I’ve previously discussed ways in which school districts can try to drive a wedge between teenagers and their parents in a manner which benefits the school. But I have been seeing so much more of this lately, and in much worse ways, that I felt the issue needed revisiting. Just in the last few months, I have learned of some outrageous examples of school districts trying to undermine a parents authority with students, including “your parents want to put you in special ed” and “did you know your father wants to send you to a private school?”
If “well, your parents want us to…” is the beginning of any sentence delivered to a child with disabilities by a teacher or administrator, trouble is on the horizon unless the parents have actually authorized this conversation.
What is the common thread in these comments? Well, it seems to be that the parents are advocating for more support or services on their child’s behalf, and the school is trying to avoid providing it. What better way to do that than to plant the seeds of disagreement in the child himself, so that he can go home and fight with his parents about how he doesn’t need it? This is especially effective when dealing with older students, who are usually sensitive to anything that might make them appear “different.”
Educators who decide to utilize this strategy make me want to cry. It so saddens me that these adults must, at least on some level, share the very worst preconceptions about individuals with disabilities, because they exploit all of the fears and perceived stigma associated with special education.
Most of the time, though, my sadness passes, and then the outrage and anger set in. That’s about the time that I send a letter to the school district’s attorney, reminding them how much such behavior smacks of retaliation.
This behavior has to stop. Few things could be more harmful than undermining a parent’s respectability with their own child…especially if that child is already vulnerable and struggling. Moreover, does not the school recognize how dangerous it is to send a message to its students that there are some adults in authority whose rules they should follow, and others whose rules are optional? That’s just not going to end well for anyone.
Until a student reaches the age of majority, educational decision-making lies with the parents, and they are authorized by the IDEA to act on their child’s behalf until the transfer of rights.
Any discussions with students about what the adults in his or her life might be arguing over in this regard should be handled with the knowledge, involvement, and agreement of the parents. Otherwise, it will be hard to interpret attempts to erode the parent/child relationship in order to avoid having to fund additional services as anything other than coercion.