I lost a friend I had for close to four decades over the way we each see this legislative issue. I feel the loss, but it's worth it. I feel the loss, because I could not just dismiss him as someone who is ill-informed and too stubborn to see both sides. He's a commercial pilot and flight instructor in southern California, a forty-something confirmed bachelor, childless (as far as he knows), a champion uncle, a thoughtful and intelligent individual.
As kids, we debated the problems of our world in the '70s and '80s walking home from school together more days than not. In fifth grade, we protested the launch of a school newspaper for a few handpicked students who were not us, and who certainly would not have prevailed over either of us in any comparison of writing acumen.
Outraged, we began an underground student newspaper published with my mother's typewriter and my father's office copier. Through a rigorous process of rock, paper, scissors, he was named editor-in chief and I was content and style editor. We had a reporting staff of ten. My point -- we were each other's early partners in social change, subversiveness, and seeking equality.
Fast forward to late 2013 - I posted about this issue often on my Facebook wall, and had what I thought were spirited discussions in which we simply disagreed. I didn't tag him in the posts, and wouldn't have minded if he'd scrolled on by. In fact after the second dust up about it, I suggested we needed to agree to disagree and perhaps he'd be happier scrolling.
The third time, it still seemed civil enough, but shortly after I clearly had not changed my mind, he blocked me on Facebook and has not returned my email or phone messages, except to tell me not to contact him further. I'll respect his wish. I guess he somehow felt disrespected by my enthusiasm. Of course that's not what I wanted to happen, but I'm willing to take some risks, accept some losses to win the passage of this Act.
This friend inadvertently helped me clarify possibly the major obstacle we face. His opinion was mirrored in the letters GOP members of Congress have sent to constituents, and posts by opponents of the Act.
"This should be a state/local matter."
"The federal government should not come into our schools and tell teachers and administrators what to do."
"These challenging children constitute a problem in parenting. Or, they don't belong in school if their behavior is so severe."
"So children are just going to run amok?"
"There is no room in the Constitution for the federal government to do anything."
We have to show, not just tell, that local control hasn't worked. It's primarily the desire for local control that drives most people who oppose this Act.
The media tools we're developing with Revolution Messaging, including an interactive web site, a web-based dialer to put any citizen on a fast track to their congressional representatives, and an educational and outreach video, are important, and the extent of their importance just hit me tonight.
We must get the word out that local regulation has not worked. It doesn't work if the school districts minimize, blame, deny, discredit, and retaliate. It doesn't work if the schools don't have the tools to intervene in a positive manner. We've seen the stories of students and parents who experienced all that and more.
Most citizens opposed aren't saying they don't care about children. They're saying the federal government should not become a nanny state, and that there is not room in the Constitution for a federal law to stop these practices.
Our task is to assure them that this does not mean the federal government is going to become intrusive in schools and districts that already use positive interventions, the ones that already have repainted and repurposed the seclusion rooms, or that never put children in solitary confinement at all, the ones that would put a student in restraints only in rare emergencies, the ones who always bring in the parents or guardians as part of a team to do the best for each child.
We're building tools that are up to the task. It's so exciting to have everyone here. Your support matters. Your willingness to share with your friends and contacts, even at some risk, may well change the world for all our children.
Amy Peterson is a founding member of #KeepStudentsSafe 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.