is to spend time playing games with the school district. The district knows this, and takes advantage of it.