In a few weeks, my wife and I will become deeply engaged in a continuing due process legal action against our son’s school district. After two marathon Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings resulting in an unacceptable classroom offering, we decided to legally challenge their placement decision. In turn, the school district also filed a due process action against us. Our son is a 12 year old with Down syndrome who currently attends inclusive 6th grade classes under a legal “stay put” order until our case is settled in court. We believe he belongs in a typical classroom exposed to regular academic curriculum with his peers. The district believes he belongs in an isolated classroom where he will learn functional academics or “life skills”.
In my opinion, many parents of children with Down syndrome today choosing and pursuing an inclusive academic plan for their children are now facing an emerging category of discrimination I will define as intellectual discrimination. Like other forms of discrimination, intellectual discrimination segregates children with mental disabilities into separate classroom environments away from other typical students. We believe special needs parents want and deserve choices for their children and should not have to fight in courtrooms to prevent them from being shoved into boxes. A friend of ours who also has a son with Down syndrome summarized it best by proclaiming “we are blacks in the south”.
Since the 1970s, the United States government has made steady progress in addressing and resolving special education inequities with the passage of several landmark laws. Lately, however, we have boarded some bizarre time machine that has returned us to the year 1955. Upon our arrival in the state of Alabama, we witness the arrest of a 42 year old black woman named Rosa Parks who refused to move to the back of the bus. Instead of being asked to move to the back of the bus with the colored folk, we’re being asked to move to the other side of the campus with the disabled kids. In my honest opinion, you can slice it and dice it any way you want. Discrimination is discrimination period.
So, we fight on with unwavering determination. We don’t yet have a national advocate fighting for us as the blacks did with Dr Martin Luther King but remain a persistent community of parent warriors. Each of us is fighting our unique battles inside the arena of an enormous war to acquire what we desire for our children. We are educated, organized, pissed off and are not going quietly into the night.
Fasten your seat belts people. It’s game on.