Just When I Thought I Was Being Too Tough…

Published on July 12, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

I will not ask stupid questions

Being suspicious of the “establishment” is a bit of an occupational hazard for me as a special education attorney.  When you’re taking on local and state governments on a daily basis, it becomes easy to believe that the system is skewed.  It probably doesn’t help that I was raised with the theory:  “just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not all out to get you.”  Still, I try not to give in to this world view too often.   But every so often, something happens that validates my worst fears about school districts.

I’ve discovered over the years that I learn the most about the attitudes of educators by how they talk when they don’t think anybody from the “outside” is paying attention.

Most of the meetings I attend for my clients are held in the public school where the student attends or would otherwise be attending.  Sometimes I arrive early, and I will usually be seated in the main office while I wait for my clients to arrive.  Because I guess I don’t resemble what many envision a lawyer to “look like,” often the adults coming in and out of the office have no idea who I am.  So, they start talking as if I’m not there.

I am just astounded by how many things are said in my presence which reflect a basic disrespect towards children who are struggling in school or their parents.

Like the time when the middle school kid came into the office in tears, asking to use the phone to call her mother, and the adults chastised her:  “AGAIN?  How many times do you need to call her?  What is that, three times this week?”  Or the little boy who came in to complain to the Principal that some other boys had written something mean in his yearbook, and he was asked to wait sitting next to the two boys who he had accused.  Not one adult, other than me apparently, thought there was anything inappropriate about having this poor kid sit there while the other boys ask him why he tattled.  Or there was the time I overheard a Guidance Counselor telling another school district employee, loud enough that anyone in the office could hear it “I don’t know why that kid is applying to private schools, we all know THOSE PARENTS can’t afford it!”

Thumbs Down Times Two

Despite these experiences, they are not the “norm,” and I usually operate from the perspective that most educators are trying to do the right thing.

Yes, I hear and write about the occasional outrageous adult who works in special education, but I like to believe such individuals are rare.  Then today I decided to Google the term “special education blog,” as part of a research project I was doing.  Okay, who am I kidding, I was checking to see if mine was listed.

To my horror, I found the following site on the FIRST Google page: www.Tard-blog.com.

Yes, that’s “tard” as in “retard.” And the 15 Minutes I spent browsing this site (about as much as I could stomach) verified that the content of this blog is even more offensive than its name.  Who would write a blog with a title like this, and which openly mocks and vilifies kids with disabilities and their parents?  Surely this must be some disgruntled regular education administrator or teacher frustrated with having to comply with the IDEA and No Child Left Behind, I thought.  Nope.  Tard-blog.com was written by a special education teacher.

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Okay, let me clear up a few things that don’t really matter but will surely be brought up by those who don’t find this as incredibly offensive as I do:  1) the most recent blog post made on this site was apparently in 2005; and 2) the special education teacher who authored the site is apparently retired, so the owner of the blog is taking applications for a new author.  And no, I’m not making that up.  So, really this isn’t a currently active blog and it doesn’t at present have an author.

Well, I feel so much better, how about you?

While I am relieved that this particularly offensive educator is no longer teaching children with disabilities, it really doesn’t matter, because the attitude reflected by this site is not unique.

Here is a brutal truth:  there are a number of people who chose to become educators or administrators because they like the power.  They like being in a position of authority, and it makes them feel good to lord that authority over kids, who have little power.  Unfortunately, when you get a person like that, one who wants the glory of control but doesn’t really appreciate the responsibility of it, you are asking for trouble.  But when such a person chooses special education as their area of focus, it is because they know that their victims will be especially powerless.

It is not just offensive, it’s scary.

This kind of attitude is one of the main reasons that so many of my clients who are the parents of children with significant disabilities want to make regular school observations.  Often the administration sees it as an affront, or an attempt by the parents to control the school staff.  But that really isn’t it at all.

Most of my clients want to observe their children in school to make sure that they are safe.

It must be terrifying to send your child to school every day knowing that he or she is unable to tell you if something wrong or inappropriate happened there.   This is a fear many parents have not just about what happens at school itself, but on the bus and playground as well.

So, next time a school district lawyer gives me grief when a parent requests regular observations of their child in school, and tells me that my clients are being paranoid for worrying that something really awful might be happening, I think I’ll just refer them to Tard-blog.com.

4 Responses to Just When I Thought I Was Being Too Tough…

  1. Craig
    July 12th, 2009 | 9:31 pm

    Jennifer,

    This post and your work is so important. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I landed on the “tard blog” site. It made me ill. I hope with all my heart that not only do they not get another author for that monstrosity, but the site dies completely.

    But, because it is an example of the most heinous thought processes that still exist in our world, it should remain for us to point to when people tell us that we are over-reacting or paranoid about a lack of understanding and compassion for special needs folks.

    Keep fighting and Many Blessings,

    Craig

  2. Jennifer Laviano
    July 12th, 2009 | 9:57 pm

    Thanks so much, Craig…I actually debated internally whether to even give that vile site any more attention at all, rather than letting it die its much overdue death, but decided in favor of your consideration that it is necessary as a reminder to us that such hatred and ignorance does indeed exist within our special education community. Thanks, as always for reading and participating, and for the work you do as well.

  3. Susan Cartier LIebel
    July 13th, 2009 | 1:01 pm

    Having once represented a student and his parent who were being villified by a school board, I do not envy what you do and what you face to right a tremendous wrong.

    While power is an issue, become a special education educator is also considered a ‘good career choice’ for those who want to go into education. But does that mean those who are making this ‘good career choice’ have the compassion, the patience, the fortitude and the moral fiber to handle both the children and the administrators as they need to be handled. Sometimes it’s not power. Sometimes it’s ignorance of what is involved that renders these teachers ineffective and harmful. Now put them under the guidance of a power-mongering administrator who manipulates the system?

    It’s not pretty.

  4. Korbi
    July 13th, 2009 | 2:06 pm

    How do sites like this still exist today? Absolutely sickening. Thanks for sharing this.

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