I became an educator to have a positive impact on the world through educating, counseling, supporting and enhancing the lives of children with special needs and their families. My career as an educator formally began in 1992. Over the last twenty years, I have worked in three different states and five different school districts across the United States. As time has passed, I have seen a very disturbing trend become more and more prevalent. That trend is that the basis for decisions about services and programming for children with disabilities appear to be based more on financial constraints than on what is best for the child. This has lent to many ethical issues in education, especially special education.
A parent recently e-mailed me and asked me if I thought that parents should let school districts slide on providing a quality education because of the current financial crisis in the country. My answer to her was, “Absolutely not”! Every child deserves a quality education, period! The reality is that special education services are expensive and that is not going to change. School districts need to proactively consider how to make the best use of the resources they have. I would like to suggest that administrators sitting in their offices in the administration building are not going to accomplish this.
Depending on the size of the school district, districts have at least one special education administrator and sometimes several who usually have offices in a building where there are not any children. Does this make sense? Does this keep the focus on the needs of the children? Does this lend to the people who make financial decisions building any kind of relationship with the children and families who their decisions are affecting directly? How can someone who is making life-changing decisions about a child never meet or observe the child?
Many people in my life (my colleagues, my family and my friends) were surprised that I left my most recent position teaching children with Autism in a public school over this and other ethical issues in education when I didn’t have another job to go to. I will say that I was lucky that my husband had a job and that although we would have to live on significantly less income, we could get by. I have left school districts in the past, before I was married, when I felt like the work I was doing to help children and their families was being squashed by disconnected administrators. Let’s just say, I am not one of those people who will be forced to sit by quietly and watch the rights of children and parents be ignored because the money is gone from a budget line item.
I recently asked some parents of children with special needs what they would like to ask their child’s teacher if they could ask them anything. The general theme in their answers was, ‘Why won’t you work with me and communicate with me about my child’s strengths and weaknesses so we can provide the best education possible for my child who is struggling?’
As a side note, before I get teachers telling me that they wish they had parents who would want to be involved, I will acknowledge that there are parents who are not involved in their child’s education at all. I believe as educators we are obligated to keep reaching out to them and to not pass judgment upon them if they do not involve themselves in their child’s education. To parents who are uninvolved, especially parents of children with special needs, I would like to suggest to you that your child will get a much higher quality education if you are involved.
In regards to the question that the parents above posed, I cannot speak for other teachers about why they choose not to join with parents who want to be involved in their child’s education. In my opinion, it is what is best for everyone in the scenario- the child, the parent, the family, me as the teacher and the school community. I would like to share several different scenarios that occurred in my last two positions that led to me deciding I had no choice but to resign because I could not continue living with the unethical scenarios that my school districts were putting me in.
As you read this post, please take into consideration the fact that I am a veteran teacher with years of experience and a great deal of confidence that I am good at what I do. It is standard in most states across the country that it takes three years to get tenure as a school district employee. In all my years as an educator, I knew this was the case but it was never something in the front of my mind until my two most recent positions because it was constantly brought to my attention that if I wanted to get tenure I better keep my mouth shut. “Excuse me; keep my mouth shut about unethical matters occurring with children in schools, I think not.” Hence, the reason I am not working for either of the last two school districts I was employed at.
I am by no means making excuses for why teachers choose not to join with parents who are willing and asking to be involved and I am wondering if my experiences over the last few years coupled with the financial situation have anything to do with it, which is why I will share some scenarios that I experienced with you.
- I emailed my supervisor that there was significant bullying behavior going on from children with behavior disabilities toward children with emotional disabilities and that if the building administration wasn’t going to take it seriously more children were going to be harmed emotionally. I was told in no uncertain terms to never put the word, “bullying” into an email.
- I was told that because one of my students in my Autism program had done so well that the district would be moving him out of the Autism program (against my professional judgment) rather than transitioning him slowly to increase the likelihood of success because they needed to make room for another child who was more severe. By the way, the parent did not attend the change of placement IEP meeting and was unaware that the district had made this determination when I saw her a week later.
- I told my supervisors that there was gang activity occurring in the classroom of children with behavior disabilities and that I was concerned that it was going to escalate. I was told that because I was new to the state I could not possibly know this (never mind that I was trained as a social worker in Los Angeles). Within one month of the issues not be addressed, three students had to be removed to out-of-district placements for gang and drug activity.
- I sat in an IEP meeting for a child in my Autism program where the parent requested that her son be placed in an out-of-district school that could better meet his significant needs while the case manager told by the parent that the district would never “put him out” because he was doing so well and he was not aggressive. Prior to this, I had twice told the case manager that this child was my most severe child, that he was extremely bright, and that I felt that if he had a more intensive program he could be successful.
- When I went to a Board of Education Meeting in support of the district not outsourcing paraprofessionals, who play a critical role in the education of children with special needs, I was told that that was a very risky move to make as an untenured teacher.
- I had a child in my Autism program that was extremely aggressive towards both staff and peers and very disruptive towards the learning of other children. After I tried many, many interventions to assist him with little success the district decided to send in a behavior specialist to conduct a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) and offer suggestions. I readily accepted her into my classroom. She and the case manager both observed the child once, analyzed my data and then created a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) that was completely inappropriate for a child with Autism. When I told them I felt that the BIP was inappropriate and that the parents would not be in agreement if they understood what it meant, I was told that I better follow the plan if I wanted to keep my job.
I tell you these things not to horrify you, although I find them horrifying, unethical and unacceptable but to help you, as parents of children with special needs, understand the current culture of special education in the majority of public school in the United States. The reason I began this blog and website is to arm parents with information about the laws that govern the education of their children. I urge you to learn as much as possible about advocating for your child in a proactive manner because, unfortunately, I do not see things getting better anytime soon.
My personal circumstances have changed and it has necessitated me getting a new teaching position. I was very purposeful in where I applied because I am determined to find a position where I can truly help children and families without all of the political diarrhea I have had to deal with over the last six years. I have accepted a new teaching position in a day treatment program for children with Autism and I am hopeful that, although it is publically funded, its mission is in alignment with mine. Although we will be moving to another state and I will be working full-time, I will continue to blog and provide content for parents of children with special needs because, I believe, it is part of my mission while I am here on earth.
I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts about this post. Please comment below.