For many families, taking on the educational system can be very intimidating and/or disillusioning. The District of Columbia has a long and sordid history of maltreating people with developmental disabilities.  And while many things have improved since the prolonged fight for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Evans v. Washington, there is still a long road ahead to ensure that the District is in compliance with federal laws established to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities.  In the case of DC Public Schools, there are many systematic tools put in place through both DCPS and the Office of State Superintendent for Education (OSSE), that make it difficult for families to access the necessary services that are legally protected through high court decisions or through federal and/or local legislation.

Too often, families take on individual fights against a highly organized, albeit dysfunctional, school system and lose.  Simply, it seems like DCPS or OSSE put their bid on not providing free appropriate public education or settling for mediocre improvement metrics than making the necessary adjustments within an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to ensure that the District of Columbia, the nation’s capital, become a leader in Special Education. The school system tends to take the legal hammer against families that dare to sue for failure to provide FAPE, in part, because there are very little incentives to do otherwise.  For every family that musters up the energy, money and gumption to fight for their child in the schools or in the courts, there are fifty other families too exhausted, poor and fearful of negative consequences to engage. And for many other families, they put their blind trust into the school system and take at face value that this system is functional. For all these reasons, organizing and advocacy is essential.

There are many great individual schools with progressive principals and teachers that are exceptional in services in both general and special education.  Organization and advocacy protects them as well. to early childhood education, it is also an unfortunate fact that because children only spend such a small time of their academic experience in Pre-K that schools simply wait out the clock for when a “problem” family that demands what can be perceived as too much ages out of their rights to advocate at that level. And it is only the most proactive of parents,for example, that will seek the necessary legal counsel to build a sound defense that will back track to educational malpractice at the Pre-K level when their 8th grader still doesn’t know how to read or write with maladaptive social skills. And truthfully, the District of Columbia has a long history institutional dysfunctions with the treatment of people with developmental disabilities. To learn more about this history, read the post on The Lessons of the Evans Case and Advocacy for Children with Disabilities in DC.

There is safety in numbers. There is protection in legislation. And there is value to knowledge.  When parents come together with community members, including teachers and the school administration, political organizations, legal counsel and businesses, our voices are amplified. And when parents come together with these community partners to engage our elected officials, it changes everything.  Advocacy is beyond protest. Advocacy is constant, protracted engagement. There are many other ways to be more proactive and engaged in DCPS. Not only do studies show that all levels parent involvement raises the potential of a child’s academic success but parents united via PTAs and PTOs to expand the village, simply moves mountains. And it is in shifting mountains that miracles are possible for children with disabilities, who simply need a level playing field to have a shot at reaching their highest academic potential. To learn more about how to advocate to DC Public Officials, click here.

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