No One will Save us but ourselves
Effective on July 1, Maryland will have a special education ombudsman assigned to the office of the State Attorney General. Isn’t that a great thing! Now families with concerns about failure of schools to provide a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) will have some place to take their concerns. FINALLY!
Oh wait, for the last 20 years, yes that is correct 20 YEARS, there has been an ombudsman in the Maryland State Department of Education for that exact same purpose. The MSDE ombudsman is supposed to research parental concerns and act as an intermediary between the families and the local school districts. And this person is supposed to act with the power and authority of the State Department of Education.
How’s that working for you? Thought so. In fact I would guess that most people reading this were not even aware that such a position existed at MSDE. After the job was created by state and federal legislation, the responsibilities were added to those the individual already had. So it was not a dedicated position. The woman who had the responsibility did a decent job because she really cared. She retired a number of years ago and today it is unclear exactly who has that responsibility. In any event, the name of the person and the assignment were never advertised nor made known to the disability community.
Now comes a similar position, this time attached to the Attorney General’s office. We do not know if this will be a separate individual position of a task added to someone’s other duties.
Here is what we do know. No one will save us but ourselves. The disability community has a great deal of work to do. Tremendous energy has been expended on getting every child the right to an appropriate education. That has been happening since 1975. We are 45 years into the fight, and yet the employment of people with disabilities is WELL below any other minority group. The situation is really bad if you are “twice blessed”, have a disability and be a person of color. What is the point of working toward a good education if the individual does not have a financial future. We need to stop depending on ombudsmen who create a feel good moment but no real change. No one is going to help the disability community but ourselves. It is past time for us to get moving on part two of the journey.