Dear Betsy DeVos

9 Feb

Hi Betsy!

Can I call you Betsy? I’m calling you Betsy – because we’re going to really get to know each other now that you’re Education Secretary.

Who am I? I’m Phoebe, I’m a mom of four living near Seattle. All four of my kids have gone to or are currently in public schools. Me? I went to both private and public schools. My husband went to both plus was homeschooled. My grandmother, mother, brother, best friends…all teachers.

Why am I writing to you? Well, because my youngest child, Maura, is in special education and you seem like you’re not that sure how special education runs in public schools in the U.S.

Me? I know a lot. And as I’m a friendly, open, and helpful kind of gal, I thought I’d help you out.

We’re all watching you, you see. All of us parents with kids in special education. You caught our eye when you were all “Oh, IDEA? Sorry, I was confused.” You may have heard a resounding thunk sound after those words came out of your mouth – that was the sound of thousands of parents heads hitting their desks. A collective head thunk.



Me (left) Maura (right) and our surprised faces


Anyway, I digress.

My daughter Maura is a special ed student in a public school system. She always has been as long as we’ve lived in the states (we lived in Ireland for 2 1/2 years, and there she went to a national school that was partially funded by the government, partially funded by donations.)

Let me restate – Maura has always gone to a public school in the U.S.

“But why Phoebe?” you may ask yourself. “Why not find a private school to meet her needs?”

“Because Betsy,” I would say if we were meeting at a Starbuck’s, “there are no private schools designed for my daughter.”

Surprised? Well, buckle up Betsy, because having a child with special needs is FULL of surprises.

See, Maura has a moderate intellectual disability (aka ID). When tested, Maura falls behind in every category possible. At 13, she’s at the academic level of a 3 year old. She has issues with concepts of time, safety, pronouns, why her tablet needs to be plugged in for a while to charge. She has fine motor skill issues so has trouble writing, zipping, buttoning. She needs help with hygiene and needs constant supervision. She also loves Coldplay, Doctor Who, My Little Pony, and books (even though she doesn’t read.)

She’s just a bundle of personality and issues, and despite all the testing, we don’t have a diagnosis for whatever she has. (No, it’s not autism.) (Yes, we’ve tested for autism.) (Seriously, there’s more to special needs than autism.) (Yes, we’ve done genetic testing as well.)

Now, imagine a child like Maura in a regular 7th/8th grade classroom. Where everyone else is reading “Lord of the Flies” and Maura’s flipping through a My Little Pony book. Or when everyone else is learning the fundamentals of algebra, and she’s still learning how to count to 30 properly. Imagine her in a science class where she doesn’t realize that you shouldn’t drink the blue liquid.

Imagine how a private school would handle her. Or a charter school that’s design for students to excel in STEM.

You have to imagine it because those schools don’t take kids like Maura.

“Oh surely you can find…” you might start.

“No Betsy. I can’t.” I will state.

“But if you had school of choice-” you may say.

“Not even then Betsy.” I will reply.

See, we lived in Michigan for a while, near Ann Arbor. Our intermediate school district had school of choice. But there were factors that made schools not a choice. Like student body sizes. If the neighboring school was “full”, then it was taken off the school of choice list. Which makes sense. But also, with a child like my daughter Maura, to leave the school district required the special ed director signing off on it. And the SpEd director wouldn’t do that. Because then the district would lose all those sweet extra dollars that came with a student like my daughter. Those sweet extra dollars that didn’t necessarily have to be spent on my daughter.

“But you had school of choice! You could have moved her to a better school!” you may say.

“Oh Betsy…Betsy Betsy Betsy…it’s not that easy.” I reply.

Trust me, I watched as other parents tried to move. The thing is, your “choice” ends up being “the devil you know” vs. “the devil you don’t”. We had amazing teachers and a lousy SpEd director.

This is where IDEA helped us. IDEA and FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education). Those federal laws and protections you found “confusing” were our safety net. They made things happen, stuff got done. See, it’s like you’re captured by pirates and you invoke the right to parlay, like Elizabeth Swan did in “Pirates of the Caribbean”. We shouted “IDEA! FAPE!” and invoked our right to get a lawyer and things happened.

IDEA and FAPE are kind of Special Ed 101, along with IEP (Individualized Education Plan). That you failed those questions? Well it did not inspire confidence in any of us.

But we’re no longer in Michigan. We’re in the Seattle area – which still doesn’t have any private/charter schools for the likes of my daughter. But the public school system we’re in? Oh, it’s amazing! Seriously. Ah-maz-ing. See, they have proper funding, and use those funds for – wait for it – giving my daughter and students like her the best education possible.

I know, right?

Maura’s in a special program within the public school, one geared specifically for kids with moderate ID. She’s in a class of her peers. She learns the things she needs so she can reach her full potential. But she is also included in the actual school she’s at, including going to camp with the entire 6th grade class. Overnight camp. For four days. Amazing.

Have you ever been in a classroom full of students with disabilities Betsy? It’s different than a regular classroom. There’s less students, but more adults. Maura’s classroom can easily have six kids and five adults in there at one time. It also has things like swings for sensory-filling needs and a place to hide out when a student needs to chill. There’s PECS cards everyone (PECS is Picture Exchange Communication System, look it up). And its full of kids you may have never interacted with.

It’s okay, most people don’t get the chance to meet children with various disabilities. I hadn’t, not until we moved to Ireland and I walked into a school for students with moderate disabilities.

You know what? You should come visit Maura’s school. Meet Maura, her classmates, her teachers, the extra staff, all the staff. Maura’s school isn’t just great about special education. It’s a school with a larger immigrant population as well, and the most dedicated staff you’ll ever find. And diverse! Like, true diversity.

Yes, you should just come visit. You could probably cover the flight and hotel since, you know, you’re kinda a billionaire. But I’ll treat you to a Starbuck’s.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep in touch on Twitter. Because this is just the start of our working relationship Betsy.

P.S. – My sister called. She told me to tell you she’s keeping an eye on you as well, and not to screw things up for her niece.




131 Responses to “Dear Betsy DeVos”

  1. sallysociety February 9, 2017 at 12:23 pm #

    I cannot tell you how much I admire your blog. Thank you for sharing your life w/Maura here. And thank you for writing a “Dear Betsy” letter…I do hope you forward this blog posting directly to her. And not just by random email address to her. Contact her PR dept (every govt agency has one…might be called “Communications”) and make SURE she receives it. Make sure she knows your invitation is genuine and that you’d like to know when you can count on it so you can mark your calendar. Great stuff you have here…great stuff. 🙂 (and p.s.–I’m not a parent of a special needs child…crap, I’m not even brave enough to be a parent at all…but somewhere, somehow I stumbled upon your blog and you drew me in…)

    • Phoebe February 9, 2017 at 12:42 pm #

      I may start writing her letters 😁

      • Karine February 10, 2017 at 11:49 am #

        Well written and well said! 👍🏼👍🏽👍

      • A. Clarice Holmes February 11, 2017 at 7:49 pm #

        Please do so. Perhaps she won’t be threatened by you because you are willing to educate her. We are stuck with her, so now she needs to be educated. Funny thing huh! You are doing a wonderful job with Maura. She is obviously happy and the school she is in may enable her to be the best she can become.

      • Maren February 13, 2017 at 10:44 am #

        Please do!

      • Marilyn Weber February 13, 2017 at 10:56 am #

        Phoebe, your letter reflects the hope I wrote to friends on FaceBook recently. Since I believe in the “silver lining”, I’m hoping that Ms. DeVos will learn from public educators now that she is in a position to do so. In so doing, just maybe she can reach others who hold her beliefs and relate to them the benefits of good public schooling, as well as develop improvements for our public schools. Kudos to you and other parents who live in the trenches and educate her, too!

      • Coleen Carey February 13, 2017 at 1:58 pm #

        Dear Phoebe – I’d like to be your new best friend. You said every word that has been in my head to say to Betsy. Charter school? “Our model does not make it possible to support your daughter.” Private school – tried almost every one in the area and they all said no to her. Because. They. Can. Neighborhood school? Had to take them to mediation and after admitting denying FAPE did NOTHING to support her in the classroom (but gave us a little hush money to avoid litigation). The next option Betsy will have left is to suggest segregated, special ed schools (hey – let’sblwo up IDEA all together). Not on our watch. I am in this with you. Coleen (Portland, OR)

      • Angie February 13, 2017 at 5:45 pm #

        Please continue to write your letters! I love this letter and your thoughts are expressed in a nice way. Much nicer than I would express them. As I read the replies I became a bit infuriated at some of the responses. As a teacher, in a public school in NC, I am very concerned about school “choice”. Choice includes much more than picking a school. Once you pick a school you have to figure out transportation. Busses cannot drive all over the place to pick up kids to go to various schools. As it is now, busses are shared so that they can run the routes of the students that live near the school. That is a lot of gas money that could be put into the schools directly. Also, everyone wants to blame teacher unions. Northern carolina, as well as other states in the south, have NO unions. A lack of a union to take care of teachers, as well as a bad past governor, has put NC 47 out of 50 in teacher pay. We do have groups that lobby for us but it has been to little avail. Also, when a student leaves our school to go to a charter school, the money funded to us for that student goes with them to the charter school. Shame on all those that are putting down public schools and blaming unions. And thank you Phoebe for writing this letter. Betsy will need a lot of help learning about what goes on in the real world of educating our children so keep them coming!

      • Deb Lund February 14, 2017 at 1:08 am #

        Do it! And keep us posted. Betsy doesn’t have a clue about any area of education. And I believe she’s the only nominee ever to get in by having the Vice President break a tie. I’ve spent most of my life in education, and I am floored that only two Republicans had the guts to say no. The rest do not have our nations children or future in mind. Grateful for your guts and humor…

    • asmyjointsturn February 15, 2017 at 5:42 pm #

      Dear Phoebe and Maura,
      As a public school speech-language pathologist, I want to say thank you. Thank you for praising your school district and showing the value of FAPE and IDEA. I am also messaging Betsy DeVos regularly on twitter. You are not alone! Together, we will make sure she hears us!

  2. Laurie Ann Thompson February 9, 2017 at 12:54 pm #

    I LOVE this post. Well done, Phoebe!

  3. nanis February 9, 2017 at 2:38 pm #

    This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time. It brings the issue down to a personal level. I, too, hope you send this to her. Maybe we ALL should send it to her. Because even though she is not qualified, that doen’t mean she’s stupid. Maybe she can learn.

  4. Annie February 9, 2017 at 3:27 pm #

    Thank you for this letter! ❤

  5. Kara February 9, 2017 at 4:26 pm #

    Thank you, Phoebe, for illustrating this so well. Please, share this with Betsy, VP Pence, President Trump, and the 50 senators who voted for her. I was part of that audible thunk you described

  6. Carol Campbell February 9, 2017 at 5:00 pm #

    Oh Phoebe, you’re the bomb… Please let me know when she visit’s…I will email you a Starbucks gift card…;)

    • Carol Campbell February 9, 2017 at 5:01 pm #


  7. Christine Phelan February 9, 2017 at 5:13 pm #

    THANK YOU Phoebe. Thank you from me, and every Sp. Ed student, parent, and teacher I know. (It’s quite a few). Chris Phelan (Retired Sp. Ed Para) Dearborn, MICHIGAN. 😂

    Sent from my iPhone


  8. Cassie Bookout February 9, 2017 at 5:39 pm #

    Thank you so much for this, from the mom of a special needs 6yo (short term memory/understanding/speech/fine motor skill delays)

  9. maricelacorral February 9, 2017 at 5:45 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this and I completely understand since I was a special education teacher and people were always misinformed on what I taught or whom I taught.

  10. susanlynnmeyer February 9, 2017 at 8:59 pm #

    Great post. Sounds as if you have been in heroic battles on your daughter’s behalf. I can relate.

  11. Susan Mason February 10, 2017 at 1:07 am #

    Great post! I am not a mother, but I always vote for raising taxes for education. I have empathy, which is something sorely lacking in the Republican/Conservative/Christian ruling class. It never even crosses their mind that, “there by the grace of God go I”. That people with Special Needs may need something, uh, special. Thank you for speaking on so personal a level and representing so many.

    • Barbara February 12, 2017 at 2:51 pm #

      Actually, there are some private/Christian schools that do provide special education services. I transferred my oldest daughter with Down Syndrome to the Christian school where we live because their doevidl education program was better than the public school. Then I eventually transferred both of my regular ed kids over as well as this school provides an excellent education for all students.

      • Susan Adelman February 13, 2017 at 12:01 am #

        Hi Barbara,
        I am so glad that there was a program that worked for you. But the vast majority of students in special ed do not have access, and/or the schools do not have programs. I do think the Catholic and Christian based systems should be fully inclusive, I am glad yours was.

  12. Renee Anne February 10, 2017 at 3:51 am #

    As someone with a BA in education (and just student teaching short of a second one in K-12 SpEd) and as a mother and as, you know, a conscientious American, THANK YOU for this. I about flipped a table when I heard the dribble coming from that woman’s mouth. Completely incompetent for that position. I mean, if she was up for Secretary of Bribery to the entire Republican Party, she’d be perfect. She has no business sticking her nose into the Department of Education.

    And yes, you need to send her this.

  13. Florence King February 10, 2017 at 9:17 am #

    Omg Phoebe that was the BEST thing I have read in a long time.
    Thank you for your humor on a very serious topic, and a very scary
    Situation. Hope Betsy takes you up on your offer to visit. 🙄

  14. Cheryl February 10, 2017 at 9:48 am #

    You’re snarky in such a gentle and entertaining way here, Pheobe, and your personal experiences are eye-opening. I didn’t know what IDEA was either, (but I’m not US Secretary of Education.) and your narrrative perfectly explains why it’s so frightening that Betsy didn’t know. Thanks for sharing your concerns about Our new SE in such a clear, informative and personal way.
    iI only wish that every child had the kind of attention and appropriate education as your daughter is getting. Sadly, Seattle is a bit of an outlier from my experience. Sadder still, I don’t see Betsy advocating for more Seattle’s. 😥

    • Brenda February 16, 2017 at 11:47 am #

      Yes, schools can be better addressed from a state level rather than federal level. As much as I am not 100% in favor of our new Sec. of Education, I believe our children suffer from teachers who have to spend a good part of their day with discipline problems rather than education. There is a need in public schools for special ed children. I applaud Seattle on their solution for Special Ed children. One size does not fit all.

  15. Eagle Eye February 10, 2017 at 10:22 am #

    What I find interesting is this portion…

    See, we lived in Michigan for a while, near Ann Arbor. Our intermediate school district had school of choice. But there were factors that made schools not a choice. Like student body sizes. If the neighboring school was “full”, then it was taken off the school of choice list. Which makes sense. But also, with a child like my daughter Maura, to leave the school district required the special ed director signing off on it. And the SpEd director wouldn’t do that. Because then the district would lose all those sweet extra dollars that came with a student like my daughter. Those sweet extra dollars that didn’t necessarily have to be spent on my daughter.

    “But you had school of choice! You could have moved her to a better school!” you may say.

    “Oh Betsy…Betsy Betsy Betsy…it’s not that easy.” I reply.

    Trust me, I watched as other parents tried to move. The thing is, your “choice” ends up being “the devil you know” vs. “the devil you don’t”. We had amazing teachers and a lousy SpEd director.

    With vouchers, there would be no “SpEd director” who needs to “sign off” on anything… the money goes to the mom and if that school wants to hold on to “all those sweet extra dollars”, they would have to cater to that child…

    This is what I don’t get about people who are against voucher systems. It puts the money in the hands of the parents, to decide where the money goes… rather than in the hands of the school districts, to hold on to like a monopoly on your child.

    Then there’s the whole “there are no schools that cater to my daughter” thing… with vouchers, the parents holding the money and saying “we need this” means there’s a niche market that schools will see and say “Hey, we could attract X students (and their voucher money) if we cater to those students… how can we cater to those students?”

    As it stands right now, ALL schools are REQUIRED to have these SPED programs… when they may not need them.

    For what it’s worth, I am a middle grades educator in math and social sciences in the public schools… but what do I know, huh?

    • California mom February 10, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

      I just looked up the yearly tuition for the closest private high school serving special needs students. It’s very well rated, has a 1:4 staffing ratio, and serves autism spectrum and nvld kids. Tuition is $42,000 per year. I don’t think a voucher would come even close to covering that cost!

      • momsaid2 February 11, 2017 at 10:36 am #

        She specified competition, both in private and public schools, for enrolling and catering to students. When an admin realizes that customers will go where they wish, he/she/they will find ways of attracting business. That also means that tuition costs will become more ‘competitive’. Look at this as a dynamic model instead of a static one, and it will make more sense.

      • Phoebe February 11, 2017 at 12:40 pm #

        You must not have read the words I wrote – the administration was in charge of letting us go to a different district. They refused to sign the paperwork allowing it.

        I won’t even get into how private schools don’t want kids like mine.

      • Kitty McNeal February 16, 2017 at 11:40 pm #

        We have autism vouchers in Ohio that have a cap of $20,000.00 and as you stated, not close to covering tuition in a private autism program…also this blog is great but parents shouldn’t have to educate the education secretary!

    • Valerie February 11, 2017 at 2:49 pm #

      First and foremost, education is not a business. Second, much more expensive to run a special Ed program. You need more aides and teachers in the classroom. How you going to pay for that? are you going to give special Ed kids more monies in their voucher? How will that be determned. What happens to the special Ed student can’t get in to the special school? Where do they go to school. It’s not choice if your kid cannot get into the school they want. Goes back to same old story. Wealthy communities will have the good schools. A kid from the inner city will not have a place at tgat school because it will be full. Public education serves all so that all have a better chance in society. If the wealthy don’t like public schools, they already have a choice to go to private schhols and they have the money. There is no good reason that they can’t send their chikd to private schools and continue to support public education. It’s just plain selfishness on their part.

      • Barbara February 12, 2017 at 3:04 pm #

        There are folks from the middle and lower income classes that would also like to send their kids to private schools. In my area, the private schools offer financial aid to help parents afford private school. I know this because I sent my 3 kids to a private school and I never could have gone it without their help. My oldest daughter has Down Syndrome and not only did they accept her as a student, they had a better program for her than the larger public school system had.

    • Bernie February 12, 2017 at 11:30 am #

      I don’t think they Will give a voucher to cover the cost of a paraprofessional ( aide) or several sessions of Physiotherapy or occupational therapy or reading support or for other children math support or behavioral therapy support.
      The charter schools do not want the vast majority of children with special needs, they may accept a child with some mild physical difficulty to enroll but if you child has cognitive needs and cannot comprehend the teaching at grade level they cannot help that child. They can help to children who already have above average grades to improve those grades.
      I know the job of the education secretary is to improve the standards of pulblically funded education in the US in some of those abysmally low scores we have in comparison with pulblically schooled systems in many other nations. Raising the ability of every child will raise our average. We do not want to ferry our children for several hours every day in rush hour traffic , to schools several districts away. If this administration wants me to continue as working mom who pays taxes, then the ability to send my child to school in our area is part of that equation also. Moving to another community is not possible for most people because of committments to their own extended families or many other reasons. Raising our children within their communities encourages social empathy for all children and adults with disabilities. If our children’s peers are raised not to have empathy, then we will all suffer in the long run. I raised my older children to be kind and understanding always, before we ever knew our 3rd child would have several issues to face . I work within our community to enrich the lives of those around us, I want to know that all of our efforts to move forward not regress in ever facet of our lives, individual, family, community and I have always hoped that our elected officials will support those efforts. I will continue my own efforts to fight for what is beneficial to our communities as a whole. Thank you so much for your post

    • Heather M February 13, 2017 at 8:57 am #

      I might be misinformed here, but I don’t believe a voucher system has been proposed or implemented that gives variable funding amounts depending on the needs of the child. My understanding is that most vouchers are fixed figures. A school then receives funding based on the number of special education students enrolled for a year based on a count later in the school year, but the funding doesn’t actually kick in until the following school year…and then comes the wait for how the school will implement that funding. That can be a painfully long wait when you have a child with immediate needs that are not being met. One school year can make a world of difference in a students progress and most people would rather deal with the “devil that is known” than risk a year of poor resources or programming and possible regression in skills or behavior while the school starts to get a handle on how to use those extra dollars. Moving on to next hurdle: How to get your special needs child to that school of choice. The standard school bus ride can present quite a challenge for many kids with special needs, let alone a ride that requires transferring to another bus or an extended ride. Or, what happens when there is NO bussing option to get a working parent’s child to the school of choice? Most work schedules will not accommodate the typical 8am-3pm school day schedule. We were fortunate enough to find a charter school that had chosen to employ PT, OT and speech therapists on a private contract basis, and the resources far exceeded those of the public schools because of this, but you need to find a highly dedicated school to implement this and I believe ours was an exception.i was also very blessed to have a flexible work schedule and an extensive network of other parents willing to carpool. Here in West Michigan, private schools are entitled to some of the special needs services of the public school system, but they get the leftovers, after public school needs are met. The needs of the public schools are rarely met as it is, so private schools are left with… that’s right, nothing, in many cases. Would I choose to vote against schools of choice? Not at this point, because I know many people that have benefited from it, but on the other hand, it just is not a realistic option for most students and parents. Neither the schools of choice nor the voucher system are as easy or immediate of a solution as some people would like to believe. We need to ensure that our schools are funded and prepared to meet students and families where they are when they enter the school system and we need to have a SE dedicated to that. As a primary care pediatric medical provider for ten years, Despite the existing, IDEA and FARE, and the requirement that all public schools have SPED already in place even “when they may not need them”, I had too many discussions with far too many families still struggling with advocating to obtain appropriate education resources for their child. Without those tools for leverage, they would be losing a battle that remains uphill. It is so important for our SE to understand the legislation that outlines these rights before proposing possible solutions to the current problems. Let’s hope she is willing to engage with those of us who are willing to help her understand the real dilemmas we face.

      • Mary February 15, 2017 at 8:51 am #

        Right. Charter schools want the most bang for their buck per student – they want the highest performing kids (lowest cost for support services) and the ones whose parents don’t have to work three jobs just to feed them. (The more parents who volunteer, the less they have to pay for extra paid classroom help. Some private and charter schools require the parent donate a certain amount of time to the school each year.) Then public schools that are required to provide services for all children of all abilities have even less money to do so. It’s horrifying.

  16. Darcy Pennington Arnold February 10, 2017 at 10:46 am #

    THANK YOU for being our eyes & our voice!!

  17. JoAnn Chateau February 10, 2017 at 11:55 am #

    Dear Phoebe, you’ll be the best friend the unqualified Betsy ever had. You’ll pick her up off the floor as she gradually learns she cannot quietly turn public schools into far-right Christian bastions of “religious freedom.” Auntie and the whole world are, indeed, watching.

    • Traylor Trasch February 10, 2017 at 2:38 pm #

      JoAnn Chateau- DeVos is by far the worst of the new administration- far worse than the ban, or Bannon. She has unlimited money and very powerful friends.

      • JoAnn Chateau February 10, 2017 at 3:58 pm #

        Truly, DeVoss exemplifies the corrupting influence of Big Money in politics. But there is no shame from that quarter.

  18. Gina Mitchner February 10, 2017 at 4:54 pm #

    This was by far one of the best letters I’ve read about this topic! Thank you for sharing!

  19. Sheila February 10, 2017 at 8:54 pm #

    Thank you Phoebe! This was spot on! As an adoptive and biological mother of 6 children, 3 who had IEPs and 1 with a 504 all who attended a small Public School. You have summed up my worries perfectly. All my children are adults now, but I have graduated to working as a one on one para educator in the SPED department of a very small public school while helping support 2 of my grandchildren who have IEPs. To have leaders who understand what our children need and what our staff need to support these needs is priceless! Hopefully this need will be understood and our leaders will take the steps to learn! Bravo!

  20. momsaid2 February 11, 2017 at 10:55 am #

    Why is opening up schools to more competition a bad thing? The fact that she wasn’t versed in the minutiae of various programs, doesn’t make her unqualified. It means that she needs to look up the details and see what’s working and what isn’t.

    A friend of mine has been teaching and assisting special needs kids for years, and noted another side of the equation: mainstreaming unresponsive, non-communicating (one is actually deaf) children into standard classes. Home Ec, Math, Social Studies, etc., include kids who can neither hold a pencil nor participate at any level. There’s a school for handicapped students four miles away, equipped to care for a wide range of student needs, but these children are in regular classes. Several extra job positions are also filled, in order to care for them. More union members, paying their required dues (which are then funneled into Democrat campaign coffers).

    I asked her if the school received federal funding for these kids, and the answer was a resounding ‘YES’. Kinda turns that ‘competition’ thing around, because the regular school is not competing to give them an education, but to caretake for unteachables.

    • Phoebe February 11, 2017 at 12:39 pm #

      “wasn’t versed in the minutiae of various programs”

      Um. No. She wasn’t versed in basic laws, and not just regarding SpEd but regarding student loans. And then she was vague about upholding those laws – which is her job as Education Secretary.

      Minutiae of various programs would be more like knowing what qualifies a child for a communication device.

      The fact that you use the term “unteachables” is just flat out rude.

      FYI – my daughter would be deemed an “unteachable” as she cannot write or read or do algebraic equations with her peers. When we lived in Michigan, there was a school for what you called “handicapped chilren” (which, btw, it’s now “students with moderate to severe disabilities” – if you’re trying to make an argument, use the correct language please). We asked if our daughter could attend the special school and we were told no – she wasn’t disabled enough, they only took students with severe disabilities.

    • Sped para February 11, 2017 at 12:56 pm #

      Unteachables? Really? I am a para educator in a special education classroom for students with severe/profound intellectual disabilities. They are far from unteachable!!! They may not learn algebra, how to bake a cake, or where the United States is on a map by attending general education classes, but they will enjoy interacting with other students their age. They may learn how to look at someone who is speaking to them or not to make noises when someone is speaking to the group. That is huge for them and may not occur if they only encounter other students with the same disabilities. These students do not need to be hidden away in their own special school. The world needs to know that these children are real, and experience happiness and sorrow just like everyone else. I believe that it is important for general education (“normal”) students to have contact and interact with special education students so that they will be informed, compassionate adults one day.
      Thank you Phoebe for your well written blog!!!

    • TakingItAStepAtATime February 11, 2017 at 1:20 pm #

      And right here lies the problem. “Minutiae”? – LAW!
      “Unteachables”? – Being able to hold a pencil is not a yardstick used to determine one’s education, or one’s right to an education!

    • Pam Sohan February 11, 2017 at 1:42 pm #

      Unteachables??????? Really????? You sound like you see any student that learns differently as being somehow “LESS”. LESS deserving of the opportunities that being in a mainstream class room can give them, LESS deserving of learning how to act in a class room, how to interact with others that are “normal” (whatever the hell that means!). You sound like you would prefer them to be “LESS” visible, so that you wouldn’t have to deal with seeing that sometimes genes don’t always come together to form “Normal” children. Well, I’ve got news for you! Life is messy. I have a son that is Autistic. He started out in a private kindergarten because I thought that would be better, smaller classes, the teacher would be able to give him a little extra help. Worst decision we ever made! So we had him repeat kindergarten, this time in our neighborhood public school. An even worse decision! His teacher would have preferred that he wasn’t there, that she didn’t have to deal with him. (Maybe you’re related?) This is despite the laws that are in effect at the state and federal level that say she has to deal with him. I kept getting these notes home that he was the “Worst kid in class! A trouble maker ” blah blah blah. So I started volunteering in his class, and let me tell you the problem was NOT my son, it was the teacher. She was about 100 years old and seriously had no business teaching any longer. Thank God the Air Force moved us from FL to Ohio before first grade. We had a wonderful neighborhood public school, Beavercreek Elementary. They bent over backwards to make sure he had everything he needed to learn. When we had to change his ADD meds and he developed Tourettes, the principal talked to his class and explained what was happening with JR. We got him off that medicine ASAP. The whole three years we were there they did that. If something changed with JR, we had a meeting to figure out how best to deal with he changes. He is now 23 and working two days a week as a stocker at Walgreens. So, Momsaid2, you may not want to see them in the classroom, but you will be seeing them out and in society. I do worry for those students coming up behind my son, will schools still be willing to bend over backwards to make sure each child with special needs receives a top notch education, or will they simply be chasing the money with an Education Secretary who has no IDEA!

    • nanis February 11, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

      You are clearly not knowledgable about special ed programs, or even laws regarding teaching children with disabilities, so I suggest you learn more before you make comments on “unteachables”. God, that is offensive!

    • gina February 11, 2017 at 3:24 pm #

      OMG did you actually use the term “caretake for untouchables”? SHAME on you and that ignorant comment is horrible!!!!

      • gina February 11, 2017 at 3:25 pm #


    • Pascha February 11, 2017 at 7:10 pm #

      “unteachables”? I guess you demonstrate that very well as comprehension and compassion seems to have passed you by. The only unteachable mind is a closed one. No need to respond as you are unReachable.

      • Joelleybeenz521 February 12, 2017 at 12:44 pm #


    • Dee February 11, 2017 at 10:25 pm #

      You have no idea what you are talking about.

    • Deborah Bulpitt February 13, 2017 at 10:05 am #

      Actually deaf? Unteachable? IDEA a program? I am happy that my deaf daughter isn’t looking over my shoulder right now to see this offensive post. She is happy being mainstreamed into the local public high school where she is taking one AP, four honors classes and orchestra this year and maintaining a 4.0 while working on her girl scout gold award and doing recital ballet. The only thing deaf kids can’t do is hear. Differently abled kids however they are wired all shine in special ways – even if holding a pencil isn’t one of them. My daughter has been treated as damaged, or scary, or frightening and I am proud to say she treats uneducated people with compassion, and tries to open them up to different possibilites. Everyone can learn – even adults with prejudices and closed minds.

    • Kitty McNeal February 16, 2017 at 11:47 pm #

      We have autism vouchers in Ohio that have a cap of $20,000.00 and as you stated, not close to covering tuition in a private autism program…also this blog is great but parents shouldn’t have to educate the education secretary!

    • Nickye February 17, 2017 at 8:55 am #

      Unteachables? Really? I’ve been a special educator and the mother of a special educator teacher. I’ve been in the field for 33 years. In all those years, I’ve never seen an unteachable child. How dare you be so judgmental about something you obviously know nothing about children with special needs. Maybe you should volunteer in your friends school and get to know these teachable children.

  21. Sarah B February 11, 2017 at 12:23 pm #

    Thank you!!! As the parent of a child with special needs (similar to Maura’s) I was also very upset with her appointment. The Secretary of Education needs to know that FAPE & IDEA are federal laws!! I also am a special education teacher in Iowa and would gladly welcome her into my classroom on any day. She could even come home with me to see what I deal with on a nightly basis as a teacher and single mom. Thank you for sharing your life and thoughts!! God Bless you, your family, Maura and her teachers!!

  22. Patty Hoffman February 11, 2017 at 12:28 pm #

    Oh yes, yes, yes! I live in the district, in MI, where you used to live. I have a daughter with a 504 (Betsy, look that one up, too, because SO many of those kids fall through the cracks, because they are ‘functional’). I won;t even get into the struggle of getting her into the right school for her needs. I have a second child who has no learning issues but a fascination with automotive tech. There was a great school with a stellar automotive program just out of our district–they wanted him, he wanted them BUT ‘our’ superintendent wouldn’t sign the release! Heaven forbid those dollars move to a different district!! “Choice” is often in the hands of people who are greedy and don’t have the best interest of children at the root of their decisions.

    • Phoebe February 11, 2017 at 12:57 pm #

      The superintendent got to know us when we were there as well. Gah.

  23. FastHugs February 11, 2017 at 1:22 pm #

    Thank you for writing. You have hit on so many of the issues about which Betsy, unfortunately, had no idea. I also attended private (Christian) schools, taught in Christian and public schools, taught K->community college, worked in in 6 districts in 2 states, earned my doctorate in education leadership, and ended my career as the Superintendent of a public K-12 school system. Education and students are very diverse with a whole range of needs. The vast majority of classroom teachers, aides, and administrators are caring, competent people. We all deserve someone who knows and cares about educators and education. Sadly, we do not have that person as our Sec. of Education. Many of the people who voted her in have had their pockets lined by her ‘gifts.’ Please, Maura’s Mom and other students’ Moms, please, please keep writing Betsy. She deserves an education from you.

  24. FastHugs February 11, 2017 at 1:24 pm #

    I should also mention. I have a spinal cord injury and ‘live’ in a wheelchair so I am well aware of the needs of children with mobility handicaps.

  25. Pam Sohan February 11, 2017 at 1:44 pm #

    Oh, and I loved your post! you really should send it to Ms DeVos. She really needs to get out there and see whats going on in public schools, the good and the bad.

  26. ron February 11, 2017 at 8:05 pm #

    obviously this is a site composed by teachers who fear their money may be exposed as coming from questionable sources – you don’t know the Betsy DeVos education has received – that is, a gracious, helpful, champion of good education!! – get off your Democratic sites and think a little – and do it “for the children!”

    • Phoebe February 11, 2017 at 9:09 pm #

      Obviously you are new here and don’t know me or my voting record, but thanks for playing along!

    • Phoebe February 11, 2017 at 9:14 pm #

      She graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and political science.

      Which means she is educated, but has no background in education itself. Which is like hiring a software designer for a nursing job.

      • Jilly Mills-Hammond February 12, 2017 at 7:21 pm #

        Alumni of her own college signed a petition against her confirmation!

    • Thyra Packett February 12, 2017 at 3:41 pm #

      Would love to hear more about your experience with a special needs child in the educational system!

    • Carmen Maria Borrego - Linne February 12, 2017 at 9:10 pm #

      That is very good advice. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Betsy DeVos had legions of people offering support and suggestions in good faith and with some respect? What a great difference they could make — but I sadly doubt many of them are up to that challenge. It is so much easier to be rude, attack and pretend they are doing it all ‘ for the children’.
      This blog is truly very sad.

      • Phoebe February 12, 2017 at 9:32 pm #

        So very sad.

      • Phoebe February 12, 2017 at 10:10 pm #

        It would be wonderful if you read more of my blog before casting sweeping judgment about it.

    • Jojo February 12, 2017 at 11:02 pm #

      What money are you referring to? I need to know where that money is so I can buy the things I need for my special needs classroom. We are provided a curriculum to follow but the crafts, recipies, and any other activities needed come out of my monthly budget.

  27. Pam Wertjes February 11, 2017 at 8:24 pm #

    Phoebe – you are the overqualified best friend that she could possibly as for – if only she’d do the asking 😦

  28. Kathy Vogt February 11, 2017 at 11:43 pm #

    Hi Phoebe. This is amazingly well written and it explains things very clearly for those of us who have never had to deal with your trials. I hope you don’t mind but I copied and pasted this (with credit to you and your blog) on Betsy DeVos’s Facebook page. It is too good for her not to have as many opportunities as possible to see it.

  29. Tara February 11, 2017 at 11:45 pm #

    From this special needs mom and teacher of students with severe physical and mental disabilities..,you nailed it. Right on.

  30. Amanda Perkins February 12, 2017 at 12:20 am #

    This post is awesome! I’m a K-5 Special Ed. Teacher and I can’t give this post enough love!

  31. Sara Anderson February 12, 2017 at 1:34 am #

    As a retired special educator and parent I cannot tell you what a great blog you created. Thank you! I am sick at heart over this. I worked for 40 years to provide the best I could for my students, no matter what the disability. It can’t end and go back to isolation, discrimination and segregation!

  32. Denise February 12, 2017 at 1:44 am #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! You have said so many things I have had on my mind and in my heart. I am a special educator in Northern Virginia, a suburb of D.C. I teach students in grades K-2 who have moderate intellectual disabilities. I love my profession, my students, my coworkers and your blog.

    Please DO keep an eye on Betsy, and feel free to send her to my school. We are a culturally diverse public school, too. We have several classes for students receiving special education services and we’re almost in her neck of the woods. I won’t be able to take her to Starbucks, but we could invite her to lunch. No cameras, no reporters, no talking points; just her, my students, my classroom team and me. She can see all those things we do BESIDES academics. The things that will help my amazing students become successful in all areas of their lives, and be accepted, and employable as they get older. I have never, EVER heard of a charter school that does that.

    Keep on watching. Keep on blogging. You have a new devotee.

    Thank you for what you do! Cheers and happiness to Maura.

  33. Janell Weaver February 12, 2017 at 7:35 am #

    Can we be best friends?? I love this post. Thank you so much for writing! Sharing and following!

  34. Joan February 12, 2017 at 8:50 am #

    I am a teacher of an amazing group of students in Georgia. My classroom is a grades 3rd thru 5th self-contained MOID room. My students run the gambit of reading on a 1st grade level to struggling to recognize the letters in their name. All of them are met where they are. I am also watching what direction Betsy will take our education system. I am worried about my students and their future. We try to focus on the skills they need to interact in their community. Our classroom motto is “learning to be good citizens all day everyday”. Thank you for this article. It is awesome to see an parent speaking out!

  35. Deanne February 12, 2017 at 10:01 am #

    You nailed this by addressing every single thing I have been thinking (and worrying) about since the DeVos nomination was announced. No private preschool or day care would accept our daughter 12 years ago. Are we to think things have magically changed for the better? Private schools don’t care how they get their tuition, just that it is paid in full and on time. A voucher is honestly no different than a private check. Money is money. I do understand the concept of choice, but I also recognize that choices are limited for many when reality sets in. And, for us, the fact that our daughter is excited to follow in her big siblings’ footsteps (now public middle school, then public high school) makes this the best choice for our family.

  36. M Gouldsmith February 12, 2017 at 12:24 pm #

    Thank you for being a voice for your daughter and mine, a world that many have no clue about… especially Betsy.

  37. Kymberly Jones February 12, 2017 at 1:58 pm #

    While reading this, you were describing me and my daughter, Kenzie, she sounds just like your precious Maura! The head thunk description was extremely accurate. The day she was confirmed I felt sick all day. I worried then, like now, how is this going to effect Kenzie, who is in a self contained classroom, but gets to do things within her school, like Maura. How is this going to effect the opportunities available to her. You are right, Betsy is going to be watched….like a hawk. Parents with special need children are in a category all of our own and we are LOUD. Thank you for putting into words what so many of us parents felt and thought. I hope for the best, expect the worst and maybe get something in between. My best to you and your sweet girl. Like you, I will be watching!

  38. Pat Mennenga February 12, 2017 at 2:24 pm #

    Not sure if this has been addressed but small school districts in rural ranching areas of Nebraska may be 50 to 100 miles apart. Where will they find school choice? They must rely on quality public schools with sufficient funding to meet the needs of all children. Don’t siphon off money for alternative choices in urban areas.

  39. Nanrgran February 12, 2017 at 2:55 pm #

    I don’t have a disabled child, but I volunteer with disabled children. Loved reading this! Keep up the good work! So much this new administration has never considered for us regular people.

  40. Thyra Packett February 12, 2017 at 3:33 pm #

    Thank you so much !! What a wonderful summary of the realities related to our “special needs” kids! My son I’d now 50. He is a very personable, kind, life loving person who shares (still) most all of the issues your beautiful daughter has. The lunacy of current policy is just mind boggling! I don’t know what world the policy makers live in? To insist that person centered programming and personal choice is a reality flys in the face of reduced funding, inadequate staff,,closed facilities and programs and an astounding denial of the real needs of individuals with real disabilities who need real help not rhetoric!

  41. Ang February 12, 2017 at 6:06 pm #

    I don’t have any children, but I do have school aged cousins and I’ve seen how inadequate their educations have become. I am frustrated and angry on behalf of everyone who has children. I hope that you and other parents upset by the appointment of DeVos send letters like this to her and state representatives.

    Best wishes to you and your beautiful Maura.

  42. David Limbaugh February 12, 2017 at 7:57 pm #

    Well Said! A fellow alum, classmate and friend wrote about DeVos and IDEA, and I never heard back from MY Senator,

  43. Carmen Maria Borrego - Linne February 12, 2017 at 9:01 pm #

    Well, how do I begin? Hmmmm. First of all, the demeaning and ‘snarky’ tone of your communication tells me ALOT. You show little respect, are downright demeaning; yet you certainly would demand respect for your daughter or yourself wouldn’t you?

    You make that amazing BIG MISTAKE of ‘assuming’. You assume a lot about the new ‘person in charge’. May I ask you something? How do you feel when people just ‘assume’ things about your daughter without even knowing her or giving her a chance?

    Does not feel very good huh. Maybe if you squared your shoulders, looked in the mirror and thought about that awhile, you could benefit from a more mature perspective.

    The Department of Education was not even in existence until the Teacher’s Union supported Jimmy Carter in 1979 for his election. As a ‘token’ he created the Department of Education, which the Teacher’s Union decided was ‘their baby to control’. They seem to have never realized the department’s true original responsibility was to include all ‘stakeholders’ such as parents and students too.

    Teacher’s Union’s primary concern is ‘teachers’….not students, not even ‘education’. They want more union members and more $$ union dues. Pardon the rest of America if we seem to see a bit more clearly than you do. And ‘assuming’ that Betsy DeVos and citizens do ‘not’ care about ALL children; that is truly a most hideous bullying tactic.

    I am also the mother of a child who had a birth defect and had surgeries from birth to age 19. So, do not again ‘ assume’ that you know me or what I have dealt with as a parent – you do not. However, I will fully support Betsy DeVos as she takes on the huge challenge of trying to correct years of mistakes and control by a union that looked only after their own agenda.

    There is a song about ‘The Man in the Mirror’….if you want to make a change..maybe you will take a long look and model the type of person who can really be a big help — an not just a big smart ass.

    • Phoebe February 12, 2017 at 9:31 pm #

      I like that you tell me to be more respectful while telling me how rude and smart-assy I am. I could learn so much from you!

      • Carmen Maria Borrego - Linne February 13, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

        Do you love your children enough to ‘tell them what they are doing that might hold them back or need correction’? Well sometimes you many need that same information. At least I cared enough to tell you; you do not have to ‘wise’ enough to take it and think about it.

    • ProudRepublicanMom February 13, 2017 at 12:59 am #

      Carmen Maria etc – you are not the “rest of America” and certainly do NOT speak for the rest of us. By the way, the vast majority of citizens (Reps, Dems, Inds, Mods, and so on) felt DeVos was not a right fit. Betsy DeVis is HIGHLY unqualified for this position despite her stand on educational vouchers. Good for you for believing that Betsy DeVos can correct mistakes, but you are missing the boat on the original blog topic. Phoebe is discussing educating the student, and you appear to be grinding an axe against Teacher’s Unions. Even on that topic you seem to be poorly prepared (similar to Billionaire Betsy), because union contracts are negotiated at the district and not national level.

      • Carmen Maria Borrego - Linne February 13, 2017 at 3:23 pm #

        I have no axe to grind at all. Just giving some history and bringing up the point that is the ‘elephant in the room’. The ‘anger’ and ‘hate’ being thrown at DeVos is quite the reflection of the Teacher’s Union being fearful of losing $ and control. Quite true.

    • Douglas Domingo-Foraste February 13, 2017 at 3:04 pm #

      Although created as a separate cabinet level dept to advocate for students in 1979, the Dept of Education had long been part of the Dept of Health, Education, Welfare (1972-1979) and before that the Dept of the Interior (1867-1972).
      Also, ALOT is two words.

      • Carmen Maria Borrego - Linne February 13, 2017 at 3:24 pm #

        LOL Yes, I know all that and yes, sorry for the typo A LOT. Thank you! I tend to type too fast. LOL

  44. Linn February 12, 2017 at 10:20 pm #

    I must agree with Carmen. Your comments certainly tend be rude and snarky. Please give Ms. DeVos a chance. I am a grandmother of a wonderful boy with special needs and I am looking forward to someone with fresh ideas. I welcome the idea of vouchers. I went to a very poorly run high school; unfortunately 45+ years later the school is just as bad. If I were a parent now; I would want to send my child to the school of my choice. If a regular education student cannot succeed in such a high school; what chance does a special education student have?

    • Phoebe February 12, 2017 at 10:39 pm #

      Well the first thing she’s done is weaken accountability for vulnerable students

      “I want to clarify why Secretary DeVos’s actions are harmful, especially given the fact that the language used in her letter seems very benign. On January 20th, the Trump Administration put a freeze on the recently issued accountability rule for the Every Student Succeeds Act, which provides protections for students with disabilities and students of color. This regulation ensured that states could not design accountability systems that ignored vulnerable students. In her letter, Secretary DeVos tells states to move forward with their accountability plans with the suggestion that all would be accepted — regardless of how they affected students. After saying that she supports accountability in her hearing, Secretary DeVos is going back on that assertion by giving states free rein. I worked with legislators from both parties to make sure that this new education bill had strong civil rights protections baked in. The fact that Secretary DeVos feels no need to make sure that states will actually implement these protections should give us all pause.” -Senator Chris Murphy

      • Linn February 12, 2017 at 11:55 pm #

        I see no such “suggestion.”

      • Sue February 13, 2017 at 12:20 pm #

        I worked for 18 years in a school for students with special needs. I’m sure Betsy was never there! These students need the education that is based on an individual basis. Michigan is the only state that students go to school for 26 years! We have satellite based programs for students that are able to work and contribute to the community. We need these kids to be able to be out with there parents and people need to realize that yes, there are kids with all types of abilities but they need a great quality of life!
        Visit your local schools! There’s one in your backyard…Lincoln school. I worked at the Ottawa Area center. We focused on what our students could do and helped them with things they couldn’t do for themselves! Go on a field trip…we have them a lot.
        You have a lot of work ahead of you. Do not write these kids off! They have a lot to teach us as well!

    • Carmen Maria Borrego - Linne February 13, 2017 at 3:30 pm #

      It will be very interesting to see if those who so loudly oppose Betsy DeVos will take on the real challenge of being mature and finding ways to help the education system improve. Or, if they will remain taking the easy path of mud slinging, name calling and ‘assuming’ DeVos is incapable of making effective improvements.

      • Phoebe February 13, 2017 at 3:56 pm #

        If she shows SpEd students half the commitment you have for sharing your opinion, we might be okay!

  45. Lindsay February 12, 2017 at 10:32 pm #

    As a mother of an alternative learner, I have found much frustration in my son’s public school special education experience. All that aside, Devos IS here to stay, so I hope everyone supports your idea of giving her opportunities to learn first hand (honestly, not knowing you, I couldn’t tell whether you would honestly invite that, or if you were being completely sarcastic. I hope the former). So far blocking and protesting her seems to be much more popular.

    I am an RN who works in a hospital run by someone who has never been a physician, nurse, or health care worker. He is a hospital administrator. He does a fabulous job despite his lack of health care experience. He has chosen those with that experience to work closely with him and listens to their ideas. This is not a foreign concept.

    Devos has some things to learn, which is usually the case in a new position no matter how qualified someone is. Let’s team up to be the best advocates we can for our kids. I believe that will take all of us working together instead of screaming our judgements from afar. It’s quite possible all sides will learn something.

    • Phoebe February 12, 2017 at 10:40 pm #

      I am completely honest in my invitation for her to visit us. I would most definitely buy her a Starbuck’s as well.

  46. Howard Solomon February 12, 2017 at 10:47 pm #

    Phoebe, I appreciate almost everything you told Betsy in you letter. But as someone who has been on a board of education, I wanted to let you know that it isn’t the case that “the district would lose all those sweet extra dollars that came with a student like my daughter. Those sweet extra dollars that didn’t necessarily have to be spent on my daughter.” At least where I live (Illinois), those sweet dollars are earmarked and protected. And children like your daughter Maura are, and I’m sure you know this, more expensive than many students without ID. The additional funds that are provided by IDEA rarely cover the additional money that it takes to care for her and have her fit in the school environment. Boards of education all over the country scrounge and scrimp to find the funds needed to take care of her and children in similar circumstances. We report to a community of taxpayers, and you know how they are about parting with their money. So we find it. And then we go look for some more because we know that we will need to make the same set of sacrifices for another child who needs something else as part of his/her IEP.
    You know much that Betsy hasn’t yet encountered. The charter schools she advocates are each designed to be something called a “profit center.” Its report will be to stockholders instead of representatives of the local community. Because the profit must leave the system and go to the stockholders, there is less left for handling Maura’s need. I’m glad that you found the services of public schools amazing. That’s how I find them too. Keep writing and telling your story. Regards!

    • Phoebe February 12, 2017 at 10:52 pm #

      That is how it was explained to me by someone within the school district. Our SpEd director was all about how cheaply she could educate the SpEd students, from replacing a F/T speech therapist who was going on FML with a P/T one (then was surprised when oh, not all IEPs were being met.) Or how we asked for a diaper changing surface any sort for the students who’d need such a thing and her reply was “Well, the staff can just change them standing up.” (that doesn’t work well.) The ridiculous one was when they asked for like, $1.50 to buy a special pencil grip and the SpEd director wouldn’t get back to them – the staff member ended up paying out of pocket for it.

  47. Mary Nunn February 13, 2017 at 12:27 am #

    I love you and your candor. And yes, as a fellow public education teacher, I’m watching her too.

  48. Sandy February 13, 2017 at 12:52 am #

    One thing that struck me in your blog, we got attorney’s, you see the laws exist and the Public schools have gotten so powerful through the teachers unions that they don’t follow them, we have to hire lawyers…. some parents can’t afford that, and their kids fall through the cracks. My daughter was sexually assaulted at one of those fine “Public Schools” oh and she isn’t the only one! So please…. let’s not pretend that Public schools are serving all our kids equally. I was alarmed that Betsy, didn’t know what IDEA and FAPE meant, but instead of bashing let’s unite to create education that works for all children. My daughter goes to a private school now. First time she has made progress in 5 years.

  49. Cat February 13, 2017 at 7:59 am #

    Pheobe you rock! As a former special ed teacher and educational advocate (who also used to live in Michigan) I could not agree more!

  50. Jennifer February 13, 2017 at 9:33 am #

    I’m glad your daughter is in a good school. I have subbed in the public schools and have found that they are making great efforts to meet the needs of special ed. students. But our schools are still failing our kids and unless you can afford private you have no choice but to fight a school system that doesn’t have to change. I have a child who was in the highly capably program. The waiting list to get into the Magna class was so long he could never get in and so he was in a regular class with 3 other high cap students. Year after year they did nothing with these kids. And there was nowhere else for us to go because Washington doesn’t have charter schools.
    There are so many times when my kids had teachers that were just bad teachers, spent their time at their computer instead of engaging the students, constantly angry and yelling, one teacher didn’t see a need for spelling tests. But there is no way of getting rid of them.
    I WANT another choice for my kids. I want the freedom to CHOOSE. There are huge problems in the public schools and we keep throwing money at them but it doesn’t get better. By the way, the charter school movement was started by parents of special ed. kids who weren’t having the needs of their kids met in the public schools.

  51. menteebeforementor February 13, 2017 at 9:50 am #

    Thank you for writing this! I attended public schools for all of my life and while I do not have a disability, I can understand all too well how easily our public schools are tossed to the side in the level of importance when it comes to the wealthy such as… Betsy. The fact that a woman, who is so ill informed about public schools and the capabilities and opportunities that these schools hold for children as beautiful and brilliant as your daughter, is enough reason for pieces like these- pieces that make a statement that we are not going down without a fight- just because it’s a public school doesn’t mean it’s less beneficial to our children. I am the woman that I am today because I received public schooling. Awesome piece!

  52. ScrugglinsMama February 13, 2017 at 10:36 am #

    Thank you for putting into words what I couldn’t. And thank you for recognizing that not all special needs kids are autistic. My son has ID because of intractable epilepsy. The school we were zoned for offered inclusion only, which with his expressive and receptive language issues, would leave him in the dust. Again, thank you for being our voice so eloquently!!!

  53. Ted Brindle February 13, 2017 at 10:51 am #

    All of us are watching. We’re expecting great things to happen. Betsy Devos, I hope you read and understand this and know how some populations could get hurt by not adequately supporting federal laws designed to protect and educate all of our citizens.

  54. Dennis Riccio February 13, 2017 at 1:32 pm #

    You all are fools. You need to give this woman a chance. Do you realize where we rank in this world when it come to education and no thanks previous so called much more qualified secretaries before her. Instead of writing stupid threating letters why don’t you try to encourage her and offer some ideas if you all havr any.

    • Phoebe February 13, 2017 at 1:34 pm #

      Fools we be 😁

      • Phoebe February 19, 2017 at 10:50 am #

        (Do I dare tell him that this is the first election I did not vote for the Republican candidate? Or do I leave him to his delusions?)

    • Marilyn Weber February 13, 2017 at 1:38 pm #

      MA public school students rank among the top in the world. Maybe she should talk to some educators there.

    • nanis February 13, 2017 at 2:20 pm #

      If we are fools, then so be it. No one has said that things don’t need upgrading, but to put a person who is not even familiar with the laws in charge is foolish. She is not qualified. Period. She got the job simply because she donated so much money to T’s campaign, not because of any talent or experience she has.

    • Rachel Arro February 14, 2017 at 8:49 pm #

      I find it interesting that you call people fools while simultaneously asking others to encourage our new Secretary of Education. Personally, I believe that if you are appointed to this kind of position, you should have some rudimentary background knowledge in that area. You should expect questions about proficiency/growth, IDEA, and security within schools. As a leader, I would hope that she would be the one with ideas and fresh perspectives while also being open to dialogue with those in the field. Lack of experience is one thing, but lack of preparation when faced with relevant questions is another matter entirely. The questions will just keep coming, and I doubt they will get easier. i have zero faith in her, but I honestly hope that she proves me wrong.

    • Phoebe February 19, 2017 at 10:48 am #

      Well with such a convincing argument, how can you be anything but right about all thing?

      I know my mind has been changed.

      P.S. – it’s “DUMBASSES” sweetie. Here we use our big people curses.

  55. Mary Kay Mason February 13, 2017 at 1:43 pm #

    As a teacher… this is incredible. I mean INCREDIBLE! As an advocate for special education students–there are many in my general education classroom and in my teaching past…keep up this fight. Betsy needs to know. She needs to hear from everyone of us. I’m a Michigan teacher. I relate. I’ve seen and worked in those buildings you shared. I’ve been that teacher. You have a beautiful daughter who has the best advocate…YOU!

  56. Douglas Domingo-Foraste February 13, 2017 at 2:41 pm #

    Nice blog. You’ve got a typo. Should be: “There are fewer students…” instead of “There’s less students…”

  57. Laura February 13, 2017 at 3:01 pm #

    This is great, Maura! I raised a kid with learning disabilities who’s needs weren’t met by regular public, or private school (tried both). He ended up in a wonderful alternative *public* school program. I am also an SLP who is embedded in two public school special ed classrooms that sound a lot like your daughter’s wonderful classroom – including being covered in PECS icons! I wanted to thank you for writing this, and to let you know that we in California are in solidarity with you. We will not stop working for the best education for these kids.

  58. John Love February 14, 2017 at 10:11 am #

    This might be a good resource for you. Val Curtis is a personal friend and is chief editor of She is a former teacher, marine biologist who shares your concerns. You might want to check her and BonBon Break out. She has quest blogs all the time, plus the magazine itself is a wonderful connection for mothers and their children! My daughter is a teacher and principal, so I am a Dad who has been educated, ok!

  59. charmaine February 15, 2017 at 11:50 pm #

    I agree with your points, but I do not think that being sarcastic and antagonistic is the best way to go about getting your point across and expecting her to listen.

  60. Robin February 16, 2017 at 5:52 am #

    Thank you so much for your amazing letter. I am a special education teacher, (almost 25 years) and some of my students are just like your bright and wonderful daughter, Maura. As you know, public school teachers teach ALL kids, value ALL kids, love and respect ALL kids. And now I am also the mother of a son with a learning disability. You do not fight this fight alone – we are in this TOGETHER.

  61. Sandra Whiting February 17, 2017 at 2:54 am #

    Hi Phoebe,
    As the proud mama of a 37 year old very active and social Down Syndrome man, I send you warm hugs and good job stickers. (I also taught public school grades K- 3 for 30 years.) DeVos is a total embarrassment and definitely needs endless education. I hope she has the good sense to read your heart felt words and follow it up with a visit. I then would love for her to head south to Oregon and visit our two amazing workshops and hundreds of activities for adults with special needs in the Portland area as well as tour over 20 amazing group homes and our new neighborhood all run by Edwards Enterprises. Edwards serves over 400 adults a day in some manner and as a mom, it has saved my life and answered my prayers. Come visit, Phoebe. 💜

  62. Marianne Davis February 17, 2017 at 11:39 am #

    So many reasons to resent Betsy DeVos’ purchasiing her way into public office. My husband says , “We have the best government now that money could buy! Who among “them” possesses an ounce of grace, empathy, gratitude for the earth we’ve been blessed to occupy or knowledge of how to do the work of their new purchased jobs.. The Clampets have elbowed their way into the hallowed halls of our government there in Washington. God help us.

  63. B T Bubble Sheet February 17, 2017 at 4:06 pm #

    I just wrote my senators a letter about her! Thank you so much for making being vulnerable, clear, and compassionate.

  64. grandmaduncansdoodles February 20, 2017 at 1:49 am #

    Loved your honest article-and I hope Betsy takes you up on your offer. This is the kind of interaction we need!

  65. Marie Christine February 24, 2017 at 10:49 pm #

    Yessssss! She has no understanding of the rights of disabled students in public education. It’s so upsetting!

  66. careerdoover June 26, 2017 at 6:09 pm #

    I do not have a child with special needs so I cannot relate there. However I do have children and Betsy just doesn’t seem to have a clue. This was so beautifully written. Thanks for sharing!

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