After submitting a letter several weeks ago about the potential impact of the #4candomore policies on students with disabilities, I put forth questions to all the run-off candidates about their platforms. Specifically, I asked what they would do to support inclusion, prevent bullying, and support employment transition for our students who receive special education services.
Ultimately, I found a stark difference in the level of experience and public service of Erin Ragsdale and Dr. Susan Padgett-Harrison as compared to Sean Kaufman and Dr. Ray Lynch—and their ability to answer questions with an understanding of special education. Ragsdale has worked as a speech language pathologist both privately and in public schools, and Dr. Padgett-Harrison has worked as a parapro, teacher, and administrator, including “sitting through hundreds of IEP meetings and working with both parents and teachers for the best outcomes for our students.” She also launched the first Friends Club at Cherokee High School and served more than 30 years at a non-profit organization serving students with disabilities, Empower Cherokee. Between these two candidates, they have decades of public education as true experts, and they are both moms of CCSD kids.
On the other hand, neither Mr. Kaufman nor Dr. Lynch, indicated that they have experience in public education. While I appreciated them ultimately sharing their platforms, I was disappointed to learn that Mr. Kaufman thought it is not the role of a school board member to have a vision for inclusion, anti-bullying programs, or employment transition. However, there are actually books about how school board members can be supportive of special education issues. Dr. Lynch said that enforcing the code of conduct could address bullying instead of programs, but by the time the code of conduct is used, a child has already been hurt. Moreover, both candidates claimed there is no data that social emotional learning benefits students with disabilities when Special Olympics shares abundant data on that very topic. Neither seemed to understand that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires employment transition programs for students with disabilities.
These were not “gotcha questions.” These are questions that most parents of children with disabilities care about, and both parents and educators also know that board policies impact the provision of these services. This matters to students with disabilities, but it should also matter to all parents because bad board decisions about special education can lead to IDEA lawsuits by parents whose children do not receive adequate services. Serving on a school board is about working hard to address the needs of ALL students and having a deep understanding of education issues—not just jumping in at the last hour to focus on political optics.