Valerie’s strong belief in inclusion was birthed out of her own story as a mother of a special needs child. Her daughter, Chanel, was a fully included student for most of her school career. From the age of 6 years old, Chanel was educated in a general education classroom, even though she was diagnosed with autism and seizure disorder. Chanel received all special education supports and services that were necessary to meet her specific needs in the general education classroom. This was quite an accomplishment, considering it was 1996 when the term ‘inclusion” was not familiar with educators or administrators at school sites across the country.
Valerie continued to pioneer her way through the controversy of determining the definition of “appropriate” education in terms of inclusion. She worked with TASH, TASK, CAN, Autism Society, and spoke at many inclusion conferences during those years in an effort to promote change in our system and equality for our children in education. While advocating for inclusion as a whole, she strongly continued her pursuit to promote change in her local school district. As the change in the system moved from segregation to inclusion between the 90’s through the new millennium, Valerie not only represented her own daughter, but also assisted more than 100 families in the Corona Norco Unified School District.
During this time, Valerie lead a group of more than 45 families in the Corona/Norco Unified School District to take action in an effort to change the way in which the Special Education Department worked with parents and advocates. The intention of their movement was to reveal the lack of inclusive education, denial of supports and services, unwillingness to address parent concerns and violation of parent rights.
The group filed 14 due process hearings, spoke before the CNUSD Board of Education, met with the Superintendent, filed Compliance Complaints and had their efforts documented in the Press Enterprise newspaper. As a result, CNUSD’s Special Education administration was replaced with individuals who were willing to work collaboratively with Valerie Aprahamian, respect parent rights and address parent concerns.
Since then, Valerie’s agency has been highly respected while working with CNUSD and many other surrounding districts in meeting the needs of hundreds of families. Her passion, focus and determination lead her to be successful in changing the system from a “district verses parent” mentality to an IEP team collaboration. Hence, the intent of IDEA and procedural safeguards for students with special needs are honored and implemented in the manner in which they were written.