Letter: Year-end Reflections from a Parent of Children with Special Needs in the Greenwich Public Schools

Letter submitted from Mabél Arteaga Balestra, June 14, 2018

As the school year once again comes to a close, I find myself facing the task of giving authentic thanks to all of the teachers and individuals that have supported my children throughout the school year.  I thank you for doing your best under the constraints you constantly face.

With the end of each year also comes the noise. Noise derived from the negativity that creeps into the process of educating my children… including failures to implement IEPs and administrative mandates. It’s what causes the joy that accompanies the start of each school year to fall away and turn into pervasive negativity, which is often very difficult for a parent to surmount.

It’s a process that has repeated itself over the course of years. Hope, anticipation, and achievement are soon replaced by administrative hurdles, negative feedback and regression. I understand that there is an administrative component to supporting children with special needs. I understand the frustration and raw humanity involved with educating and interacting with a child of special needs. I understand that we all have bad days. But please know how dearly parents like me hang onto hope – that things will become easier, more fluid, less resistant to change.

It is those moments when my child’s progress is recognized and highlighted that yield the most amazing upward momentum.  As a parent of a child with special needs, even in the most heart wrenching and difficult moments, I try to find something good, something specific and tangible that we can all reflect on and be proud of.  That is our lifeline. It is what makes the prospect of exponential growth palpable.

I have found that as true, positive growth begins to take hold and my child begins to grasp and perform expected  tasks and behaviors, the supports to solidify those skills are taken away. So, begins the downward free-fall… and the behavioral issues resurface. It’s a negative spiral that is so unnecessary.

I want to be clear that it is not the teachers that are to blame. It is a culture that seems to emanate from outside the classroom. It is the noise and interference that yanks the rug out from under us each year, regardless of the amazing team supporting our children. It is a culture that seems to force well-intentioned educators with amazing ideas to become soldiers of the masses… masses that do not include our kids.

So, as I reflect on what thoughtful words of thanks I can extend to those that have supported my children through this school year, I can sincerely say the following. I am thankful for your time and attention with my children. I understand that, if really allowed, you could do what you felt was right and lawful for my children and all those others like them. I thank you for doing your best under sometimes crushing constraints.

So now, I ask just one thing – never turn a blind eye. I ask all administrators to do what is right. I ask them to be brave and make the changes that will help all of our children. I ask that you follow the law. In the end, it is what governs us and it is the process that decides our childrens’ future.

Start by doing what is necessary. Then do what is possible.  Suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – St. Francis of Assisi

“The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it. ” – Michelangelo

“If you are always trying to be NORMAL, you will never know how amazing you can be.” – Maya Angelou