Our son’s school district, and his state’s lawmakers, are failing him.
Nate is 16 and autistic, and six months into the pandemic his needs are still not being met by his school team. His behavior is regressing at an alarming rate. His social, behavioral and mental-health requirements are being disregarded. He is not being provided services tailored to his individual needs, and he is not getting the Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) he’s entitled to by law. He is being left behind, and it is devastating.
I have tried everything I can think of to provide Nate with the support and supervision he’s so desperately needing and have spent thousands of our own dollars doing so. I am rigorously advocating for Nate and his needs, but I’m hitting a wall in every direction. The state says it’s an issue for his school team. The school team says our concerns are “outside their locus of control.” Regardless of whose decision it is, Nate is not getting what he needs.
For anyone who is tempted, I ask you to please not tell me that this is an unprecedented time and to have patience. That is what marginalized communities are always told when they point out the overwhelming injustices happening to them. It is 2020, and we know all too well how that story ends. A major injustice is happening right now to children with disabilities and special learning needs, and I cannot be expected to wait any longer to do something about it.
Similarly, please don’t tell me that COVID-19 has been hard on all children. When Nate is undersupervised and undersupported, the trouble he gets into is destructive and dangerous. It’s the kind of trouble that isn’t easy to clean up from and is even harder to recover from emotionally, and it’s happening almost every single day as we try to balance full-time jobs and Nate’s high-care needs. Without appropriate support around him, Nate’s behavior can result in significant bodily harm and even hospitalizations. The risk is real, and the stakes are very high. All children are hurting right now, and everyone’s mental health is at risk, but not all risk is equal. Some needs cannot be ignored.
Lastly, please don’t tell me the district and state are right to deny support to Nate because of the health risks of COVID-19. Our district has been hosting an expensive child care since March (a $1,200 per month program that is not being made available to teens with disabilities), and there have been no known outbreaks of COVID-19 there during that time. Neighboring school districts are hosting in-person school for children with disabilities. Nate has had part-time, in-home support since June, and everyone has remained healthy. Care and support can be provided safely, but instead our district made sweeping policies that ignore the legal requirements of individualization, and refuse any requests for additional consideration and help.
Please understand this is not a critique of the teachers, paraeducators and other direct-service providers who interact with Nate through virtual learning every day. I see the results of the hours of time they’re devoting to their students. I’m grateful for their talents, and in awe of their adaptability during such a challenging time.
My call to action is instead directed toward those in a position of power: the decision-makers, administrators, directors, superintendents, school-board members and legislators.
Our school district and our state have to do better. Nate and his peers need more, and the law requires that their individual learning needs be met. Please follow the laws laid out in the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, and provide our children with the Free and Appropriate Public Education to which they’re entitled. Do it because they need it and because it’s the right thing to do.
Your highest-needs students and the people who love them are respectfully asking for you to do more. We need your leadership, and we need your help. Please do something before it’s too late.