Weekday mornings in our household are much like any other household with teenagers. Waking teens, outfit planning, rushing around to gather laptops and to find shoes.
At 7 am, the bus pulls up. We walk our daughter onto her special education bus, make sure she's seatbelted in, and wave goodbye.
Each day, we sent her off to her public school, where she joins other students like herself in a specific program for students with cognitive/intellectual disabilities. Her classroom is bigger than the average classroom because it needs to contain things like a swing for sensory input, a cushioned platform for when they need to lay down, room for wheelchairs, plus desks and tables and cabinets. Peer tutors - students from the traditional classrooms of this school - come in and help tutor my daughter and her classmates, which in return, teaches the traditional students what life is like for my daughter, and give them insights they otherwise wouldn't have had.
My daughter spends the majority of her school time in that room. She leaves to do gym, have lunch, help deliver stuff to the office or go to a pep rally. Otherwise, her day is spent learning the things she needs to learn, with teachers and paraprofessionals who have the knowledge on how to teach her the way she needs to be taught. Yet her public school balances all this well, and she is part of the school community, is known and liked by other students.
We have tried inclusion in the past. It did not suit her needs. We found that smaller classes designed specifically for children with her types of needs gives her the best chance of being successful and independent.
Who doesn't want that chance for their child?
This is why when I heard about Betsy DeVos's nomination for Secretary of Education, I paid close attention. For I knew that Donald Trump had been quoted in the past that he'd like to possibly get rid of the Department of Education and with it, all the laws.
One of those laws is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act - better known as the IDEA. A federal law, mind you. A federal law that gives my child the right to a public education.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.
Infants and toddlers with disabilities (birth-2) and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA Part C. Children and youth (ages 3-21) receive special education and related services under IDEA Part B.
This is Special Education 101. When your child qualifies for special ed services, you learn about the IDEA and you learn about FAPE - Free Appropriate Public Education.
Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) is an educational right of children with disabilities in the United States that is guaranteed by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under Section 504, FAPE is defined as "the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet individual needs of handicapped persons as well as the needs of non-handicapped persons are met and based on adherence to procedural safeguards outlined in the law." Under the IDEA, FAPE is defined as an educational program that is individualized to a specific child, designed to meet that child's unique needs, provides access to the general curriculum, meets the grade-level standards established by the state, and from which the child receives educational benefit. The United States Department of Education issues regulations that define and govern the provision of FAPE.
To provide FAPE to a child with a disability, schools must provide students with an education, including specialized instruction and related services, that prepares the child for further education, employment, and independent living. (source: Wikipedia)
See, once upon a time, not so long ago, schools could deny children like mine an education for whatever reason they chose - too costly, too time consuming, not enough resources. This was also the time period where children like mine were often sent to institutions to live.
We no longer live in those times. And we shouldn't have to go back to them.
So when I heard that during the confirmation hearing, that Betsy DeVos was "confused" by IDEA and unwilling to answer questions about if schools should meet the requirements of the IDEA. In fact, she said it should be left to the states.
What Betsy DeVos does not understand is that private and charter schools do not want students like my daughter. They are not equipped for students like my daughter. They have no place for students like my daughter.
I looked to see what schools there were in the Seattle area for children like my daughter. I found none. I also did this when we lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan - again, there were none.
Betsy DeVos supports voucher programs. But even if my daughter could attend the one private school in Seattle for children with mild learning disabilities like dyslexia, ADHD, etc., a $5000 voucher wouldn't pay one-fourth of the tuition. And yet, that's a moot point as they won't take my daughter - she's too disabled.
I think I have a good reason to be worried and frustrated by this nominee for Secretary of Education. She does not support public schools, she does not understand basic federal laws protecting students with disabilities, and she does not understand that when it comes to education, students with disabilities have few options.
Betsy DeVos is about school of choice - yet we don't get choices. When my daughter started kindergarten, I asked what our options were. I was told, "We'll make this work."
"But what if it doesn't work, what are our other options?"
"We'll make this work."
There were no other options.
The fate of my daughter's education is now up for debate it seems. Not so much what kind of education she should have, but if she's deserving of one. That the possible Secretary of Education wants to leave it up for discussion at some other time is not good enough.
My daughter has a right to a public education. My daughter is just as deserving of a public education as any of her siblings. If you can't understand that, or feel that should be discussed later on, then you don't deserve to be Secretary of Education.