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Article of Interest - IDEA Reauthorization

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Please Don't Leave 6.5 Million Children Behind: An Open Letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige

by Shari Krishnan, Our Children Left Behind, October 13, 2003

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This isn’t just about jobs . . . it is also about quality of life. A sound education gives purpose. It provides companionship and solace. It enriches the mind and spirit.  Secretary Paige Back-to-School Address

 

Dear Secretary Paige,

  

In December of 2001, I had the fine opportunity to celebrate the introduction of the No Child Left Behind Act with you and an auditorium full of education leaders from across this great land. I vividly recall your compassionate style and sincere words as you placed your hands gently on my shoulder and whispered, “This is for your son.”

 

I was so relieved. I believed you, Secretary Paige. I thought that finally the days of segregating students, based solely on their having a disability, would be gone. No longer would I have to fight for my son’s right to have a meaningful public education experience in his own neighborhood. With No Child Left Behind, it would now be a given. And it would now be understood by the President, our Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, state departments of education, local districts, and in our communities. I praised the President for taking such a bold step of leadership in protecting the rights of students with disabilities along with other students.

  

Some don’t believe all children can learn. They say it’s silly to have a goal of all children being proficient by 2014. I would ask them what percentage should be our goal? Who will judge which children to leave behind?

  

Ever since I met you and embraced your encouraging words, I enthusiastically invested thousands of my family’s own hard-earned dollars to learn more about this great No Child Left Behind Act, its rulemaking process, and its cast of characters. I have been to rulemaking hearings, U.S. Department of Education rollout meetings, and have become proficient enough in its content to offer talks about it to others.

 

It is almost two years later, Secretary Paige. I am sad and so sorry to report to you that I am absolutely terrified for my son’s future. The present members of the House of Representatives are sabotaging the promise for a better inclusive future for my son. Without your help, and that of President Bush, my son will not only be left behind, he could easily be left out of the education system altogether. The No Child Left Behind Act will be able to do nothing to protect my son from this eventuality.  Only IDEA can come to the rescue.

 

I read your Back-to-School Address dated September 24, 2003. It made me weep. I felt pain in my chest from my heavily betrayed heart. The promises of No Child Left Behind and its related IDEA reauthorization now appear to be nothing more than “code talk” for stripping away the rights of 6.5 million students and their families who love them.

 

The President wanted emancipation for students and parents, and a guarantee of the full promise of our democracy.

   

In the name of “aligning” IDEA with No Child Left Behind, Congress horrified parents of students with disabilities by introducing H.R. 1350.  Since the introduction of H.R. 1350, I have not heard one parent say he or she likes and supports this bill. Not one (and I am a co-Webmaster for a volunteer Web site that has received over 42,000 visits since May of 2003). Frankly, I don’t see a thing in H.R. 1350 that makes No Child Left Behind work better than what we presently have for students with disabilities. Maybe it is because each and every student and family protection has been stripped from this proposed reauthorization bill?

 

Part B of IDEA ’97 does much better in making the President’s education agenda a humanistic reality for our students. It has helped teachers understand the meaning of access to the curriculum versus simply the place. Tens of thousands of educators have learned to handle student behavior in more capable, confident, and compassionate ways. Disciplinary actions are now looked upon as “teachable moments” by the finest of our educators. Parents and general education teachers play a more important role at the table, helping define what is truly “special” about special education for our students.

 

Without IDEA 97, students such as Lee Alderman (the student with autism that you cited as an education success story in your Back-to-School Address) could never have come this far. The ‘97 Amendments gave teachers and parents a finer context for rich dialogue pertaining to student outcomes and developing essential educational roadmaps to get them to where they need to be.

  

We must be held accountable for our results to our stakeholders: students, parents, and the taxpayers. There are some who are fighting this change in the classroom, in the faculty lounge, in the school board rooms, in the mayor’s office, or before the city council. Some are going higher, to the state house and to Capitol Hill.

 

No Child Left Behind proponents claim that parent input is instrumental in assisting with accountability, yet Congressman Boehner has sent memos out to his colleagues accusing parents and advocates of not knowing what we are talking about . . .essentially calling us liars.  He attempted to lock parents out of the democratic process of the IDEA reauthorization by vilifying and publicly humiliating us. He has encouraged our elected officials not to even listen to us. Congressman Boehner and his colleagues have consistently been supporting, those you call, “the old guard . . . the keepers of the status quo,” who you and the President claim have left students behind and in despair for years.

  

It is the lack of accountability that has gotten us into this mess.

  

Congressman Boehner and a few of his Senate counterparts who are working on S. 1248 are stripping parents of any means to help hold education systems accountable for students with disabilities. How can we talk about the role of parents in the accountability process, yet remove the necessary protections needed to do this, all in the same breath? 

 

They like the habits and consistency of repeating the past, even if repetition means disaster for millions of American students.

  

If H.R. 1350 and S. 1248 are not strengthened further to protect the rights of students with disabilities (and their parents who assist them in protecting those rights), it is reasonable to assume that we could roll back the progress that has been made for students with disabilities over the past 30 years. It will not be the school staff, U.S. Representatives, or U.S. Senators who will suffer the grave consequences of these roll backs in IDEA protections; rather it will be the 6.5 million students and their families.

 

I beg you, Secretary Paige, to sit down with President Bush and seriously consider the pleas of families for a better IDEA reauthorization than what we are facing with H.R. 1350 and some similar sections of S. 1248.  I cannot imagine that the intent to align IDEA with No Child Left Behind was to remove from IDEA everything that makes sense for students and families. Parents have not had a voice. Please don’t let anyone fool the two of you when they tell you that we have. Yes, there may have been some token representation along the way. But the true partnership that is realized with sincere collaboration has been missing, and it is evident when you read the proposed bills.

 

Parents don’t have the millions of dollars of public school money, paid time off of work to travel to Capitol Hill, and paid lobbyists to support our views. We are parents of students with disabilities who must work hard to deal with some very difficult and costly life circumstances. We cannot afford to leave our families and jobs. So, we often need to advocate for our children from afar. We need elected officials and their appointees to listen and understand this.

  

Our walk is just beginning. Let’s walk together.

 

Amen.

 

Many thanks, Secretary Paige, in anticipation for your kind consideration of my message. Your action could make the difference between life and living for 6.5 million students and their families.

  

Sincerely,

Shari Krishnan

    

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