#InclusionDC Campaign

social media iconsBetween April 20 and April 27, use the hashtag #InclusionDC on your social media handlers and share the shortened link to our site: http://bit.ly/2opBuJP. This will help generate a buzz for the getting real bodies at DC Council on Thursday April 27, 2017 at 10am and again at 5pm. That’s right, there’ll be two DC Council public hearings for DC Public Schools.

What better opportunity to show your solidarity? Whether or not you are able to be present with us in the Room 500 of the Wilson Building at either 10am or 5pm, your on-line presence is needed! Here’s the plan:

What: The 7×10 Strategy – Between April 20 and April 27 (that’s 7 days), use the hashtag  #InclusionDC and share the shortened link http://bit.ly/2opBuJP at least 10 time each day. Set your reminders or just do what you normally do when you post your daily selfie. For the love of our children with disabilities, make each post count and be creative! Make sure to add the following details with your posts, such as:

  • Keep Early Stages in DC Public Schools – The goal is to ensure that Early Stages remains the central method of evaluations and reevaluations as required by the child find requirements for DC’s early intervention services for Part C of the IDEA impacting DC Public School students between the ages of 2 years 8 months and 5 years 10 months.
  • Improve Special Education in DC Public Schools – the journey of improvement for Special Education services impacting all ranges of youth in DC Public Schools begins in preschool.  It is at this critical stage in life when the mind is most mutable and impressionable, so it is extremely important to cultivate and observe with care.  For our little ones that have a variety of developmental challenges, studies show that early intervention works.
  • Children with Disabilities Matter – In  the book Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Complete Guide to Understanding Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and Other ASDs (2004) by Chantal Sicile-Kira, there is a chapter entitled “The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth, but Only the Bold Will Get a Decent Education for Their Child with Autism”.  In this chapter, Sicile-Kira states, “The status quo will not change unless parents become proactive, learn about their rights and responsibilites, and convince the special education administrators that they know what the effective teaching strategies are for their child with an [Autism Spectrum Disorder], and that they won’t go away until they get them, regardless of the school or ability level of the child. Be careful of the words of assurance from people in positions of power. Get promises in writing. If people don’t call when they are supposed to, keep calling until you get them on the phone. Document everything. Be polite, but be insistent. And most of all, be brave” (193) Why? Because our children matter.
  • Share Your Testimony – We want to encourage all that have a compelling story of the benefit of early intervention (no matter what state in the Union, you’ve experienced it) and/or how Early Stages helped your family receive those services.  Our goal is to encourage DC Council to increase the DCPS budget that adequately supports Early Stages so that we can take these threats of removal of services off the table and for DC Council to fully fund the Enhanced Special Education Services Act of 2014 so that Early Stages can meet the demands of the new positive and progressive guidelines that empowers our parents and children in stating that “(a) An LEA shall assess or evaluate a student who may have a disability and who may require special education services within 60 days from the date that the student was referred for an evaluation or assessment.” Here’s the link to sign up to testify to DC Council on April 27th. See you there!

If you need any assistance in launching the #InclusionDC campaign on your social media handler, drop us a comment and we’ll follow up promptly.  Thank you for your solidarity!

Dear Parents, Your Advocacy Matters.

To blog with us and share your story, please email motheringhands@mail.com with subject line “Inclusive Prosperity Blog Post”.

For many families, taking on the educational system can be very intimidating and/or disillusioning. The District of Columbia has a long and sordid history of maltreating people with developmental disabilities.  And while many things have improved since the prolonged fight for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Evans v. Washington, there is still a long road ahead to ensure that the District is in compliance with federal laws established to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities.  In the case of DC Public Schools, there are many systematic tools put in place through both DCPS and the Office of State Superintendent for Education (OSSE), that make it difficult for families to access the necessary services that are legally protected through high court decisions or through federal and/or local legislation.

Too often, families take on individual fights against a highly organized, albeit dysfunctional, school system and lose.  Simply, it seems like DCPS or OSSE put their bid on not providing free appropriate public education or settling for mediocre improvement metrics than making the necessary adjustments within an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to ensure that the District of Columbia, the nation’s capital, become a leader in Special Education. The school system tends to take the legal hammer against families that dare to sue for failure to provide FAPE, in part, because there are very little incentives to do otherwise.  For every family that musters up the energy, money and gumption to fight for their child in the schools or in the courts, there are fifty other families too exhausted, poor and fearful of negative consequences to engage. And for many other families, they put their blind trust into the school system and take at face value that this system is functional. For all these reasons, organizing and advocacy is essential.

There are many great individual schools with progressive principals and teachers that are exceptional in services in both general and special education.  Organization and advocacy protects them as well. to early childhood education, it is also an unfortunate fact that because children only spend such a small time of their academic experience in Pre-K that schools simply wait out the clock for when a “problem” family that demands what can be perceived as too much ages out of their rights to advocate at that level. And it is only the most proactive of parents,for example, that will seek the necessary legal counsel to build a sound defense that will back track to educational malpractice at the Pre-K level when their 8th grader still doesn’t know how to read or write with maladaptive social skills. And truthfully, the District of Columbia has a long history institutional dysfunctions with the treatment of people with developmental disabilities. To learn more about this history, read the post on The Lessons of the Evans Case and Advocacy for Children with Disabilities in DC.

There is safety in numbers. There is protection in legislation. And there is value to knowledge.  When parents come together with community members, including teachers and the school administration, political organizations, legal counsel and businesses, our voices are amplified. And when parents come together with these community partners to engage our elected officials, it changes everything.  Advocacy is beyond protest. Advocacy is constant, protracted engagement. There are many other ways to be more proactive and engaged in DCPS. Not only do studies show that all levels parent involvement raises the potential of a child’s academic success but parents united via PTAs and PTOs to expand the village, simply moves mountains. And it is in shifting mountains that miracles are possible for children with disabilities, who simply need a level playing field to have a shot at reaching their highest academic potential. To learn more about how to advocate to DC Public Officials, click here.

The Lessons of the Evans Case and Advocacy for Children with Disabilities in DC

A little over 40 years ago, on February 23, 1976, Evans v. Washington brought claims of mistreatment against Forest Haven, the city’s premiere institution for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This historic class action case not only highlighted the unconscious biases that led to low and high levels of government failure that stripped people with intellectual and developmental disabilities of basic protections of human rights, it also exposed the extent to which unchecked discrimination will go…

A little over 40 years ago, on February 23, 1976, Evans v. Washington brought claims of mistreatment against Forest Haven, the city’s premiere institution for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This historic class action case not only highlighted the unconscious biases that led to low and high levels of government failure that stripped people with intellectual and developmental disabilities of basic protections of human rights, it also exposed the extent to which unchecked discrimination will go. While the Evans case as closed and the District of Columbia has made vast improvements in some institutional practices regarding the treatment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, there remains an uphill battle to create true social equity that humanizes the experiences of people with these forms of disabilities and offers adequate support to ensure an improved quality of life for them.  As Councilmember Vincent Gray (D – Ward 7), who started his career at The Arc of DC, stated,

“We had a focal point for advocacy, and that was Forest Haven,” recalls Gray. “But we’re trying to create a community-based system that is going to be a lot more diffuse, a lot more spread out, a lot more diverse than what we have now. And the advocacy and monitoring efforts that are going to be necessary are going to be infinitely more difficult.” – Martin Austermuhle, “I. Fighting Forest Haven,” in From Institution to Inclusion (WAMU 88.5 News)

There is no place more evident of the need for continued advocacy and monitoring efforts to ensure that basic human rights and the rights of citizenship for people with developmental disabilities are protected than in the DC Public School system, more specifically, in Early Childhood Education.

The story of the Evans family, the lead plantiff in the Evans class action lawsuit, is one of great societal tragedy. The story, well captured in a WAMU 88.5FM Radio special edition entitled From Institution to Inclusion (2016), does not begin when Harold Evans filed a lawsuit in 1976 after the death of his first born daughter, Joy Evans, at Forest Haven. She was 17 years old. It is important to understand the story of Joy Evans and her family when she was diagnosed at 2 years old with a developmental disability and, like so many other children, was placed at Forest Haven where she not only suffered injuries at the hands of the institution, but also had few opportunities for recreation or education.

If it wasn’t for the courage of not only Harold Evans but his wife Betty Evans, who died in 2010, and the community support of advocates that fought diligently from the 1960s until now, there might still be a Forest Haven in Washington, DC.  And even with it’s closure in 1991, with the District rightfully owed its due credit for being one of the first cities in the United Stated to de-institutionalize the treatment of people with developmental disabilities, the same mentality that lazily classified children with developmental disabilities as unteachable and relegated to a “warehoused, out of sight, out of mind, 25 miles from the city,” is still dominant in the school system’s approach to this population.

There’s a national dialogue around best practices in the delivery of Special Education in the United States. It sometimes seems like the District of Columbia is a vacuum, isolated in its own self-contained environment, and does not actively participate or apply standard practices that other places in the country do. Where most states provide have a 60-days from the point of identification of a child suspected with a learning disability to be evaluated, the District of Columbia takes 120 days (4 months). For example, it makes it the only place in the country that takes that long to evaluate a child for a developmental delay of disability.  There has been progressive efforts to change this policy, with the City Council passing Bill 20-724,  the “Enhanced Special Education Services Act of 2014,” which was sponsored by former-Councilmember David Catania and co-sponsored by current Councilmembers Anita Bonds, Mary Cheh, David Grosso and Kenyan McDuffie.  Yet, as the law requires that evaluations take place within 60 days from parental consent or within 90 days of a referral, the Children’s Law Center reports that this provision can only go into effect once funding is available, of which the current budget (FY17) passed by the Mayor and DC Council failed to incorporate.

To be prepped for effective advocacy to ensure that the FY18 budget adequately funds Special Education in DC Public Schools, first we must organize and join the Inclusive Prosperity Coalition. Next, we must galvanize support far and wide from the community at large – especially people and organizations that have a historic dedication to protecting the rights of children with disabilities. And, most importantly, we must mobilize an effective campaign to reach the minds and hearts of our Mayor and DC City Council to do what is right and just for children with disabilities. Are you ready? Lets go! Join now.

It Takes a Village to Achieve Inclusive Prosperity in the District of Columbia

On March 7, 2017, Mayor Muriel Bowser unveiled the District of Columbia’s Economic Strategy for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2018. In the press release for this plan, Mayor Bowser stated,

“I am proud to share our new economic strategy, one that reflects DC’s values and helps ensure all Washingtonians share in our continued prosperity…Every day, we are showcasing how Washington, DC’s diverse and innovative community is driving our economy. I am confident that this framework will accelerate our progress as a leader for inclusive prosperity by creating opportunities that are accessible to all, supporting longtime businesses and residents, and benefitting our most disadvantaged communities.”

With this in mind, the Inclusive Prosperity Coalition promotes the educational rights children with disabilities in the District of Columbia as deserving of free appropriate public education (FAPE), as protected by section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1997 (IDEA). Prior to the IDEA, over 4 million children with disabilities in the United States were denied appropriate access to public education – many of whom were denied entry into public schools altogether, while others were place in segregated classrooms, or in regular classrooms without adequate support for their special needs (Katsiyannis, Yell, Bradley, 2001; Martin, Martin, Terman, 1996; US Department of Education ,2010; American Psychological Association, 2017).

If, in fact, the children are the future then it is imperative that concept of inclusion be framed in the context of social justice and equitable access to things available to all citizens.  To this end, it is important to define the “inclusion”.

Inclusion is a process in which persons with disabilities or special health care needs are actively participating in recreation, social, educational and developmental opportunities along with peers without disabilities through:

  • Providing opportunities for choice
  • Providing necessary support to ensure recreation is fun and matches skills with challenge
  • Creating environments for meaningful engagement
  • Not a one-time event or separate service
  • Process of learning, preparing, experiencing and growth with each person in each recreation opportunity

When it comes to education, inclusion is protected by Federal and District law.  Unfortunately, even with existing statute, there are many cultural barriers that prevent individuals, organizations and even policy makers in government agencies (including and especially the public school system) from actualizing these legislative guidelines protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities.  There are many unconscious biases that prevent people from doing what’s right and necessary to promote the best interest of individuals, particularly children, with disabilities.

To this end, a key part of successful advocacy for the rights of children with disabilities is education through cultural competency training.  It is trough these sorts of training that transformation can take place inside and outside the political process of budgets, policies and legislation.

Why Should You Get Involved?

The goal of early childhood advocacy is to improve the lives of children and families by influencing legislators’ and policymakers’ opinions and activities.  To carry out their responsibilities, public officials require and welcome the advice that well-informed people (like you) provide.

Right now, parents advocates of children with disabilities and our allies currently have a unique opportunity to speak up for the rights of our children in Washington, DC.  To learn more about the proposed changes to Early Stages that is likely to have a negative impact to access to FAPE, read the post entitled “Early Stages and Early Childhood Education in DC”.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: SEE THE LETTER TO CHANCELLOR OF DC PUBLIC SCHOOLS ANTWAN WILSON FROM DC COUNCIL MEMBER DAVID GROSSO, CHAIR OF THE COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION

Sign the Thank You Letter to Councilmember David Grosso.

Here are ways to help build this campaign:

Visit the Advocacy page for more tips on how to help build 

  • Blog with us, share your story
  • Write a letter, email and call to your Council Member
  • Invite your Council Member to visit your school and learn about the Early Childhood Education program there
  • Provide your Council Member with information or educational material on disabilities in early childhood
  • Build an effective media campaign
  • Testify and/or attend a Council Hearing for the Committee on Education

Become a member the Inclusive Prosperity Coalition, please visit email motheringhands@mail.com, or sign up here.

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