I started my practice on the North Shore of Chicago for a number of reasons. The most important one was that I lived in one of the suburbs, was a single mother with no family to count on, and the school systems were and are among the best in the state. When I first began representing families in the early years on a pro-bono basis, I was struck by the level of inequality at every level for those students in the city of Chicago and less affluent suburbs. During the first year, I filed a request for a due process hearing and along with alleging the violations of the IDEA and state law, I asserted that the district was in violation of the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. the Board of Education. The hearing officer dismissed my claim regarding the separate but unequal reasoning indicating that this wasn’t a due process issue. In this segregated school in Chicago where my client attended there were no white students, the school had few resources, and the answer to all my requests were we don’t have that or we don’t do that. The requests for additional speech, specialized reading instruction, and social work services were ones that would have been provided in the suburban districts without the need for an attorney and would be readily available.
On that day, arriving at the school on the west side, I couldn’t find an entrance. There were no outside doorknobs or handles. The students were locked in their classrooms from the inside and there were few pictures or any of the colorful bulletin boards that are found in schools. The school was quiet – too quiet. That picture was not unique in certain areas of the city. The resources were concentrated on the North Side where children had active if not affluent parents who advocated for them. This was the case in many of the suburbs where I worked now and then. It is unfortunate that this picture has changed little since I began my practice. Parents without resources, both financial and otherwise, are left to their own devices with limited ability to access the services for their children. Most parents who come to me are overwhelmed. They have access to the internet and often have a network of other parents who are savvy and clear about what their child needs. They also have the funds to consult with an attorney. It is easy to forget that this isn’t the case for thousands of parents who are left out of the discussion and the system. When they are told this is all we have, they frequently go away from a meeting assuming that this is all the school an offer.
There are pockets of people who are trying to do better but accessing these resources can be daunting in a large school system for most parents. Knowing who to call and what to say matter greatly.
Family Resource Center. frcd.org
Jewish Child & Family Services (JCFS). www.jcfs.org
The James B. MORAN CENTER for Youth Advocacy. moran-center.org
Equip for Equality. equipforequality.org
Chicago Public Schools Office of Diverse Learners Supports and Services. CPS.edu
ISBE IEP facilitation. www.isbe.state.il.us
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