When My First Grader With Cerebral Palsy Was Forgotten During Emergency Drills
“Mommy, I had a terrible dream last night. I tried to forget it, but my brain just kept making me remember it,” my daughter burst out one morning.
“I’m sorry, sweetie, what was it?”
“I was at school and they were doing a lockdown drill. I was lost in the hallway and couldn’t find my class. I was all by myself. I kept looking and looking, but I couldn’t find anybody. I was so scared.”
“I’m sorry you were scared, but that would never happen. The teachers are always supposed to account for their students during drills.”
“But they left me, Mommy! I would be walking back to my class from somewhere else and a drill would start. When I’d get there, they’d be gone and I would have to go try to find them.”
“That’s not safe for a child with cerebral palsy like me. I can’t run fast. What if it was a real bad person in the school? What if there was really a fire? Then I’d die because they left me and I can’t run.”
If anyone thinks discrimination against kids with special needs is no longer present in our schools, they haven’t lived a day in the life of a disabled child. She has PTSD and severe anxiety, yet the adults who should have had a plan in place from day one to ensure she was safe, no matter where she was in the building, did not. There was no plan to ensure her safe exit or shelter in place in case of a real emergency if she was out of the classroom. Due to her therapy pull outs, ESL pull outs, and interventions, she was often not with her classmates. This was not her fault, yet it is the reason she was left alone more than once during drills. It triggered her trauma from early abandonment and neglect, causing her a great deal of emotional distress. This is one of many reasons I homeschool my daughter now.
“Mommy, I know the teachers are supposed to stay with a child, but they wouldn’t stay with me. I’d have to go to the bathroom and they’d send me by myself. Then we’d have a drill and I would be all alone. I was so scared.”
These stories need to be told. The special education system is horribly flawed and there is no recourse for parents who don’t have thousands to spend on lawyers. My child is acutely aware of her differences. She knows with her leg braces and stiff gait that she would be last if they had to run. She knows she’d fall. She needed to know she would be taken care of, and instead she was shown over and over again that she didn’t matter.
I will not be silent on these issues. Too many school districts get away with quietly screwing over children with disabilities. I believe they are hoping parents will either get fed up and take their kids out of the system, or give up advocating so they don’t have to provide services. If someone doesn’t speak up about this, no one else ever will. I hope by sharing my stories, others will feel empowered to stand up and share theirs too.
My daughter deserved better. I advocate for her.