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This is a civil rights movement, make no mistake about that
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Alex in Graduation Gown hugging MomSusan picture Susan Bruce, COPAA Board Member, South Carolina

If you had told me 20 years ago, I would be writing this for the blog of a national civil rights organization, I would have looked at you like you were crazy.  20 years ago, I knew nothing of the disability world, nor really knew anything about education.  Even 15 years ago I would have told you the public education system was wonderful.  My oldest son, now 23, just fit into that cookie cutter that public schools expect children to fit into. 

It wasn’t until my twin boys, Blake and Alex who are now 19, got to elementary school that I discovered public school was not a good nor happy place for many of our children.  My boys have both struggled and suffered; one on the spectrum, bullied relentlessly, sometimes even by educators, struggled not only academically, but also just to fit in and be accepted. The other so incredibly bright, yet unable to keep up, suffered trauma as well; self esteem issues along with low expectations due to his inability to read. Despite this, I know that really, my children are lucky.  In my position, I hear even more horrific stories than that of my own.

Now the good news, my twin boys graduated this month, both with regular high school diplomas, one off to college, the other beginning a full-time job.  None of this would have been possible without the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and some of the fiercest advocates (COPAA, Parent Training and Information Centers and the people at Wrightslaw) in this country, who mentored me, trained me and allowed me more than occasionally to vent about the travesty of public education for not only my children but others like them.  As a matter of fact, I was told by many school officials that I was expecting too much of my children.  All this from a system which I still consider arrogant, uneducated and lacking empathy much of the time.   Even now, they still haven’t gotten that ALL means ALL.  As parents, advocates, attorneys and COPAA members, we, although too slowly it seems sometimes, are effecting change in that system.   Blake in graduation gown with Mom Susan

Fortunately, my children, due to the efforts of the trailblazing advocacy before us, were not left behind.  I often wonder where my children would be right now had it not been for organizations like COPAA, who taught me how to hold the school accountable for every word they speak and every move they make.  One does this by laying a paper trail and preparing to go to due process so you don’t have to go! 

As advocates, I know our primary role is to advocate for children, but just as importantly we need to train the families we serve to do it for themselves once we are out of the picture.  As a parent trainer on the civil rights of children, NOTHING is more powerful to me than to see a parent turn that corner from the livid, victimized parent to a confident, knowledgeable force to be reckoned with concerning their child.  It is my favorite part of the job.  Even better than that, once that same parent has honed those skills and begins to assist other families do the same for their children, well, our army grows and is nothing short of powerful;, and is the most moving part of my job.  For those who are incapable of doing this, it is left to us as professional advocates to do.

I would like to leave you with one truth.  This is a civil rights movement, make no mistake about that.  The IDEA began over 40 years ago, when families of children with disabilities said, “you will no longer segregate our children.”  Every single time someone advocates for a child with a disability, whether it be at the IEP table, filing a complaint or filing due process - the door is kicked open for another; pushing the movement forward. 

We have always been and continue to be at the forefront of this movement and I am always honored to be in your midst.

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