I am a parent, who like many, volunteered in our schools. I started questioning why systems are the way they are, how other districts are doing things differently and started advocating for changes to benefit our students. As a volunteer, my advocacy has gained selection in the community as a panelist for Parents Helping Parents, an appointed parent representative for the Special Education Task Force for Santa Clara County Office of Education, and as the Chairperson for the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. As a result, I have been a fixture at our district board meetings for the last three years.
My first push toward advocating from district to state levels begins with a traumatic event more than 5 years ago. My child was restrained at his elementary school in prone; on his stomach with arms and legs held. My son was emotionally shattered when I was bringing him home that day, leaving me to wonder what it would take to put my child back together again, and it took years for him to return to public school classes. Questioning how this can happen to any child in their school, my research revealed traumatic responses to public school students that are within the law. In this disturbing rabbit hole, it came to light that prone restraint is known to be lethal. Though I continue to work on San Jose Unified School District to ban the use of prone restraint, I was successful with the Santa Clara County Board of Education whose policy now bans use of prone restraint for their County programs. My effort on this will be done when California joins other states that have already banned use of prone restraint.
I am not alone in seeking better Mental Health in our schools. Even at the state level, there are conversations about requests for support doubling during shelter-in-place. District has mental health services at every school, but when I ask students if they know they can walk into the office and ask for help, they didn’t know. Even so, asking for help with a Mental Health issue is often something our students can’t begin to do as most do not see they need help. Social Emotional Learning curriculums in our district are limited to Elementary schools. As I started looking into this, the curriculum we are using has Middle School material we are not using. And I know that district middle and high school staff are exploring options. The ideal is to have a drop in center not unlike the one the district is piloting at Pioneer. Their doors opened in August and by December they had already worked with a handful of students with suicidal idealization, started group therapy for students who lost a parent this year, and have created a culture with better acceptance and understanding of Mental Health. With a High School and Middle School next door to one another, I can’t help but think how the Willow Glen setting is ideal for a center too.
I intend to improve community collaboration. As a leader in the Special Education community, I am often called on to support parents navigating complex education systems. In this role, I have witnessed the language and social barriers many of our families face that could be better buffered by school districts. As a result, often resources that were intended to be accessible proactively are provided reactively. We need to improve on an understanding of public school systems. Without public knowledge about what support is available in public schools for all students, families do not know what to ask for as needs arise and students continue to struggle without the support the community is ready to provide.