It was 1994 when Valerie’s daughter, Chanel, was diagnosed with autism and seizure disorder when she was only 3 years old. The UCLA team of pediatric neurologists told her, Chanel would never talk, never read, never write, and never be successful in school. On that day, Valerie vowed to prove them wrong and she began her journey of special education advocacy.
Valerie immediately knew that she didn’t want Chanel to be placed in a segregated severely handicapped class and she learned how to successfully advocate for Chanel to be placed in an inclusive educational program.
Chanel was the first student with the diagnosis of autism to be fully included in a general education class in her local school district. This was quite an accomplishment when you consider the fact that this was the mid-90s, and school districts had not yet figured out how to include students on the spectrum in the general education classroom!
Soon after, it became Valerie’s passion, purpose and blessing to advocate for other parents and teach them how to protect the educational rights of their child. Fourteen years later, Valerie was successful in proving the team of pediatric neurologists wrong when Chanel graduated high school with honors!
Since then, Chanel has surpassed every low expectation and bleak prediction regarding her future. After high school, Chanel became a California credentialed dog groomer and worked for 2 years at the Doggie Spa in her hometown. Today, Chanel works at the San Diego Humane Society, “saving all the dogs in the world,” (Chanel’s lifelong dream.)
For the past 22 years Valerie has dedicated her life’s work to empowering parents to advocate for their child by attending close to 4,000 IEP meetings to ensure an education that will prepare them for an independent, purposeful, and productive life after high school.
Inclusive education gives neurodiverse children the right to have an equal opportunity to full participation in school and provide an education that prepares them for independent living and economic self-sufficiency after high school.
Our children should not have to be placed in a special education classroom to receive the special education supports and services listed in the IEP. This is LRE (Least Restrictive Environment).
IDEA mandates neurodiverse children be granted high expectations to ensure access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom, to the maximum extent possible.
However, school districts across the nation continue to deny inclusion by holding low expectations and an insufficient focus on applying best practices for inclusive education in proven methods of teaching for students on IEPs.
If Valerie had not learned how to implement her parent rights to advocate for Chanel to receive an inclusive special education program, she would have been placed in a severely handicapped class and been denied the opportunity to receive her diploma. And she would not have learned the skills she needed to obtain the job she dreamed about since she was a child.
ALL Students on IEPs deserve a chance to reach their potential in life just like any other child. Don’t let the broken education system or medical professionals steal your dreams for your child’s future. They deserve an education that allows them to thrive!