I’m well known in my city by friends, neighbors, businesses, and especially the School District, as that mom.
Sometimes, that’s a good thing. I’m the mom who would do anything for the neighborhood kids. I care about their safety and their futures. I root for them and support them. My friends laugh with me and at me because my life can be complete chaos most days, in a how-does-she-do-it, kind of way. On the other hand, people are likely to raise an eyebrow or shake a head at me. Businesses often already know me or never forget me because I’m either the strange woman who accidentally left the house in two different shoes, or a close resemblance to that old woman who lived in a shoe; had so many children, she didn’t know what to do. The School District is like family to me, in a can’t-live-with them-can’t-live-without-them, way. I suppose our relationship is about as complicated as any relationship can possibly be. We share the job of looking out for my children’s best interests. I have high expectations, a never ending list of questions, and superior research ability, along with an annoying tendency to quote laws and compliance regulations. Our interactions are much like a ballroom dance, maybe a Tango. Each party is fierce, aggressive, and inseparably entangled in an adrenaline charged dance. It’s usually hard to tell which one of us is leading the other. We are each so passionate. We are side by side through every step, but rarely see eye to eye. Over the years, I’ve repeatedly heard teachers says they are tired of being blamed, for everything.
It’s been almost a year since I went public over a school transportation issue by taking it to the media.
When I wrote about what happened to my daughter, it raised a lot of questions. I was attacked on Social Media by people I don’t know, who didn’t know the whole story, or anything about what a parent of a child with special needs goes through, much less what they are required to do. There were people who said I should be shot, killed, or just die for letting my child ride the bus. Other people said my children should be taken away for putting my daughter on what they called, public transportation. I never ever imagined that kind of backlash. I was traumatized by the ordeal. People assumed I had some selfish agenda, such as getting rich quick through lawsuits, along with other delusional assumptions. I never filed suit against any party for what happened that awful day last year. I demanded change and obtained it, at least for my own children. My children are required to attend school as a condition of receiving other therapeutic services they need. I had been fighting with the School District over my daughter’s proposed placement for almost a year before she attended her first day of school. In the meantime, her triplet siblings had been attending. She watched them go to school each day and was excited to finally have a turn. There are so many details to this story that the public didn’t know. I’ve even thought about writing about them all. But, for what? Would that really change people’s minds? People chose to assume the worst about me as a parent without knowing even a 1/4 of the important details. They didn’t know that one of Kaitlyn’s in-home therapists was waiting for and received her at school that morning. They didn’t know we visited the classroom and hung out with the students and teachers the day before. They didn’t know that I drove to the school after dropping of her oldest siblings at their schools, and saw her through her classroom door just after she arrived. They didn’t know that it’s not just schools that have to be compliant, but that there are plenty of laws and compliance requirements specific to parents of children with special needs. Parental compliance failures, including school attendance at age three, can cause a ripple effect of loss of services for a child who desperately needs them.
They didn’t know that although we had done everything right, it still turned out all wrong.
Today, a 50,000+ strong group of teachers and people involved in education reminded me of just how often this happens to them! The other day, I published an article written by Radiah Mallard, about her son, a non-verbal Autistic boy who eloped from school. I shared that article with the group. In less than 24 hours, there were 137 comments in total. Of course, some of them were my own, but the interaction and response was great. One of the first things people mentioned about the article was it’s lack of details regarding Elijah’s placement, IEP, teacher to student ratio, and school policies regarding elopement. They also noted that the article focused on what was not done, and they wondered what was done by the school. I am first, a mother. I love my children and live for them. Everything else is second. However, I am many other things as well. I am a woman, friend, advocate, and of course, a writer. I am a professional. I have an ability to be subjective even when it’s a personal issue. When an issue is personal, such as advocating for my own children, I have to look at the bigger picture, the goal, and remove my personal emotions from the equation. It is important to be passionate about my child, but a solutions-focused approach requires me to be equally, if not more so, reasonable. I support Radiah, her son Elijah, and Radiah’s intentions when she submitted the article to me. She wanted to inspire parents to be and continue to be advocates for their children. I completely agree. However, I feel like I must declare that being an advocate and a warrior doesn’t mean destroying every teacher or administrator who crosses our paths. Of course, Radiah has never suggested that. Sadly, there are parents who might read what happened to Elijah and only take away an “us against them” sentiment. It can’t be us against them. Not only should we want them on our side, we need them on our side. We must work together if we want to see real improvements in our education system and overall school safety for all children.
While reading the responses from the Teachers Group, they were at times, hard to understand.
Many of the members appeared to feel like the article was another attack against teachers. Some were hesitant to share their thoughts and expressed frustration with articles like Radiah’s. Nonetheless, they also seemed concerned and willing to offer ideas that might help prevent something like this from happening again. In order to respect the group’s policies, I cannot name them directly. I am not a teacher. No matter how many close friends I have who are educators, I have not truly walked in their shoes. In order to maintain the relationship I have with the group, I have to respect their privacy and group policies. This is the only way I can continue to count on them to give unfiltered feedback when I want a massive group off educators to chime in on difficult topics, like this one. Hopefully, if I do this right, they will be willing to offer uncensored input in the future, too. So, I’m taking a journalistic approach to summarizing and sharing their feedback. They had a lot of opinions and ideas. There were so many in fact, I cannot possibly share them all here.
Check out, Teachers Are Tired of Being Blamed: Part II, for a full summary of my take from the conversation I had in the group.
By: Alicia Gonzalez
Editor’s Note: This Article is the second part of a series of three related posts. See also: