Privilege

We haven’t had Rowenna’s IEP meeting yet, but I want to pause here to talk about privilege for a minute. (And for those following at home… I do think things will end well after the meeting next week.)

In the last week, I have become acutely aware of the amount of privilege I have when it comes to this whole process.

I happen to have a degree in elementary education and a small amount of teaching experience. I happen to be married to a teacher. As a couple, we are aware of IDEA and IEPs and the rest of the alphabet soup that comes with special education. We have both experienced IEP meetings, making modifications and accommodations, and teaching students with different abilities.  I have the privilege of not starting from square one in terms of the process.

I happen to be a stay at home mom with the flexibility to meet with people wherever, whenever. You want to give me a 12 hour advance notice of a meeting? Sure, I can be there. You want me to take a morning to tour elementary schools? Yup, I’m there. I have the privileges of time, flexibility, and reliable transportation.

I happen to have a degree in political science and additional training in legislative advocacy. I know the difference between “against policy” and “illegal.” I know how to read the actual law and where to find additional information when I need it. I have a strong network of friends and acquaintances with deep, deep knowledge about education and inclusion. I have the privilege of reaching out when I need to and receiving solid, helpful answers.

I happen to know a lot of teachers. I happen to have stayed in touch with people from the district. I have the privilege of speaking with someone who has “boots on the ground.”

I happen to be pretty good at holding my own in a discussion. I happen to have no qualms saying what I need to say. I have the privileges of knowing the lingo, knowing Rowenna’s rights, and of holding firm to what I know is right and true about my daughter.

In the last week, I have done the following:
-met with the district’s elementary special education coordinator
-met with the district’s director of special education
-spoken directly with two current educators at the proposed school
-toured and experienced the proposed placement
-made contact with an advocate
-spoken directly with two members of Rowenna’s current school team
-researched IDEA and state-level laws and policies that directly apply to Rowenna’s current situation

I still don’t know what Rowenna’s IEP meeting holds for us next week, but I am overwhelmed at the amount of privilege it has taken to get to this point in my research. This post is not to toot my own horn, it’s to shine a light on how ridiculously difficult it can be to navigate this process. Not all parents have an education background. Not all parents have the time for this many meetings. Not all parents have knowledge of the system, the laws, and the policies. Not all parents feel like they can speak up – and I completely understand why. It is scary out here, where people make you second guess your choices and beliefs.

It shouldn’t take all this. We are talking about a 4K or kindergarten placement, not giving my kid the nuclear launch codes.

But sometimes it does take all this and that is unjust. Sometimes it takes shaking trees and making yourself heard and that is an undue burden on parents. A school district should not be so reticent about ensuring the possibility of inclusion; it is, after all, federal law.

And to think this was all set off by my seemingly innocent question of “so what about next year?”

If I hadn’t asked, we would have been completely ambushed at the meeting with this proposal for self containment. It would have been easy for them to say certain things are “illegal” without a chance to triple check that they aren’t. It would have been easy to bury us in a pile of “specialized instruction” and “we’re only suggesting what’s best.”

I am frustrated and angry and sad and defeated for all the parents who want to shake the trees this hard and have their voices be this loud…but can’t. For whatever reason. Lack of resources, lack of information. Lack of a cooperative district. Lack of teamwork. Lack of time. Lack of money.

These are futures we fight for. Our children.

It shouldn’t be a fight, but sometimes it is.

And going forward, I hope that as I advocate for Rowenna, I am chipping away at rigid structures that make the process difficult for everyone.

Forward with hope.

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