Special Education in America has come very far in the 30 plus years since the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed. The problem is somewhere along the way the spirit of the law and the practice of the law started to breakdown. The cornerstone of the special education law is the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and decisions about the IEP are decided at an IEP team meeting. The IEP becomes useless if the IEP team meeting goes off task. Unfortunately, instead of a team, often it becomes parents against the school and a massive communication breakdown occurs. There can be a significant lack of trust on both sides. Many times I hear from School personnel, “Why don’t parents think we are capable of assessing their children properly?” While on the other side parents think schools are turning them down for eligibility and services due to lack of funds when their children really need help.
So, I say to you today, my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.
I have a dream that one day in all of America’s Schools parents of special needs children and educators will be able to sit down together at an IEP team meeting and both sides will be heard. Not just listened to but actually heard. Where crucial discussions and dialogue can once again take place not forgetting the child everyone is trying to help.
I have a dream that one day even the smallest of school districts will not skirt their responsibility. A place where service’s for special needs children will not be cut. A place where the teachers no longer fear repercussions from their administrators if they try and help special needs children. Where a teacher is once again allowed to tell a parent they should have their child assessed without whispering it in the shadows.
I have a dream that my son will one day live in a nation where he is not judged by what he can’t do but rather be judged by the person he is.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the true meaning of an Individualized Education Program will be realized. Where a child with a disability will be taught based on how they learn. Where every IEP meeting started with a blank piece of paper that would then be designed for that individual child.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day needs will really determine services and not labels. Where a school can admit when they can’t provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and will work with the parents to change that. Where America defines FAPE to mean more then granting access to special needs children and giving them a basic floor opportunity.
This is my hope. This is the faith that I ask all of you reading this to have. With this faith we will be able to transform special education into what it needs to become. With this faith we will be able to work together, to struggle together, to stand up together, knowing that one day it will be better for our children.
If you haven’t realized it by now, I took some liberties with Martin Luther King Jr.'s, “I have a dream” speech but I could not think of a more eloquent way to get my point across. If you have an opinion on this subject I want to hear about it. Please provide comments below.