This post is the third in a series involving Simba, the assistance dog that is attempting to be admitted to East Meadow High School. The school district has finally issued a rationale for its position barring Simba. While I do not particularly agree with the rationale, the statement at least invites a reasoned dialogue with the family.
Unfortunately, the family's public statements simply do not serve to put this issue or parental advocacy in a good light. The parent's stated:
"We do not have to justify what the dog does for John," Cave said. "We don't have to explain; we don't have to show proof of anything. ... Nor is it any of their business."
This statement to put it mildly is not defensible at all. The parents do
have to offer a justification for the need for an assistance dog.
Parents do not have unqualified and unconditional rights. Educational
need is among the cornerstones of advocacy under IDEA. For the parents
to publicly assert that they do not need to justify or prove anything
simply demonstrates for all to see that they do not understand their
rights, at best, and at worst, they are unreasonable, a favorite
defense that schools raise against parents. Finally to say it is none
of the school's business, leaves me speechless; the dog is to come into
a school building which by definition makes it the school's business. I
simply can not understand how the parent's can not understand this
Parents need to learn some important lessons from the public statements in this case:
- Speak to the press only after reflection and deliberation;
- Use a lawyer or other thoughtful spokesperson when speaking to the press;
- Parents should not make statements which can be used to demonstrate that they are unreasonable;
- Parents need to be prepared to engage in reasoned and reasonable dialogue with schools, both for strategic reasons to rebut any charge of being unreasonable, and for practical reasons: mediated settlements are often more effective and less costly;
- Understand basic principles of the law under IDEA, 504 and ADA, and if you do not understand the law remain quiet;
- Irresponsible parental public statements diminishes the overall public perception of parents of children with special needs.