Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Year's Day Letter to Home Schoolers

Happy New Year. I have cerebral palsy. I entered kindergarten with other kids in 1949. My Mom was the one who made sure I was well educated and always included within the public school system. I received a PhD from The Pennsylvania State University in 1974. My Mom typed my dissertation.

I understand a parent's commitment and concerns when he or she struggles with educational decisions and letting go, letting a child move on and move out. I watched my Mom. I understand your concerns about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). You believe that ratification of the CRPD will lead to the unraveling of your right and opportunity to home school your child with a disability. It won't happen.

Every state in the U.S. has a law which allows home schooling. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal grant program. Every state accepts funding through this law, and with this acceptance, agrees to protect the rights of children with disabilities and their parents to a free, appropriate, public education, which includes the option of home schooling. Ratification of the CRPD will not undo any of this.

Every state has laws protecting children from abuse, neglect, and abandonment. Every state has laws governing what happens to a child in a divorce, when his or her parents cannot agree on where the child will live and how much time the child will spend with each parent. State laws do not restrict where children are educated, but do require that they be educated. Ratification of the CRPD will not undo any of this.

Our Constitution sorts out the responsibilities of state government and the responsibilities of the federal government. According to our Constitution educating and protecting children are state responsibilities, with few exceptions (e.g., kidnapping, crossing state lines with a child). Ratification of the CRPD will not undo any of this.

There is a UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Each country that has ratified the CRPD is obligated to submit a report to this committee periodically on how the country is responding to the CRPD. The committee then reacts to this report and may make comments and recommendations to the country. The committee's comments and recommendations are not legally binding. The country may choose to act or not act on them. In the U.S. there is no way the UN can require a state to change its home schooling policies. The only time a state's home schooling policies change would be when the state's legislature passes a law to that effect and the governor signs it. Ratification of the CRPD will not affect any of this.

The U.S. State Department prepared a transmittal package on the CRPD that the President sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The main point in this transmittal package is that no change in U.S. or state law is required in order for the Senate to ratify the CRPD. The package contains reservations, understandings, and a declaration (RUDs) explaining clarifications on how the U.S. will respond to the CRPD. The committee is reviewing these RUDs and considering these and others, including one that would expressly state that parents have the right to home school their children with disabilities. So that there will be no doubt about that.

If you read the CRPD you will learn that it addresses in clear language how people with disabilities should be treated. They should have the same rights, freedoms, opportunities, access, and enjoyment that people without disabilities have. The CRPD covers obvious topics like employment, education, health care, housing, transportation, and technology, but also other things like supported decision making, political participation, emergency preparedness, treatment by law enforcement and the judicial system, voting, the key role of the family, and the right of the family to stay together. These are all important topics. And although the ratification of the CRPD will not require us to change any laws, I believe it will foster a national debate on how we can do a better job of implementing the federal and state laws we do have that affect persons with a disabilities.

As a parent who home schools your child with a disability, your ability to do so will not be affected by ratification of the CRPD. I ask you to consider this -- what happens when your child leaves home? The U.S. and the rest of the world will be more welcoming and supportive of your child with planet-wide ratification of the CRPD. Just think, 139 countries have ratified the CRPD. Many of these countries permit home schooling. One guiding principle underlying ratification across the globe is a better, brighter future for people with disabilities of all ages and circumstances. As a parent I urge you to embrace that. Please let Senators Menendez and Corker, the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, know that you are willing to help them reach a resolution to ratify the CRPD that does no harm to you or your child now and will benefit him or her greatly when that child spreads his or her wings and enters adulthood.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Monday, December 30, 2013

CRPD and January 2014

Ratification of the CRPD should happen in January 2014. That is the optimal window for action by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and by the full Senate. In February 2014 and thereafter partisanship will heighten because of the mid-term elections in November 2014. Democrats and Republicans will be invested in drawing distinctions between them, not things on which they agree or could agree. After January 2014 bipartisanship cooperation, even if we pray or look for it, will be highly unlikely. There also will be big issues that will ebb and flow at the top of Congress’ radar that have nothing to do with the CRPD – budget, appropriation, debt ceiling, health care, entitlement, and immigration issues and others. So, what do we do? Work 24-7 in January 2014. Here are a few suggestions.

Contact Senators Menendez and Corker, frequently. They are the Chairman and Ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, respectively. They control what happens. Urge them to move the CRPD out of committee quickly.

Use personal messages. Senators are probably tired of receiving 100s or more of the same message. 

Volume of contacts continues to be critical. Tell personal stories or concerns. They will stand out. Senators may use them in floor statements and debates.

If you are a person from a state represented on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, contact your Senator and let him or her know and urge bipartisan cooperation. Ask your Senator to make a special effort to reach to a colleague on the committee from the other party and together work to help Senators Menendez and Corker to find a way to a resolution on the CRPD on which Democrats and Republicans can agree.

Ask questions in messages. These questions will get you answers.

Emphasize in your messages that solutions related to concerns have been identified. Strength of words and clarity of meaning are the only matters left to negotiate. Senators willing to operate in good faith can sort these out.

January 2014 is a key month for us. Please do all you can to make ratification of the CRPD happen. Each of us has to make this 31-day push.

Thank you.
Common Grounder