Guest Blog post by Amy Peterson ~
This may seem lengthy but I think it's worth it. Even if you did not get a chance to participate in Keep Students Safe Month, you can see your members of Congress in many different settings. What you think would be a long shot to be heard might instead be better than you would expect.
I'm sure every legislator has their own style of meeting with Constituents when they're in the home district. Senator Grassley (R-Iowa), who has been in the Senate over a half century and has long been considered one of the most bipartisan, cooperative, and sensibly thinking Senators, had a local Town Hall Meeting where he takes questions from the audience. For a rural town we had a great turnout.
I really thought this would be a long shot to accomplish anything compared with the nearly half hour meeting I had with Rep. King's staff. Because I'd already received a letter back from Sen. Grassley, I was not sure how I could bring up the issue in a way it was not asked and answered. I didn't want to be a pest with the price of losing any support we might have had from such a longstanding senator.
The press was there (local paper and radio) AND there were two men there with hats that said "Roll Call." That's the congressional magazine. One took video and one stills, and after my question one of them asked me for the spelling of my name, a copy of the one-page information sheet I carry with me, and my phone number and email address. It's quite possible that Action to Keep Students Safe will be recorded in Roll Call and all of Congress, or their staff, and other Washington types, will read it soon.
I was not sure before what the value would be of attending a crowded town hall meeting, but this is it:
- Usually lots of people are there;
- Apparently Roll Call follows them around their districts;
- Your name, and the name of the cause and group, could get into the press.
I tied the cause to Iowa with the recent exposure of restraint and seclusion abuse at the Iowa Juvenile Home reported in the Des Moines Register. I pointed out that any teen girl who had a little trouble (or a lot, but more mental illness and substance abuse than violence or criminal activity) could be placed there by a judge, yet they aren't accountable as a residential school so these abuses continue.
Senator Grassley asked, "Doesn't federal oversight of special education cover all this?"
The statistics from the GAO and the fact that 20 states require no parental notification and 19 states have no laws regarding restraint and seclusion leaped to my head at the right moment, and I quoted them, saying this is why federal legislation is the only way to save children from what Rep. Miller called abuse and torture at school.
I got a raised eyebrow for that, and Sen. Grassley really likes investigating things and I pray he investigates this.
I said in answer to the special ed system providing a solution that sometimes the very people administering the federally mandated IEPs were the problem -- that they allowed children to be placed in the situations that led to their restraint and seclusion. The guy from the local paper scribbled furiously. And he thinks I'm a liberal pinko. I hope his attentive behavior wasn't a coincidence.
When I said I was grateful for the letter I received from his office about the House bill, and that I deeply understood that his role was further along in the process, was there anything a Republican senator could do to communicate with a Republican House Committee Chair (and I mentioned Rep. Kline's name) to get the bill to the House floor for a vote.
He said, "A senator could not directly advocate to the House to bring up a bill, but if you wish to educate my office more about this subject, there is communication among congressional republicans and surely something could go out to Kline and his committee." And he gave me the name of the staffer I should call to accomplish this.
His staff also took a copy of the one-page on which I had written my name and email address.
We have the power to be very influential if we let ourselves shine. It was a good four minutes.
Amy Peterson is a founding member of Action to Keep Students Safe and a fierce advocate for the rights of youth and families. Amy Peterson's 20-year-old son is on the autism spectrum, and from her own experience with IEPs, health plans and accommodations she has coached and advocated for numerous parents behind the scenes in their work with school special education teams. She has served on numerous boards and committees that serve children and parents living with autism and has been a speaker at regional parent/educator conferences. A legal assistant in a practice that dealt with family and trial law, Amy has worked as a freelance journalist and writer for 13 years. She is now using her talents to build community around the Keeping All Students Safe Act to help build a safe learning environment for all children.
If Amy can do it so can you!
- Read Sheila Foster's Morning Zen piece on the tragic and needless death of her son while being restrained.
- Read Joe Ryan's Morning Zen piece on better alternatives to seclusion and restraint.
- Read Peabody Award recipient Bill Lichtenstein's story on seclusion and restraint.
- Watch the impassioned speech by Representative George Miller on the House Floor, advocating for passage of the Keeping All Students Safe Act in 2010 (the bill passed the House but did not pass the Senate).
- And finally, get involved in supporting the Keeping All Students Safe Act - we've made it easy for you!
Time to get busy folks.
President & CEO
Children's Mental Health Network