Saturday, February 25, 2006

Moral Outrage

What I am having trouble with this morning is the vast disconnect between the ways in which public officials behave and the manner in which I am trying to provide moral and ethical guidance to my children.

For example, the President's repeated refusals over the last several years to ever admit that he was wrong, to apologize, to admonish similar behavior in his own top-ranking officials. How am I supposed to tell my elementary school aged children that it is a moral and ethical imperative to admit wrong-doing, to apologize for mistakes, and to make amends? Admitting error while simultaneously proposing an appropriate solution is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of moral and ethical strength; i.e., it is a sign of good character.

I am at the point where I don't know if I can attend another IEP meeting at my son's school. The school is acting in good faith, making plans, and addressing wrongs within the limits of what the County is willing to provide. It is the County that is acting in a morally reprehensible way. The County's lawyer tries to bait me and my husband into, he hopes, an emotional explosion that he can then use against us in court. Don't we, as parents, try to reinforce better behavior in our own children? We're upset when siblings bait each other, and try to punish both parties, but especially the baiter.

The County's other tactics involve simply holding meeting after meeting, draining our financial resources and refusing to make any explicit promises or specifically correct any problems. Dealing with an issue by refusing to negotiate. This has been confirmed by several neighbors, my doctor, other sources. This is the County's reputation. And the moral and ethical problem here is that the educational needs of elementary school aged children are at stake: as these problems remain unresolved, the child falls farther behind, loses the ability to attain educaitonal progress or success. The County largely hopes to drag things out until the provision of services is moot because the child has failed entirely or has graduated.

And these people are in charge of our children's education. They are supposed to be the guardians of a decent public school option for all individuals. Yet disabled children, elementary school aged, are treated like threats to the integrity of the system. The County spends enough on just one of its fleet of outside attorneys to fund 30 special education teachers for a year. Taking taxpayer dollars to ensure that educational services are not delivered to those who need them, to the extent that the cost of the legal fees outweighs the cost of simply delivering the services, is an abuse of taxpayer funds and the trust of the citizens who pay them. I have been sharing this information with any neighbor who will listen. Everyone is appalled, because the County's willingness to waste money that way affects not only my kid, but the funds that are available to educate their children as well.

How can I explain to my children the disconnect between the policies that MCPS promotes for its students in terms of conflict resolution, compassion and understanding and the way that the MCPS administrators behave? They are encouraged to do fundraising for heart disease, keep good relations with another school in New Orleans that lost everything, and develop a sense of compassion and fairness for the most vulnerable in our society; yet, when it comes to the way the school administrators treat their most vulnerable constitutents, the disabled, those values are tossed out the window in favor of the legal system, which is not bound to act either morally or ethically--the law is simply a cat and mouse game, not a system of addressing true moral grievance.

I am sickened by the fact that my abled-bodied daughter is being subjected to this hypocrisy. She already has a finely honed sense of injustice, imparted in her to a great extent by her education. How can I explain to her why the school system has a right to treat her brother differently than her: that because she can walk and talk and handle objects, she has a right to education, whereas her brother doesn't because the County refuses to supply the supports, which are entirely within its financial means, to give him an equal chance at a decent education. This is a basic issue of social justice, and I will not paper it over for my daughter with platitudes. She, like us Robert's parents, has a right to understand why the world is unjust to the disabled (because it can be), and she must, as his sibling, be taught to read and understand the subtlties of discriminatory discourse, even when it affects her own relationship with and trust in the County systems that provide her with her own education.

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