Passionate About Pittsburgh
and the Moms Who Live Here

Human Rights and the Right to an Education

On this day in 1948, the United States General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human rights. Two years later, all states and invited organizations were invited to declare December 10th as Human Rights Day.

So today is a day to stand up for someone who doesn’t have a voice? Who will you stand for?

What cause fires you up? What hits close to home for you that you find infinitely unfair or in need of attention? It could be something on a bigger stage such as protecting the environment, preventing human trafficking, or starting a campaign to demand more specific cancer research. Standing up for human rights can also be more local, or more intimate. Your stand could be as simple as protecting your own child from a bully, or donating to a local food pantry. Whatever your passion, today is a day to make it known and to help others in need.

I wear my passion on my sleeve every day as a special needs parent. I have three children. Two are on varying degrees of the autism spectrum, and one is not able to function in what we consider “normal” public school. He could not fight or win that battle by himself, so for his rights and the rights of others like him, I stepped in.
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My son struggled in public schools from kindergarten until the time he was finally placed in a special school for autistic children in seventh grade. The size of the schools, the amount of children in each classroom, the pace of learning, even with whatever assistance we fought to get provided, and the bullying because he was “different,” caused sensory meltdowns, failure to learn or retain academically, and eventually such a severe anxiety disorder he had to be pulled from school altogether for a time.

I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression. I know many schools, teachers, and others in education truly care about children like my son. I know many others like him get the help they need and even thrive in public school. My fight centered on one issue; if what is being done is not working, then things need to change, and change immediately. If it doesn’t change, then it’s time for action.
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Like all moms, I see the potential in my son. He is so much smarter than he was being given credit for. He’s an amazing artist and has a gift for understanding technology. He also has a compassionate teaching aspect to his personality as well. He loves to help others. I also know my child is a visual learner, like many individuals on the autism spectrum. Learning via hearing someone speak doesn’t work for him. Long books, lists, and study guides overwhelm him. Writing is a sensory issue that physically hurts him. Socially he frequently misinterprets people’s actions and has issues holding conversations with those who aren’t used to him and his quirks. While therapies over the years have helped eased some of these issues, he is who he is, and nothing will ever change the fact he has autism and is going to need some extra help.

Parents of children with special needs go into the public school system with the comfort their child has the same right to an education as any other “normal” student. Sometimes, getting access to those specific needs your child requires is not only not as easy as we think, but it actually requires taking action and fighting for your child to get the services he or she requires. Sometimes it’s a matter of a school and the family to simply get on the same page about care. Many times an IEP, behavior plan, or 504 is required. When all of the above fails, it is then time to stand up for a basic human right; the right of your child to receive a proper education.

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I fought two school districts in seven years for my son. I have moved my kids to new schools and lost a home to foreclosure. I went to the media. I coordinated online protests and physical events and fundraisers. I sought the help of advocates and attorneys. I have made more enemies than I probably realize. I knew if I gave up though, my child would never have the chance to reach his full potential. I would not stand to see him suffer, and I would not permit his being lost or given up on.

This school year, after special education attorneys took our case and agreed my son was not being given a proper education, he was granted outside placement and allowed to attend a school better suited for him. I bet most parents aren’t even aware something like that is an option to them.

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It is hard to simplify the battle our family endured to assure my son could go to an environment where he can learn how he learns and thrive, but I wanted to give anyone in our situation hope the battles can be won. You just can’t give up, no matter how many years it takes.

Under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,) EVERY child with special needs is entitled to an education and services that help them. Many times children don’t get these services, and families aren’t made aware they exist, simply due to money. Several states and school budgets make cuts to special education and other services, and this care can be expensive. So if your child needs the care, it is up to the parents to step in and demand it happen. There are countless families who don’t want to ruffle any feathers or make any enemies in the school system, so they don’t fight. Others feel they can’t afford to fight. Any parent can, and should, step in no matter what obstacles are in the way. No one has the right to deny a child their education or things to make getting that education easier. It’s Federal Law. If a school district or lawmaking entity is denying your child services, they are doing much more than hurting the student, they are breaking the law.

Advocates, nonprofits, and attorneys do exist to help no matter what a family’s income. People can also reach out to state lawmakers and their representatives in Congress for help. It’s their job to make sure these laws are followed, and many of their offices are more than willing to help. If worse comes to worst, put the need for help out there publicly. Our family has made several lifelong friends and found immense support just asking others for help. Much of the help won’t cost your family a dime either.

My stand for human rights lies in the arena of special needs education. It has not stopped at my own son. The world may miss out on the next Bill Gates, Lin-Manuel Miranda, or Neil Degrasse Tyson if some of these children are left behind. The concepts, inventions, or policies our nation and world need may never be implemented if these children are allowed to fail academically. All of us should have a vested interest in fighting for them.

 

 

 

 

 

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