I am an an Advocate for Special Education Families across the country. I have two teens on the autism spectrum and am a single mom. As you are likely aware, the diagnoses ratio has gone up considerably and public funding has been cut drastically for our families.
As a proponent of responsible spending by our public schools and the IDEA Law, I plead with you and other law makers to level the playing field between the public schools and the families they are required to serve by law. Parents of children with autism and special needs have an already scarce resource pool, yet, on average, families are spending up to 30 hours a week attending to education and advocacy needs that should be being provided by the public schools. This inordinate amount of time is spent, not only due to their enormous commitment to their children, but because special education departments throughout the country continue to deny services or provide them in with bare-minimum compliance of the law, leaving families no choice but to pick up the pieces or pursue the Department of Education's Due Process.
As you also may know, legal battles are energy consuming, labor intensive and expensive. At an already enormous disadvantage in these three resource areas, families are also faced with the fact that the schools are given unlimited resources to fulfill legal expectations in these legal proceedings. For example, office assistants to organize evidence, copy machines and office supplies, witnesses employed by the district and whose promotability depends upon their compliance, time and of course money to defend their right to not provide services which they are publicly employed by tax dollars to provide. In addition, and most significantly, schools are provided the right to not only hire the attorney of their choice if the need arrises, but use public dollars to contract attorneys who strategically instruct the school administration and staff to maneuver through these laws to 'save money'. Did you know that in several states 88% of parents, whether represented or not, lose their battles in a court system designed to protect and include families of children with special needs? That is outrageous and completely unfair. The spirit of the federal IDEA Law must be honored.
I would like to provide you with some compelling data and several heart-breaking stories of families and their fights to attain services here in Washington and throughout the country. Call me traditional, but I believe that the tax dollars paying attorney fees, could be spent more responsibly on OUR KIDS. Some districts spend up to 45k per year on litigation that THEY initiate, fully knowing the disadvantage the families are at. In addition, middle class, working families are unable to fight back, due to not only their lack of knowledge, but because finding representation and gathering evidence and witnesses is a monstrous time and money consumer. We need our resources to continue be the incredible parents we already are and we want our public schools to stop harassing us, on the tax-payers dime. This is asking very little, considering the tremendous daily commitment we already show up for.
Please, join me in leveling the playing field and limit public schools' ability to use our tax dollars against us. Special Education Law should be more than just an IDEA. We need your help and protection as a lawmaker and a human. Our families deserve better.
Thank you for your time and commitment to creating positive change in our state and country.
Empowerment, Love and Peace,
Jennifer Hagen, Founder of Guru V People and IEPeeps