Name: [name redacted]
County: Los Angeles
District: Los Angeles County Office of Education
I work within the Division of Special Education for a large regional educational agency. For 4 years (before I started teaching the class) my students - all of whom have orthopedic impairments and use wheelchairs - were housed in a NON-wheelchair accessible classroom, in a middle school campus (these are 3 - 5 year old children). The ONLY exit from the room had steps. The bathroom was the staff men's room - to be used on THEIR schedule, located 7 bungalows away. The cafeteria was all picnic tables, with trash cans at each end - making eating there impossible for kids using wheelchairs. The only outdoor playground was accessible via a locked gate to the school next door.
I wrote the principal a letter which detailed the health/safety concerns. He ignored it. I filed with the state for non-compliance. An administrator came out and inspected the location - she told me the same conditions are elsewhere, so what's the problem? I thought, "Give me the addresses and I'll add them to the complaint." The state found them out of compliance on EVERYTHING.
Just a few days before the agency had to identify appropriate modifications, I met with a director of special education, another administrator, a teacher and a principal. I went through the concerns one by one, and identified some possible changes (such as finding an age appropriate and wheelchair accessible location, for one!). One administrator said to me, "What can you do without?". I thought that strange ... I can't imagine parents of a 'general education' student being thrilled at having an administrator who seems more interested in what can be done to 'get by' rather than 'what is the BEST we can do, given any realistic limitations?'
Another administrator mentioned something re: preschool bathrooms could be this many feet away from the classroom ... I thought - 'you go try taking a child in a wheelchair to the bathroom, through the mud, when it rains!'. I think I was getting the official "shine you on" routine here.
So I did the American thing .... I sent everything - names, dates, actions, documents, etc., - the whole enchilada - to the media, disability rights advocates, community organizations, etc. AND - I listed all the names, etc., this 'media kit' went out to.... Guess what? - a week later I had a new classroom! HMMMMMMM .... I don't think it was "coincidental"!
And then, when a top administrator personally told me I'd never get an accessible bathroom ... I contacted the US Office for Civil Rights, and made a personal one person trip to the local Board of Education to talk about toilet needs. Unsurprisingly, they apparently didn't get a copy of my earlier 'media kit'. THEY authorized the bathroom to be fixed!
I did this because:
(1) I know, from painful personal experience, the cost of discrimination, ignorance, etc. I have disabilities and know the torment from teasing, ridicule, etc.
(2) I don't want my students to go through stuff that is wrong - I want them to grow up and be strong self-advocates.
I knew I wouldn't be considered "politically correct" but heck, what I saw was WRONG and needed to be fixed. I knew I wouldn't be considered "politically correct" but heck, what I saw was WRONG and needed to be fixed. (to include) - This agency, like every other 'team', has strong and weak players. While I wasn't thrilled by the prospect of becoming such an advocate, SOMEBODY had to do it. I wanted to focus on the ISSUES, the NEEDS ... and leave personalities, etc., out of it.
I started to experience workplace bullying BIG time, from another teacher. I went to the proper channels, but nothing happened - no investigations, nothing. False allegation of assault (YES!), denied access to school equipment (copier), slander, libel ... by teacher AND administrator(s).
I finally folded, emotionally, big time. The emotional trauma (PTSD from what had been going on) ... I ceased functioning and I have been on disability for many months ... I am only now - 8 months after the latest incident - able to think about the 'stuff' without either obsessing and getting depressed or feeling painfully damaged.
I've taught in both private and public schools ... there's good and bad in both places. If honesty and accountability are considered expendable, then problems multiply. I am only now beginning to feel that I have the emotional strength to address the latest stuff that has not been addressed yet. (I think the 'system' hopes that by pretending nothing is wrong on their behalf and it is all me, that I will 'give up', go away, etc. They're wrong!!!)
I have no intentions of quitting. I believe, I REALLY DO... that there WILL BE A WAY to change what I have experienced re: workplace bullying. Sometimes the best change occurs when there is scrutiny by fair-minded, knowledgeable outside agencies or people. I look at "all this" as a microcosm of what happens (terrorism) on a global scale. Perhaps if all those soldiers who had guns were given footballs instead and commanded to get to know one another ... and all the kids whose parents fight because of race, religion, language, etc. were put in the same classrooms ... we might have world peace (or less terrorism?).