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When a Teacher Told Me 'So Many' Kids Shouldn't Have Special Education Services

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Recently I was at a social event making polite conversation with a high school teacher whom I’d just met. As it usually does, the topic of my children and their special education needs came up, and I explained what accommodations they have in place and also about how difficult it was to finally get them into the right educational setting. We really hit it off, and I felt I had a comrade in arms. After all, teachers are so often stifled when it comes to speaking out on what’s in the best interest of their students — especially here in the state of Michigan where about four years ago, tenure reform occurred.

I can’t often speak so freely to someone who “gets it” — someone who really understands what parents like me fight for when we attend Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings and spend countless dollars on additional therapy and neuropsychology testing. Yes, we were on the same page in our fight for the educational rights of our most vulnerable students. Yes, we had a lot in common — that is until she said the following:

“It’s great that your kids got the help that they need, but I have to say, there are so many kids out there who should not have a special education certification.” 

What? Did she just say what I think she said?

I took a deep breath, put on my best poker face and replied, “I think it’s important not to disregard the input from parents, as they know their children more than anyone else does.”

We were quiet for a moment and then someone changed the topic and I just let it go. But what I wanted to do was ask her this:

Really, in addition to being a teacher, are you also a psychologist, a neuropsychologist or a pediatrician? Exactly what qualifications do you have to determine if a student should have a special education certification? Do you think parents enjoy taking countless hours off work to attend numerous school meetings only to listen to the so-called professionals pick apart their child and his or her abilities and make the statement, “He needs try harder”? Do you think any parent makes the decision to place a “special education” label on their child lightheartedly? Because I can tell you damn well that I did not.

Do you think parents are really that manipulative — that they would go through the more often than not hellish process of an IEP to gain some sort of accommodation for their average child to position them for better grades? Lady, let me tell you, I’ve attended approximately 24 IEP meeting in the past 14 years, just as many REEDs (Review of Existing Evaluation Data) and countless appointments for educational assessments and medical testing. During each one, at some point I felt as if I was being judged as an overprotective/overreactive mother. Trust me when I say, the IEP process is not for the faint of heart. This I know.  

There has been many a night when I’ve held one or both of my children in my arms as they cried because they felt completely lost and alone at school, and I’ve cried right along with them. As their mother, I promised them I would do everything in my power to make it better. I’ve kept that promise. Yes, they still have challenges, but they’re now growing academically and socially. In fact, it’s recently been said that they’re thriving. They finally see themselves as students and more important, they see themselves as worthy and they feel accepted. But they would not be where they are today if I didn’t take that time off work to attend IEP meetings, research and learn the special education laws, take them to the educational and medical assessments and be their advocate.  

Please know this: I’ve learned a lot over the past 14 years, being the mom of two medically fragile children with special needs. I’ve learned to follow my gut, to always listen to those little red flags because they’re usually right on, and I’ve learned that sadly, money is a factor in determining if a child receives the appropriate special education services they so desperately need. I’ve also learned that general education teachers most of the time have not received any special education training, and yet their classrooms are full of children on the autism spectrum, have a physical disability, live with a chronic illness or who are deaf or hard of hearing.  

But the most important thing I have learned — a lesson my two children taught me — is that no child ever wants to feel like a failure. Children naturally want to succeed, and I believe it’s our responsibility as adults, as parents, as teachers to work together to make sure each and every child has the resources and accommodations  they need to reach their fullest potential.

Originally published: August 6, 2015
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