I am a husband, father, son, brother, uncle and friend. I believe in sharing my talents and experiences by giving back to the community by giving my time to coaching, church and especially to the disability community. I truly believe that all men and women are created equally.
My colleague Randy Hollenbeck recently interviewed 2 Cudahy Elementary teachers. From the writings of Randy, the term bully came out of the conversation from the teachers. Specifically, that special needs families “bully” the Cudahy School Board to get what they want. This is a term that has my wife and I upset. I posted the definitions of both advocate and bully on Monday. We were accused of “attacking the teachers”. Well, calling special needs families bullies is an attack on us.
Unless you live with an individual with a disability, you have no idea what families go through. There is no possible way you can understand, unless you live it. We face discrimination every single day in one form or another. Many people have low expectations for our children with disabilities. But families do not have the same expectations as others. Some families may have unrealistic expectations, but for the most part they know what their child can do. Who knows their child better than a parent?
Are parents just supposed to trust that a school system is going to provide an appropriate education for their child? We also advocate for our other two kids as well, but we don't have to work as hard, because many of the supports are already in place. For special needs students, some of those supports need to be created within the framework of the current system.
We have the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). http://idea.ed.gov/ to ensure that special needs students are getting an appropriate education.
We have Individual Education Programs (IEP). This is a team of parents, advocates, teachers, school administrators and most importantly, the student. Just because an individual is non-verbal or may not understand everything does not mean that they can not make their own choices. We meet as often as needed. We always meet near the end of the school year to start the plan for the following academic year. Unless you have been part of an IEP process, you do not understand what goes on.
Over the last couple of years, I have met with many different groups in relation to education. There are still public schools in the State of Wisconsin that segregate the special needs population from the rest of the student body, in the same building. I have a hard time believing that we still have segregation in this country in 2011. When I ask, why do the parents allow this to happen, I am told that the school district says that is the way it is going to be. This is why we advocate.
This past weekend, we were with friends whose daughter just entered Middle School in another district. One of her teachers flat out told the parent that she could not do this, meaning educate her special needs daughter. She would not adapt the curriculum to help this child learn. Without even knowing the student, the teacher made the decision that it is not worth her time to try and educate this student because of the “label”. As I am often reminded a label is something you put on a can of soup, not a person. This is why we advocate.
Many individuals with disabilities make great advocates for themselves. Younger ones, need the help of a parent or guardian. Because a parent is persistent in trying to get the best education possible for their child, that does not make them a bully.
If a couple of people go down to City Hall and tell the Mayor that they want a Walmart in Cudahy and are very persistent about this, does this make them bullies or are they advocates?
Comments have been made that people do not think that their tax dollars should go to educating a growing population without balance toward a gifted and talented program. I have no problem with that. When I ran for school board I even mentioned in my Q & A that I supported this program. http://www.cudahynow.com/userstoriessubmitted/118522139.html.
If we start to invest in these programs for individuals at a young age, they will develop a circle of supports for later in life. It is these natural supports that will assist individuals with disabilities in the future.