It’s been in the last couple of years that I’ve realized that the real power of a parent of a child with special needs comes in the understanding of the special education law, which is many times interpreted by others as to be adhered to when convenient versus as a constant. Trying to save dollars today we are leading our children to live unproductive lives. In my opinion, we are witnessing this while the Endrew F. Case is shaking the interpretation of the law one more time after 35 years.
More than three decades have passed since Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, after which many parents settled for the serviceable Chevrolet. The Supreme Court’s interpretation of FAPE – Free Appropriate Public Education – concluded that students with special needs are not entitled to the best possible education but to a basic one which, to me, resembles a serviceable Chevrolet. And to be honest, and from my experience, this vehicle is most often not serviceable at all.
I’m not a lawyer. I’m just a regular parent who happens to have two children with Down syndrome. A parent who learned to drive after struggling to settle down in her own serviceable Chevrolet. A parent who trying to make the best of every service who has recognized over and over again that the lack of appropriate education is a reality. I have learned that, if as parents of students with special needs we don’t fight for the Cadillac, we will never be able to pass the wheel to our children so they can learn to drive on their own, just because the Chevrolet is too cheap and has no guarantees. It holds far fewer lifelong opportunities and has a shorter lifespan to boot.
Many of those who settle for the serviceable Chevrolet may never learn to drive because many times the engine won’t even start. The serviceable Chevrolet is outdated and puts our children in an inferior position compared to their non-disabled peers. To be honest, the serviceable Chevrolet is the representation of the life that no one wants to live.
The Chevrolet involves isolation, lack of expectations and conformism. On top of everything else, this car breaks down all the time because it’s so old and cheap, no one cares about investing in its maintenance anymore. And because we all know it has no future, we already know it doesn’t have the ability to take anyone anywhere. It’s like sitting in the front seat just to stare up at others passing by in much more attractive and sophisticated cars that you’ll never be able to obtain. The gap becomes greater and greater every day.
It is only when we fight for the Cadillac that we may get a better vehicle, and the reality is, even after fighting hard, you may never get it. And it’s true, there is much more involved when we talk about special education. There are still so many issues to be resolved before planning on disposing of the Chevrolets and aspiring to get Cadillacs for everyone.
First, we need to be objective and plan for the Cadillac’s high maintenance cost. That translates into more professional development, increased community awareness and exponentially more funding destined for our children’s education.
If so, why should the Supreme Court rule against the serviceable Chevrolet?
Because smart investment is all about looking forward. Therefore, investing today on a Cadillac may be the only way to give students with disabilities the ability to succeed and become the best possible version of themselves. The truth is, meeting the basic, bare minimum standards may serve to actually inhibit our children from ever gaining independence working towards living productive lives.