On Tuesday, I went to the State House to testify in support of H7536 to establish an Office of the Ombudsman for Special Education. The stories that I heard there were heartbreaking.
The system that we have in place to support children in special education is a byzantine maze of municipal and state supports with minimal capacity for appeal, few checks and balances, and no one whose job it is to oversee its function. Parents have told me about knowing for certain that the school system was denying them a rightful service but having no one to turn to override the district.
I also know several special education teachers. I know they love their students and want to provide the best education and services they can for them. I do not believe malice is at the heart of this issue. While there are certainly some bad-faith actors, I believe this is a matter of an ad hoc system of haphazardly applied supports that even the most earnest, well-intentioned professionals could never make work.
That is why we gathered at the State House to show our support for H7536. Establishing an ombudsman for special education is an important step in providing much-needed clarity to parents who are spending their days fighting the very systems their families depend on.
The author of the bill, Rep. Lauren Carson of Newport, acknowledges that tweaks need to be made on its way to passage, clarifying certain powers of the office and its relationship to RIDE. By all means, this is a reasonable point and those changes should be made. What we cannot allow is for this situation to drag on for additional years while parents are left feeling hopeless, some while watching the best learning years their child has slipped away.
Write to your legislators and urge them not to lose momentum on this matter. Create an Office of the Ombudsman for Special Education. Parents of children with disabilities fight hard enough as it is. Let’s create an office to fight for them when they need it.