Friday, January 23, 2009

Time for a chat, Mr. Obama!

WOW! We finally have someone in the White House who is doing more than paying lip service to IDEA and special education; President Obama's White House is actively seeking communication from us. This is a very exciting change from the last several administrations. So go to Policy Pitch and find out 10 ways to reach Mr. Obama-- go on, you know what to do. Disperse people, there is nothing to see here! Go about your business.

Thanks Mark for this great post today! (You can read Mark's blog by clicking this link.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The law is the law

The beauty of the rule of law is that it is here to remind us what to do when we really would like to forget. Like when you are driving down the highway and some lunatic cuts you off and nearly causes a wreck and you might want to retaliate, but you think about your insurance rates, and the moving violations.

Well, the current budget crisis is a wreck. And fortunately we have a few laws in place to remind us how to behave. When things are good, it is not so hard. I never feel road rage when there is no traffic, only when I am hemmed in. That is self interest at work. Laws are more important when the right thing is not the convenient thing. Even in good times, districts needed a law to remind them that special education students had a right to play on the playgrounds, and a right to be in school with appropriate supports. Now in bad times, they need a big reminder.

The law is the law. IDEA is a very strong law, written as a remedy during a time when students with disabilities were legally excluded from schools. It is a good law that reminds us to do the right thing, and it needs to be reinforced. The difficulty of the law is that sometimes things must go badly awry before a remedy can occur... one cannot press assault charges until the assault has already occurred.

Hopefully no students will be hurt as boards of educations are doing the impossible task of balancing budgets in the current crisis.

After all, the law is the law, whether you use it for hindsight or for foresight.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Presidents Helping Children

I'm off to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama as so many people are this morning. Presidents have had a role in the civil rights movement  since it began with the writing of the constitution-- our first proslavery document. Historically, presidents affect children's lives in many areas: health, nutrition, schooling, housing, childcare and safety. 

Children did not fare well over the last eight years; more are in poverty, more are without health insurance, NAEP scores have gone down and the list of laments goes on. There is much to be done, and this administration is poised to make a positive difference for our nation's youth. We have so many needs and hopes right now, but one of mine is still to fund IDEA this year. No stimulus package is complete without it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Birthday Dr. King

The history of the United States of America could be told as the history of a nation that struggled toward the vision enshrined in its Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. Slowly and inexorably, this nation has extended these rights to life, liberty to all it's citizens whether cream colored, brown or black, whether male or female, under 21 or 18 or over, whether ambulatory, seeing, disabled or not... eventually we even envision these right extended to all the world's people in our great movement to spread democracy. 

But this inclusive vision was not always so. And is under constant threat both overt and subtle. In the beginning, we are often told, only white males over 21 who owned property could vote. In some colonies, they also had to belong to the state church (told less frequently). 

When the states and the new federal government could not resolve certain differences (like who should be allowed to vote) the argument was settled by reserving these rights to the states. Thus, states were allowed to set the criteria for voting rights, and by extension all others, like property rights, rights to attend school. 

Thus was born the civil rights movement, for what could be more in conflict than the freedoms envisioned in the Declaration and the Bill of Rights and a state prohibition to attend school because a student is female, or has a darker complexion than his peers, or cannot walk? 

Most people do not realize that the history of disability rights goes back as far as the history of civil rights for women and African Americans. In fact, the years that Dr. King and Malcolm X were working for the full rights of African Americans, people with disabilities were doing some of the same work. And these years were preceded by centuries of work to slowly extend the freedoms we all cherish to people of every color, every creed, every ability, every gender (well, at least two genders and more in places)... to every one. 

Yet this is where the rubber meets the road, where the admonition sometimes attributed to Jefferson, "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance," becomes real. For intentions are not enough. 

IDEA needs to be fully funded to be real. Without funding it is de jure, and not de facto law. It cannot be real. We must hold our newest president, and ourselves, to his promise to fund IDEA and bring more of our citizens into full protection under the law, and full citizenship. For more on the history of disability rights, see: