My heart is pounding. I walk towards the dais, adjust the mic on the podium and take a deep breath in. I only have two minutes. How in the world do you sum up something so important in only two minutes? How do you properly convey the heartache of seeing your son given less, simply because he has autism, in only two minutes? How do you appropriately communicate the disappointment and anger created due to the fact that you had no other choice but to home school this precious boy? Deprive him of peers. Of community. Of belonging. None of it they were providing anyway.
You can't. But I had to try.
Recently I received a message on Facebook from a sweet Momma of a General Education student in Greyson's grade. Grey did inclusion 30 minutes a day, a few times a week. “My son was in Mrs. (awesome teacher's) class when Greyson would come in. He would see you guys in the parking lot in the mornings and tell me all about him. I asked if he ever played or talked to Greyson. He said no, because “he has autism and they keep him separate.” It made me sad because my son would have benefited from a relationship with Greyson as well.”
These are the kind of words that almost crush you with their beautiful, heartbreaking honesty. So much pain and so much beauty in those words. I still hold them close, and I can still feel their weight. I'm so glad she told me, because I know segregating children with autism makes an impression- a deep groove in a pattern of thinking for both the segregated and the main group. But to hear it expressed in the beautiful and honest words of a child was something I needed to hear.
The children in seperate autism classrooms are segregated in old portable classrooms, approximately a football field away from the main school. There are no General Education students that spend all day in these portables. It's not legal or ethical.
A couple of mornings later, I woke up and knew I needed to turn my thoughts and pain into action. I decided to make a statement at the next school board meeting, reminding them that the segregation of children with special needs is a violation of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under IDEA, separate schools or removal from the general education class should only happen when a disability is so severe that supplementary aids and services can’t provide a student with an appropriate education. I also wanted to share some of the struggles we have encountered which led us to home school Grey.
I always ask God to show me the next thing to do, and to make it obvious. This was obvious. Going in, I knew that my words probably won’t create the change needed within. I’ve been a broken record on this topic for over two years. However, I did it anyway because when you see something very wrong, you shouldn’t just walk away. I did it so my son could see that I have his back always. I did it for every other kid with autism who deserves these rights too.
What if history's greats didn't carry their messages because of trepidation over how it was received? What if Martin Luther King Jr. didn't give his "I Have a Dream Speech", because he figured racism would still exist after his Speech? Not giving that speech wasn't an option for him. He saw something he believed in so wholly- he died for it. Let that register for a minute. Sometimes you need to speak because what you have to say simply can not remain silent in your body for a single moment longer.
I spent a couple of days editing and re-editing my words in between home school and drop off and pick up and therapy. I talked myself into and out of going to the Board meeting every eleven minutes. We couldn't find a sitter, so I was going alone.
As I drove to the meeting downtown on the evening of May 23rd, I thought about the path advocacy has taken me on over the past three years. Beyond Principal and Teacher meetings and having 7,000 emails to administration ignored. I've attended LCAP (Local control and accountability plan), Bond Measure and Budget Community Meetings. When Parker was in the hospital- I left his side to attend a "Search for a Superintendent" meeting to make sure I voiced that we needed someone who valued Special Education. I've met with our Assemblyman's Education person (she's awesome). I've spoken at Board Meetings. I had our Board of Trustee area member to my house to give him a presentation on autism. I met with the Board President to discuss Special Education, and teach him about IEPs. I gave a presentation on the importance of Inclusion to the Assistant Superintendent of Special Education. And finally, I met with the Superintendent to discuss Special Education. In a District of 74,000 students, I've covered a lot of ground.
But there are miles to go before I sleep.
As I made my statement, I periodically looked up to find only a couple of faces looking back. The majority of the Board were occupied doing something else. Writing, reading from a binder... I was...confused. I thought people ran for the Board because they were inspired by education. I thought they welcomed real world feedback they didn't see from the dais. I thought that a mother talking about a Federal Law violation- as well as the most precious thing in the world to her- warranted attention. They didn't share that thought.
The next day I started angry crying to my husband. "It's not that I care that they ignored me. I care that they didn't WANT to pay attention. Why don't they care about this? Why doesn't this matter to them?"
A couple of days later I received the most amazing packet of letters from my dear friend Heather. In April, Heather invited me to her 4th grade classroom in a neighboring District to read about autism to her General Education Students. I went and shared a story I wrote, and told the kids all about Greyson and Parker. I shared Greyson's communication app, Proloquo 2 Go with the students, and showed them how Greyson can use it to speak. We had so much fun together.
The letters were Thank You letters from the students. And Michael and I sat and read each one with tears in our eyes. The School Board may not have been listening to me, but these students WERE.
"Thank you for coming to see our class to speak and talk about your son and how autism is different and the same. I would love to help children with autism."
"I really enjoyed the book and how you told us how you saw autism as a super power because I've thought about autism as the same way."
"I learned that kids with disabilities are the same as me and you."
"I want you to come back and tell us more."
These amazing, hilarious, energetic, hopeful children were listening. That's the thing about our stories- they must be told. Whether everyone or no one is listening. You never know when you are going to make an impact. The more we all actively advocate around the globe, the more impact we can make. Who is with me?
So much love,
Greyson + Parker's Proud Mom- Chrissy
To speak at a Fresno Unified Board meeting watch THIS. The next meeting is June 13th, and then they are out for the Summer.