The Fear We Don’t Speak Of

This is the headline that caught my eye in my social media feeds today –


2 Atlanta educators caught on video beating non-verbal, special needs students in the classroom


I read the story, but didn’t press “play” on the video.  I don’t need to see someone headslap a child who can’t speak for themselves, stand up for themselves, defend themselves.  I just don’t need to see that.  My imagination is quite enough.

Stories like these are always on my radar.  Because in that back corner of my mind, in the closet where I tuck away all the stuff I have to know but don’t want to deal with on a daily basis, stories like these are there.  Things that, for the grace of God, don’t happen to my child.  Things that I fear will happen to my child.  Things I’m always on the look out for, even if I don’t realize I’m looking out for them.

We’ve been lucky with those who have worked with Maura – at the least, they’ve been competent.  But most have been fabulous.  Some have treated Maura like a precious loved one, and they are the ones I most appreciate, because they would ensure that nothing like the story above would ever happen to her.

I am realistic though – we’ve been damn lucky.  Others aren’t.  And I am aware of that.  I walk into new situations with Maura always hoping for the best, but always looking out for the worst.  I mentally hold my breath at new situations, wondering how things will be.  Maura can’t tell me in words if a situation is bad.  She can’t say “She was mean to me.” or “He hit me.”  I would have to figure out by her attitude, her reactions.  I have to depend on those people who truly care about my child to give me a head’s up if something is not right – and have to depend that they’re wiling to risk a job they might desperately need.

You might be surprised to know that many of the people working with students with disabilities in your local school aren’t trained special educators.  To be an aide to a special education student, you need a high school diploma.  To be a para-professional, you need two years of college – but those two years could have been spent studying basket weaving.  They may get a few crash courses in special education by the district, but then they’re in neck-deep, some in charge of a moderately disabled student with behavioral issues and in a diaper.  And they do it for minimum wage.

Yes, there are times we hand off our most at-risk students to the people with the least amount of training in the school building, getting paid the lowest wage.

It doesn’t mean these people are all bad.  Almost every aide and para-professional I’ve met have been simply amazing.  But the truth is, it takes a special kind of person to tend to a special education student.  I am the parent of a special needs child, and I’m not always sure I could do that job.

I don’t know what the answer is.  Is it having cameras in the special education classrooms?  Is it more training?  Background checks?  Is this because inclusion has become the only choice in so many areas that public schools aren’t really able to handle the influx of special ed students?  Should we have harsher punishments for those who abuse these students who can’t speak for themselves?

I don’t know.

And I don’t know who is doing something about this. If anything is really being done about this.

So I will continue to be vigilant and aware, keeping an eye out for anything that makes me question motives and listening to my gut.  And maybe bring it more into the light, so we can all be more aware.

This could be happening at the public school down your street.  And you shouldn’t stand for it.  No one should.