Why I Care About Special Education in Delaware

I wish I could answer that question with an easy simple sentence, but I can’t.  Before my son was diagnosed with Tourette’s and all it’s friends, I can honestly say I didn’t give too much thought to special needs children.  It just wasn’t in my limited radar.  They were there, and I would see them sometimes, but it wasn’t a major part of my world.  And then a funny thing happened.  It became my world.  My family became very different then.  Every moment, every action, I saw the label.  I saw my son as different, as “not normal”.  I was in denial for a long time.  Not because of him, but because my mind, my heart, it couldn’t accept what was right before my eyes.

Over time, this changed.  My son’s disabilities were with me every waking moment.  I tried to hide from it, to run away from it, but they were there, saying “Help me Daddy”.  And I’ve tried.  For the longest time I thought if I just treated him like every other normal child, maybe things would change.  But they didn’t.  I had to take a strong look at myself before I could accept him for who he was.  I had to, and still have to, realize that it doesn’t matter what others think.  It doesn’t matter, at all.  Let them judge, let them stare.  It’s reality.

First and foremost, I am a husband and a father.  My family isn’t the perfect Norman Rockwell family that so many dream of.  I know I did for a long time, but it’s just not in the cards.  But what I have is something better.  I have something real.  Something so crazy and imperfect that it makes the most sense in the world.  I get to see something some can never see.  I see human emotion in it’s pure, truest form.  Love, anger, sadness, happiness, jealousy, hope.  It’s all there.   My son has the ability to display all of these.  But it’s more than emotions.  It’s like they are colors.  Beautiful, radiant colors, that shine the brightest in his soul.

Conversations I had with people in the past used to consist of my latest TV show craze, whether it was X-Files, Lost, or Game of Thrones. I would talk about music, some politics, but for the most part I was a very self-centered person. My world was MY world and I felt people were crazy for not liking what I liked. Then a little thing became a big thing, and before I knew it, I was fully immersed in a cause. It didn’t happen overnight. It built up for a long time, and I didn’t even realize it.

When my son started having numerous problems at his old school, I figured he was just a misfit of sorts and he liked causing trouble. But it continued, and I knew something was off, but I didn’t know what. Eventually, I found out. He had Tourette’s Syndrome. And ADHD. And Sensory Processing Disorder. And OCD. And Anxiety. And Depression. He wasn’t even in double digits yet, and he had all of this to look forward to. I didn’t have the slightest clue how to help him, and I’ll be honest, sometimes I still don’t.

I don’t expect perfection. Let’s get that on the table right now. I accept mistakes, if they are made with the right intentions. But when the “old school” denied my son services that should have been his by federal law, I was pissed off. When I fully realized the scope of it all, I was well beyond pissed off. So I researched everything. Schools. The DOE. The Government. Common Core. Rodel. Smarter Balanced Assessments. The Charter School Network. What I found was a clear path, visible to those who follow the steps.

It’s the oldest game in the world. Survival of the fittest. Cavemen did it, and those in power do it now. They don’t want to relinquish their power and they will hold onto it as long as they can. Those who get in their way are pushed aside. But something new and bizarre is happening in the power landscape. The Power People are getting together and banding together. They are forcing their will on the people through coercion and specific techniques. And it all begins with education.

We think we know what’s going on, but there are depths and levels of which most people don’t have a clue. It’s a game of chess, and their pieces have been placed in a potential checkmate position for a long time.

A Plea To Delaware Parents Of Children With Special Needs And Disabilities #netde #edude

I’ve been doing this blog for less than a week, and I am amazed at how many people have looked at it, and how diverse the audience is.  I am very proud of this.  I’m still new at this, and I have a lot to learn.  When I started this blog journey by telling my son’s special education story from a Delaware Charter school, I promised I had no political agenda.  That has changed.  The only way things can change for these kids is through legislation and hammering the points home to those who need to listen the most.  I am not running for any type of office, but I believe new legislation needs to be passed so children with special needs and disabilities have more rights in the state of Delaware.  I have talked to many parents from different states, and when they hear about the types of things that go on in Delaware in terms of special education, they are shocked.

All special needs parents need to stand united.  We need to stand up to the schools and let them know they are not doing the best they can.  Some teachers do, some special education specialists do, but not nearly enough.  No one knows our children better than we do.  So why must we fight so hard to get our children what they deserve?  Why do we have to go to endless meetings and fight for even the most basic of accommodations?  Is it a funding issue?  Is it that the schools are so arrogant to truly believe they know what is best for OUR children?

Things need to change, and they need to change as soon as possible.  I go to a support group for special needs parents.  Tonight was our last meeting until September, but I know we will all be there to support each other over the summer.  Every town should have one of these groups if they don’t already.  It has helped me, and I know it has helped others.  The biggest thing for these types of groups is confidentiality.  I promised everyone I wouldn’t blog about their experiences!

As parents, we see what our children go through.  We see their daily struggles at school and home.  We know immediately when they need us more than the school.  We know why they do certain things that the schools just don’t seem to understand.  We understand that all their behavior is not intentional.  What we don’t know is why the schools don’t want to get this.

The Delaware Department of Education is having their monthly school board meeting tomorrow in Dover at 1pm in the Townshend Building, across from the new library.  On their agenda is to go over the IDEA Annual Performance Report.  I am very interested to hear what is in this report.  I can guarantee not every single special education matter is in that report.  Many parents who have gone beyond the DOE know this.  The DOE knows this.  So what happens to all of those children who are not accounted for in that report?  According to the DOE website, there are very few due process hearings in Delaware.  Those that don’t go to a due process tend to get resolved through a mediation of some sort.

I spent hours last night going through these reports from the Delaware DOE on their website: http://www.doe.k12.de.us/infosuites/students_family/specialed/cont_improv/default.shtml

The reality is very different than what is depicted in these reports and many of us know this.  The DOE stated in 2010 that all Delaware schools would have a special education audit every three years, broken down into thirds for each year amongst the Delaware schools.  Where are those audit reports?  Why doesn’t the public have access to them?  They have plenty of reports on how the special education students are doing with the “reform” of Delaware schools, whether it is through standardized testing or how they do towards reaching targets for the state performance plan.  Our students are more than just numbers and statistics.  Special education needs to change in this state.  We need to know what is going on in our schools.  The audits are for existing IEPs.  Why aren’t their audits being done on DENIALS?

In 2012, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), a Federal education department, announced they are suspending compliance visits to schools around the country and they are allowing states and school districts to be more accountable for  “positive adult outcomes”.  How is that going to help a 5 year old? A 10 year old?  These are children.  They aren’t going to college or entering the workforce for many years.  This was a huge federal mistake.  This is allowing the schools to be less compliant with special education.

Parents of ADHD, Sensory Processing, Autism, Deaf, Blind, OCD, Tourette’s, and more know this.  But what are we doing about it?  We need to stand as one.  Stand together as a group.  We can’t be heard by ourselves.  Some of us have gone to District House reps or Senators about issues, but nothing ever really changes.  We need to demand change, we need to be loud, we need to be large, and we need to be public.

Our children are the most precious thing we have in our lives.  We all want them to have a better life.  But if the school’s aren’t doing it, then we need to make them change.  The schools and the state government can form all the councils, committees and task forces they want, but at the end of the day we need to be the group that facilitates change.  We need to demand transparency from the schools.  We need to know how many IEPS and 504 plans they have.  It needs to be visible on EACH school’s website.  Not just the DOE website, or hidden away on some Office Of Civil Rights webpage.  I also believe schools should report the number of IEP and 504 denials they have each month.  We owe it to our children to fight for them, to advocate for them.  And the only way we can make the schools change is to force them to be compliant.  We need to do this now more than ever.

Smarter Balanced Assessments are, unfortunately, the wave of the future.  But that future is coming up, and before we know it, teachers will be so wound up in preparing students for these tests because their jobs will depend on it.  There is already legislation coming up that could dramatically affect how teachers are measured in the future.  Everything is tied into Common Core and standardized testing now in Delaware. The implementation began in 2012, but it is in full swing this coming fiscal year.  My fear is this will be horrible for children with disabilities.  Schools will have so much pressure to be the best.  Teachers will feel like their job is on the line if their students don’t do well.  On a test done once a year.  The frustration level for the schools and teachers will be at an all-time high.  If students currently on IEPs or 504s are not fully accommodated, they will resort back to what prompted the IEPs and 504s to begin with.  There is already a zero-tolerance culture in our schools on many types of behavior.  Which can be a good thing, but for special needs students, it’s all about the communication.  Teachers will be so stressed out to begin with, how can we hope they will be able to give 100% to our students with special needs?  Child Find will not be a top priority for our educators.  Behavior issues need to be dealt with immediately is something I am hearing more and more from schools and teachers around the state.  Do not let our children get caught in the crossfire between State demands and stressed-out teachers.

We can not let the Delaware DOE, our schools, and our teachers drop the ball on special education.  Our children do not need to suffer more than they already have because of events beyond our control.  If we let this happen, then we are failing as parents.  I won’t have that kind of weight on my shoulders, nor should any of you want that.  It is time, past time, for us to take control and demand change.  It starts now.

Tomorrow, at the Delaware Board of Education meeting, public commenters are given three minutes to speak.  Come out if you can and talk about the changes you want to see.  I can’t guarantee anything will come of it, but if enough people speak, they can’t ignore us forever.  Go to your district House rep or Senator, and let them know what your issues are.  A lot of them are up for reelection in November, so it would be in their best interest to listen to you.  If not, I would have to assume they don’t want your vote.  Reach out to other candidates running for office.  See what their stance is on special education and Common Core.  In November, make an informed decision based on what is best for OUR children and the state of Delaware.  The way things are set up in Dover right now, party lines are being crossed constantly.  It isn’t just Democrats vs Republicans.  Things are being decided on that have NO public vote, and some that the vast majority of the people don’t want.  Make your vote count in November.

I will be writing more about how we can ALL come together on this.  Whether your child goes to a public, charter, vocational, or alternate school, ALL our children count.  Don’t let your child be stuck on the bottom in the race to the top.  Please contact me at Exceptionaldelaware14@yahoo.com if you have any questions, concerns, or want your story to be told.  We are all in this together!