I was trying. I was trying hard. One thing that stood out to me the most during my pre-service classes at my university was the necessity for special education teachers to accept their role as an advocate for their students. We spent almost two or three sessions on advocacy.
A reoccurring theme that I was starting to notice was that with special education students, many times the train leaves them at the station, so to say. Nobody pushes for them, nobody fights for them. And there are many factors for this. Parents often times do not activate their power as the primary advocate for their child for two main reasons- either they do not have time to navigate and learn the bureaucratic machine called the Department of Education (DOE). To know this machine requires knowledge of its language (similar to a foreign language!), the way it’s organized, and patience! Or the parents simply just do not know of the parental powers of which they have.
So when a situation came up which I figured could use some beginner’s advocacy assistance from my end for one of my students, I jumped to the occasion. However, I realized only later that I was going up against a monster, even though it appeared at first to only be a molehill.
One of my students has bus service per his I.E.P. This means that the DOE provides door-to-door service to him at no cost. Bus service for general ed students stops at 5th grade, so it is really only special education students that have this type of service. I became aware of this particular problem while calling “Mike’s” family in the days before school started. I decided to call all of my students’ families to 1) introduce myself to them, and 2) to see if they had any pressing issues or concerns before the start of school. Mike’s Mother told me that everything was fine except that information about Mike’s bus service hadn’t arrived. Ok bet. I told her that I would look into it and I would call her back. Surely I could have told her that she needed to call the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) to ask why the information hadn’t been arrived. But naw yo, ‘I got this! Let me try out my roll as an advocate,’ I thought to myself.
So I called OPT. I waited on hold to speak to someone for 27 minutes. Come to find out, Mike’s NYC DOE ID number was not even in the system so the lady on the phone couldn’t help me whatsoever. Ok bet. No problem- let me call the DOE. After holding for 46 minutes, the lady who picked up the phone was ready to help me until I told her that Mike is a special ed student. She cut me off mid sentence and in a matter of fact way (I don’t blame her, she was probably tired), she told me that the DOE does not deal with services as it relates to special education students. Ok, let me try the Office of Special Education Services- surely they would be able to help us because after all, it is on their very own paperwork (IEP) that grants Mike this service!
They were able to locate Mike. They saw that he in fact has bus service, but the destination school was incorrect!! The destination was for PS XXX, the elementary school that he graduated from. I repeat- the school he graduated from last spring.
I’ve spent over a week calling what seemed like the entire NYC DOE and I have had very little luck making progress. There really is no positive end to this story. Mike still doesn’t have bus service to the correct school, and his mother daily calls me wanting an update. I asked my principal if she could help to resolve this problem, and she has been working on it for a few days.
My work as an advocate is clearly going to be a difficult task- no matter how big or small the battle is that I attempt to resolve.