“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” -Albert Einstein
My journey into the world of Special Education Services began when my son, Cutter, was 3 years old. At that time, we were fortunate to be living in a school district that offered 2 years of full-day pre-K. My boy was a gorgeous, mild-tempered child who never caused a fuss or disruption. The only problem was that he couldn’t talk.
When I approached the district about speech therapy, I was told that his hearing couldn’t be tested, and was assured that developmentally he wasn’t delayed. I accepted this and waited. When he was in Kindergarten, I requested testing again, but was once more put off by the administration. His speech remained problematic, but was improving, and I was hopeful that he would grow out of it with support at home.
In Texas, parents are the Chairpersons of what is called the ARD Committee, or Admission, Review, and Dismissal Committee. As such, they have a right to call an ARD meeting at any time. What this means, is that as a parent you have the right to refer your child to Special Education Services at any time, and cannot be refused. When Cutter was in 1st grade, I marched myself to the school, and called for a meeting. It wasn’t until this point that Cutter was formally tested for anything, and it was determined that he was above average intelligence and that his speech difficulties did not qualify him for Special Education Services.
It wasn’t until 2nd grade, when I made a tearful plea for help because Cutter was markedly behind in reading, that he finally got admitted into Special Education Services, and placed into speech therapy. My mother is an educator, and has always said that “through 3rd grade we learn to read, and after 3rd grade we read to learn.” 3rd grade was fast approaching, and I feared that my child would miss this landmark. The school agreed.
Through 3rd and 4th grade, Cutter fell further and further behind; academically, as well as socially. Our challenges at home were mounting as well. He couldn’t dress himself, he couldn’t ride a bicycle or tie his shoes, he was very clumsy (constantly running into things), could not write legibly, and suffered from migraine headaches and insomnia, which were exacerbated by stressful days at school. He was increasingly becoming a victim of bullying, and my heart was breaking on the inside, as mounting frustration grew. I called an ARD meeting in 4th grade, and requested testing for autism. I didn’t believe Cutter had autism, but I knew something wasn’t right and I was terrified at how quickly he was falling behind.
Cutter was diagnosed with dyspraxia by a pediatrician specializing in developmental disorders at that time, and with autism through the school district. He is in 5th grade now and his Special Education Services include speech therapy, occupational therapy, technology assistance (he is afforded a word processor for lengthy writing assignments), oral assistance to include oral retaking on failed assignments, homework reduction, small group testing with extended time and frequent breaks for standardized tests, and counseling services.
Cutter is a smart, witty, loving child who just happens to be a fish that is expected to climb trees. I would love to say that things are going swimmingly now (pun intended), but every day remains a joyous challenge.
Yesterday, when I read that Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Education Secretary, my heart sank. I can’t imagine where Cutter would be today if it weren’t for all of the wonderful services he receives at his public school. I feel like I had to fight tooth and nail for my child to come as far as he has, and I fear that all could be lost under an Education Secretary that wants to defund and privatize the public school system.
Public education and the right to equal education is not something that we can afford to squander in this country. It might sound very appealing to receive a monetary voucher and to be able to take that voucher to a private school and enroll your child in a top-notch school, but that isn’t the reality of a voucher system. Private schools require applications, and applications mean that children can be turned down. Private and charter schools are largely unregulated and are intended to generate a profit. Charter schools and private schools are not required to staff qualified educators, and can teach whatever curriculum they choose.
As a parent of a fish, I cannot imagine what will happen to my child if his services are cut at school, or if we lose access to public schooling. The services Cutter receives have had such a positive impact in his life. We must make the right to equal, quality education in this country a top priority. We must resist in solidarity the agenda of Betsy DeVos and this administration to profit from our right to be educated.