After my sons’ return to his neighborhood school and being provided the supports he needed in the regular education environment, (Supplementary Aids and Services) he flourished. He was excelling academically and socially. He was nominated by his school principal for the Disney Dreamers and Doers Award (Disney Dreamers and Doers). He was given a medal at Disney, awarded by Miss America. What made it even more special was that it was Heather Whitestone who was the first woman who was deaf to win the Miss America contestant. (Heather Whitestone – Miss America)
The IEP meetings for my son were collaborative and compliant. There was no need to be adversarial anymore. I had a team focusing on my son and what he needed to succeed.
I continued to participate in my son’s IEP meetings, and made the parental decisions. I realized early on that as a father, my participation was unusual. Fathers who attended and participated in IEP meetings were a small minority. From elementary school through high school and graduation I continued to be the one who attended the IEP meetings. His mother willingly delegated that task to me. From the very beginning there was a noticeable lack of father involvement in the entire process. I have seen that change slowly over the years as more fathers are stepping forward and becoming involved.
My services were increasing in demand by parents seeking help dealing with educational issues. I always preferred to spend time teaching others to do for themselves instead of representing parents, and creating dependencies on me. Parents were capable of participating in educational decisions for their children if provided the information and encouragement.
In my capacity with the Parent Center, I began to attend meetings with other parents not in just the county in which I lived but in the additional four neighboring counties I had been assigned to serve. I began to see systemic issues of blatant non-compliance with federal laws I had seen and addressed in my own county. I began to apply the same strategies there as well, filing complaints on practice and policy issues and teaching parents to become self-advocates for their children.
Since there had never been a Parent Center presence in this area before, the school districts were caught off guard when parents began to challenge things they had been told and reinforcing their claims by documentation from state and federal agencies. I continued to hold workshops, many were in neighborhood parks in rural areas, churches, libraries or any space I could find to gather parents together and share information with them to help them understand procedural process.
I was popping up unannounced supporting parents at meetings and challenging, then documenting erroneous practice. There was zero tolerance for noncompliance and if I caught it I filed on it using the available resolution process or supporting a parent’s decision to do it on behalf of their individual children (Resolving Disputes Between Parents and Schools). I will admit driving home after dark in some of the rural isolated counties I would check my rear-view mirror more than once until I had crossed the county line.
Our next transition was from elementary to middle school. My previous experience with my oldest son had been far less than pleasant. I was on a first name basis with the dean of discipline regarding his behaviors. I look back and realize much of the behaviors he was exhibiting may have been attention seeking due to his sibling having a disability and requiring so much effort and time that previously as an only child had been solely his. (Sibling Issues)
When the time came for my youngest son to make the transition a new middle school had been built very close to home that he would attend. I chose this option over a new charter middle school that had been created on Marco Island where students were to be taught in portables.
The choice for me was an easy one. A brand new school staffed with brand new energetic teachers, state of the art technology, and science labs all at his disposal! His level of supports followed him into middle school and he remained in the regular education environment and began taking advanced placement courses.
He signed up for the middle school basketball team and found that he was skilled as a player. In middle school he participated in all his meetings and I began to turn to him during those meetings asking for his input as to what he wanted rather than what I felt he needed. I began nurturing his self-advocacy skills (Students Get Involved!) beginning to build toward the transition process.
Amazingly middle school for my son was a positive experience and he really blossomed in that environment. The school continued to be collaborative with me in meeting his needs and middle school soon faded away as uneventfully as possible. My son, who I was told would never read above a third grade level, continued to excel academically and truly demonstrate his potential.
Somewhere during this period of my life, what I was doing stopped being a job and became who I am.