Putting Education Reform To The Test

MDC School Board Member: Charter School Turned Away My Daughter Because Of Autism

Miami-Dade County Public Schools

Miami-Dade school board member Raquel Regalado wrote that she was inspired to run for school board after trying to find a school for her daughter with autism.

Our recent story on the difficulties students with severe disabilities have found trying to enroll in charter schools has drawn plenty of reaction from parents in similar situations.

Just 14 percent of Florida charter schools enroll students with profound disabilities. More than half of district schools enroll similar students.

We heard from parents, such as “Randy” in Pasco County, who called in to a special one-hour live radio show last Thursday.

We’ve also heard privately from parents in e-mails.

But Miami-Dade school board member Raquel Regalado, daughter of Miami’s mayor, provided the most public and personal story yet in an op-ed published by the Miami Herald this weekend.

Regalado revealed her daughter, Isabella, has autism. And once doctors diagnosed Isabella’s autism at age 5, the charter school she attended told Regalado her daughter could not remain in the school.

Trying to find the right school for her daughter, Regalado wrote, convinced her she needed to run for the school board. From Regalado’s piece:

As if by magic, Isabela’s empathy not only shattered the autistic box that all the tests had created for her and for me but it also gave me hope that one day she could thrive in a world without my constant protection and supervision. In the months that followed I met with parents of other autistic children who were not as functioning as my Isabela. I learned about the limitations of the McKay scholarships for special needs students, about the lack of options in the urban core and soon found myself meeting with parents of all sorts of special needs children, hoping to find answers and to find in their stories hope, strength and inspiration.

As I searched for a school for Isabela, I found myself sitting in the back of PTA meetings listening to complaints about all sorts of things, many of which had nothing to do with the particular school but rather with school board and state policy. Afterward, I would watch Isabela sleep and wonder about my obligation to her and to the over 30,000 children in Florida that needed a voice. So I decided to run for office knowing that I would have to give up the little personal time I had and would need to find a way to shield my children from politics.

Regalado wrestled with whether to reveal her daughter’s disability. She knew the scrutiny that family members of public officials face.

But Regalado believed her family’s privacy was outweighed by the importance of publicly advocating on behalf of disabled students. And so she penned the Miami Herald column:

But as a child of public figures my life has had few untold stories; privacy, after all, was a luxury that we were not afforded. A little over a year ago, however, when I became an elected official I learned the hard way that it could, in fact, get worse and that some people are more interested in how I drive, where I go and what I wear than in the policy changes that I’ve made and in the causes that I have chosen to champion.

Honestly, the scrutiny and the curiosity don’t bother me per se though it often hurts the people in my life, and I wish that I could shield them and channel it in the direction of what is really important: the obligation that we all have to provide Floridians of all ages, ethnicity and abilities with an excellent education. I do recognize the validity of the argument that as elected officials we are role models. And yet I’ve never wanted to be a role model for anyone because I believe that we are all on this planet to become the best version of ourselves and not a second rate version of someone else. I don’t believe that being a public servant makes me less human or less worthy of the respect that I afford others.

Nevertheless, today I’m sharing my untold story because sometimes purpose trumps privacy, and we are afforded the opportunity to provide others with hope and the realization that we are all more alike than we think.

What’s your reaction to her column? Do you know students with disabilities, or their parents, who have had a difficult time finding the right school?


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