Even though I’ve done my fair share of beating up on the Delaware Department of Education, I felt they were transparent in a few ways. Most specifically on their website. But now I am finding that transparency is evaporating fast. There are three examples of this, most of which would not be caught by most people. For a blogger like myself, those three areas contained a lot of information.
The first is their special education section. For years I would look at their Due Process Hearing and Administrative Complaint decisions. Each report would name the specific school district or charter school. Since last Spring, they stopped doing that. Now it just says “______ school district” or _____ charter school”. What is the big deal? Don’t parents of students with disabilities have a right to know what kind of special education complaints are happening at certain schools?
In looking at the above two screenshots from the DOE website, a pattern begins to form. Last school year, there were three administrative complaints against charter schools in Delaware. None of them are named. I don’t need to be a forensic scientist to figure this one out.
The second area involves Department of Education personnel. As long as I can remember, the Delaware State Board of Education would list changes to DOE personnel on their website as part of their agenda for each meeting. That stopped a few months ago. I did reach out to Donna Johnson, Executive Director of the State Board of Education. She said the State Board does not control personnel at the DOE and they were the only state agency that listed personnel changes. So it was a matter of consistency. I get that, but it was also what made the DOE stand out above those other state agencies. Not to belittle other state agencies, but the DOE is an important one and citizens have a right to know who is leaving or who is hired there.
The third area, which absolutely no one in their right mind would find is a bit tricky. It involves their search engine. I learned a few years ago that if you type “PDF” in their search bar it will bring up all PDF documents. You can even tweak it so the results come up with the most recent documents. I relied on this to see what was going on at the DOE. The last PDF document that comes up on the search of most recent is from 5/2/2017. I highly doubt the DOE is not creating PDF documents anymore. I know that is the case because I’ve seen them. But they somehow found a way to eliminate it from their search bar. Maybe they figured out some crazed blogger from a specific IP address was always using it and disabled it.
It doesn’t shock me that these transparency issues coincide with the new Carney administration. I, as well as others, have written about a continual lack of transparency coming from the state since Governor John Carney took office. I guess the people no longer have a right to know.
Yesterday morning, I read a Facebook post on a friend’s feed. She didn’t write it. It is one of those “copy and paste” things on Facebook. I usually tend to ignore them, but this one tugged at my heartstrings. I felt obligated to put it down here, on this blog. Because this teacher reminded anyone who read this what is truly special about special education.
I don’t remember the exact moment my life was changed by someone with a disability. The memories seem far away, blurry, as if they don’t belong to me. But this is what happens after you’ve been working with people with disabilities for years. You change.
They don’t tell you that when you’re filling out your application. Instead, they tell you about the hours, the health benefits, the 401(k) plan, the programs and the strategies. But they don’t tell you about the fact if you do it right, you’ll never be the same.
They don’t tell you it will be the most amazing job you’ve ever had. On other days, it can be the worst. They can’t describe on paper the emotional toll it will take on you. They can’t tell you there may come a time where you find you’re more comfortable surrounded by people with developmental disabilities than you are with the general population. They don’t tell you you’ll come to love them, and there will be days when you feel more at home when you’re at work than when you’re at home, sitting on your couch. But it happens.
They don’t tell you about the negative reactions you may face when you’re out in the community with someone with a disability. That there are people on this earth who still think it’s OK to say the R-word. That people stare. Adults will stare. You will want to say something, anything, to these people to make them see. But at the end of the day, your hands will be tied because some things, as you learn quickly, can’t be explained with something as simple as words. They can only be felt. And most of the time, until someone has had their own experience with someone with a developmental disability, they just won’t understand.
They train you in CPR and first aid, but they can’t tell you what it feels like to have to use it. They don’t tell you what it is like to learn someone is sick and nothing can be done. They can’t explain the way it feels when you work with someone for years and then one day they die.
They can’t explain the bond direct service personnel develop with the people they are supporting. I know what it’s like to have a conversation with someone who has been labeled non-verbal or low-functioning. After working with someone for awhile, you develop a bond so strong they can just give you a look and you know exactly what it means, what they want and what they’re feeling. And most of the time, all it boils down to is they want to be heard, listened to and included. Loved.
When you apply for this job, they do tell you you’ll be working to teach life skills. But what they don’t tell you is while you’re teaching someone, they’ll also be teaching you. They have taught me it’s OK to forgive myself when I have a bad day. There’s always tomorrow and a mess-up here and there doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. They have taught me to slow down, to ponder, to take the time to just look around and take in this beautiful world and all of the simple joys we are blessed to encounter every day.
So when did I change? I realize now there wasn’t one pivotal moment. Instead, it was a million little moments, each important in their own way, that when added together changed me. And I’m grateful for each one.
I would love to know who the original author is. I would shake their hand in a heartbeat!