On a very cold day in January, public school advocates from across the state gathered to together in Raleigh NC to rally against an unfunded class size mandate law. It was very cold. Not North Carolina cold, but seriously below freezing windy cold.
I was extremely honored to be a speaker at the rally. I was also part of organizing the event. It was awe inspiring to see the many families, students, teachers, everyday folks who came out to the rally. My son even came, but stayed away from the crowd.
I was also deeply touched by connecting with a few moms of children on the spectrum. I don’t think I’ve gotten through a speaking event where I haven’t met another special needs mom. We talk, we cry and laugh a little. We exchange info in some form, we form another connection. Those connections keep me going even if its just a tweet or a post.
I also had the privilege of working with an incredible group of women to plan the event. They were supportive. They were fun. Most importantly we got the job done. However, its not just a job when planning something like this. It digs into your heart. We constantly ask, will people come out. Will we get enough attention from the press? Will we make a difference? Will it change anything for the better?
So, now we wait. We hope. Its agonizing. There is of course the chance that we won’t change anything. I’ll probably be a little more angry and a little more determined. We’ll regroup and start again.
On Saturday, when it came time for my speech, I could tell the crowd was thinning. We were all very cold including me. So, when the wind blew my prepared remarks, and I lost my place, I just decided to shorten my speech.
So below is my speech in its entirety.
My name is Susan Book. I’m trying to be a writer, I’m sometimes an advocate, but I’m always an autism mom. I have a second grader at Reedy Creek Elementary in Cary who is on the autism spectrum. Cuts to education and the class size mandate have a deep impact on all our kids. It has an even deeper impact on kids with disabilities.
In many ways my son should be a poster child for lower class sizes. He thinks schools would be so much better if there were only teachers, and no more students. School is the most challenging thing my son endures. Its loud, social challenges everywhere, and according to him it smells funny. There are days my son is a potential meltdown waiting to happen.
This is why the unfunded class size mandate is so dangerous. The key is always funding. It takes resources in personnel, equipment and space to provide for a child on the spectrum. Without proper resources, I’m afraid my son might have more meltdowns in school. Meltdowns aren’t pretty. They aren’t like TV. My son is not a savant who will quietly rock in a corner if he’s overstimulated. In real life, a meltdown is loud, messy and potentially violent.
My son’s best days are days he has specials. It’s not just the teachers although their knowledge of their craft is imperative. It’s also the learning space. For many kids on the spectrum, space is important. Classrooms can be stressful and the simple act of leaving one can help alleviate anxiety. The loss of specials teachers and their classrooms is terrible for any child, but kids on the spectrum feel it a little deeper. They crave specials not just for the instruction, but for the stress relief those subjects provide.
My biggest fear is what we’re already seeing in schools as they try and adapt to the mandate. Fourth and Fifth grades are gaining in numbers. There are less TAs then there were ten years ago. There is less per pupil spending. Space may become restricting and limited. I’m becoming increasingly worried that schools will be unable to uphold the IEP or Individual Education Plan. Which in my world means, more frequent meltdowns. The IEP is a federally protected document. This is about the quality of my son’s education. This is about schools keeping with federal law. The class size mandate is tying schools hands. Those who will be most impacted are those who need the most help.
There are many struggles for special needs families. Class size mandate doesn’t need to be one. It can be fixed. Families of special needs kids aren’t leaving and we will keep fighting for quality public education for our kids and all kids.
CLOSING: Let me just share one more thing as I look out at all of you.
Today you all did something extraordinary. You showed up. It may not seem like much, but it means the world. You are standing in solidarity for kids all across the state. By merely showing up, you all are advocates. Now all we have to is keep showing up.