Did you ever think about how peculiar the month of February is? Every four years it gets an additional day for Leap Year. We use February to make the math of the universe adapt for our planet’s time keeping. A big job for a little month! February starts with the myth of the groundhog seeing its shadow. Mid-month is Valentine’s Day, now merging with Presidents’ Day to celebrate both Washington and Lincoln. February is also Black History Month. There is no other month like this, including the difficulty of even saying its name. The famous children’s rhyme gives February special due:
30 days have September,
April, June, and November.
31 have all the rest
Save February with 28
And in leap year 29.
We celebrate increasing amounts of sunlight, the foreshadowing of spring, and the gifts of the first and sixteenth Presidents. We see and hear the ongoing history of the fight for equality, overcoming bigotry, and thinking beyond skin color and cultural differences. The elasticity and flexibility of February features only one present day commemoration- Black History Month. Racism’s fight is a long way from finished, with other minority groups grasping the metaphor. Hispanics, gays, and yes, the disabled share in the struggle for emancipation, education, and employment. Of those, it is education that frees the mind and spirit, and leads to employment- even in this economy. We know this, but what do we do about it?
All of us who are committed to special education as a right need to re-examine our attitudes and actions. We seek both old and new ways to shake up the system and bring sunlight, love, and equity to our children. For me, that means bringing past skills to a new area of IDEA. That is early intervention. I have absolutely promised myself that under no circumstances would I ever consider doing another due process hearing. Never, never, never. Recently, a two year old child in New Jersey’s early intervention system was denied services by the State because the parent could not afford the co-pay assigned. No prior written notice was provided to the family about the co-pay or when the amount of the co-pay was to increase. So the parent stopped the services because she could not afford them. After reading the child’s file, watching him play, and talking with the parent, I decided to represent her in a hearing. Never say never. Her story was compelling. And it came at a time that the federal Part C regulations of IDEA are brand new. New Jersey’s state regulations for early intervention are also new. No early intervention family has filed for due process within this new structure of both state and federal law. This was to be the first. When the parent filed for a hearing in January, no one at any level knew how to handle it. The goal, of course, is to settle the case if possible. But the parent had tried everything she was told to do and could not make anyone listen. Only when she filed for due process was she taken seriously. This is an old story in baby clothes. Nobody, anyplace she went, knew how to shake this case loose. Odd, because the answers are all there in the law. I don’t want to do this again, but someone who knew how needed to do it properly the first time around. In the face and body of this adorable two year old was the crisis of light versus dark, love versus hate, and justice versus injustice. We cannot run back into our warm, comfortable burrow because we see our shadow. There is work to do.
Recently at our church a program featured the importance of helping one, not everyone. The thought of helping everyone who asks can overload and scare us. And it is often an excuse for doing nothing. But helping only one…that we can do without embarrassment while refusing others. Many of us are shut down in the face of the deterioration of the protections our children are to receive from IDEA. Nobody enforces the law at any level, so it’s self-enforcement or nothing. We can’t help this big problem in our day to day lives. But one by one, one person helping one other person is the beginning. You are not an advocate, you say. Or if you are, you can do no more. Yes you can. You can help just one child with your own unique skills and light your proverbial candle in the dark. Open your life so that the person who needs you can find you. And one by one, child by child, family by family, a dent is made in the bureaucratic wall. We need to be as flexible and elastic as the month of February, adding and subtracting days as needed. Being committed to life means more than a political or religious viewpoint. It is your personal and active commitment to improve life for someone else that matters. That is how we can save special education and the next generation of children.
Have a piece of chocolate. Read about Frederick Douglas. He said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Find your place in today’s special education, for it is a brave, new world. Keep love in your heart, but when a good fight presents itself, jump into the ring.