As the end of Sebastian’s freshman year of high school approached, a decision I’d made and suppressed months earlier resurfaced from my gut.
Early in the school year, one of Sebastian’s general education teachers refused to comply with his IEP (Individualized Education Program) – the legal document created by his school team which details his strengths, weakness, goals, modifications and accommodations. Sebastian’s case manager spoke to this teacher several times in an effort to rectify the situation but the refusal continued.
I took this as an opportunity to teach Sebastian more about his IEP and explained that it’s an instruction manual of sorts for his teachers. We read his modifications together and I made it clear that his teacher was failing to do what was expected. We discussed self-advocacy and how there’s a time to fight hard and a time to walk away.
His case manager offered a few options and Sebastian decided to drop the class. I supported his decision, even though I wasn’t happy. I worried that by leaving the class, we were reinforcing this teacher’s inappropriate behavior. I feared we’d taught, even just one student in the class, that Sebastian didn’t belong there.
But I also knew my son made the right decision.
A teacher who sets a child up to fail by withholding modifications and then places failed tests on a table so everyone can see it doesn’t exhibit best teaching practices, if you ask me.
A teacher who gives a child a trip permission slip and privately says, “Not everyone has to go,” isn’t interested in inclusion.
This teacher wasn’t going to change their behavior even if forced to comply with an IEP. As I like to say, you can’t teach something to someone who isn’t ready or willing to learn.
I thought about speaking with the principal, but I didn’t. I didn’t want one non-compliant teacher to overshadow the good work of Sebastian’s other general and special educators. One non-compliant teacher didn’t negate all he’d gained from his track experiences.
Months passed and I continued to justify my silence and push down the regret that occasionally crept up my esophagus.
Then something happened in my community.
A family appeared before the zoning board to request a variance so they could install a wheelchair ramp outside their home for their 15 year old son. The family’s first meeting didn’t go well. A neighbor took issue with their request. I rushed to catch the end of the second meeting because despite the fact that an architect had submitted structurally sound plans for the ramp, the board said some unfortunate things like perhaps this family had bought the wrong house.
My gut flamed. This culture, where one group tells another where they do and don’t belong, can not be encouraged. This child and his family belong in their home. I met them, and spoke to Disability Rights NJ to learn about the Fair Housing Act.
And then I stumbled on Audre Lorde’s “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.”
Here are some of the things Lorde said:
My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.
We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid.
And it is never without fear – of visibility, of the harsh light of scrutiny and perhaps judgement, of pain, of death. But we have lived through all of those already, in silence, except death.
…you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside.
…it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.
I thought hard about what fears anchor me to silence. The fear of judgement. Of being misunderstood. Of being hated. Of being ridiculed.
Lorde is right. I have experienced all these things at some point and continued silence will not rid me of fear.
So I spoke to Sebastian’s principal. He was supportive.
Then I join many others in my community and spoke publicly in support of my new friends at their third zoning board meeting. I don’t know what good my words did, but my gut is at ease and I intend to remain a part of the conversation.