CT Parents of Students with Disabilities: Vote Murphy

Published on October 14, 2012 by Jennifer Laviano

I don’t need to remind you that it’s election season.

Even though Connecticut is not a “swing State,” and therefore somewhat disconnected from the deluge of Presidential campaign commercials, this has not prevented us from the constant onslaught of Linda McMahon commercials, robocalls, and mailers. My understanding is that her campaign for Senate is a $70 million dollar endeavor; more than ever spent on a Senate campaign in United States history. Ever.

Somehow this doesn’t call up the phrase “public servant” in my book.

But this post is not about Linda McMahon. It’s about Chris Murphy, and why I firmly believe that Connecticut parents of children with disabilities should vote for him.  Just in case you’re a parent of a child with special education needs and you don’t think who represents Connecticut in the Senate matters to your child’s life, I must tell you how much it does.

Important federal legislative initiatives impacting special education and children with disabilities are on the horizon, affecting everything from whether, how and when children with disabilities can be restrained in schools, to who should have to pay for evaluations when parents disagree with their school district’s testing.

Most importantly, the IDEA, our federal special education landmark legislation, is due for Reauthorization by Congress.

Who is sitting in the Senate when that happens will make a dramatic difference in whether we have strong federal protections for children with disabilities, or not.

I have often said that one of the biggest obstacles to progress in the fight for justice for children with disabilities is the lack of concern of those who are not personally touched by the subject. While I have many close relatives and friends who are touched by disability, I was not drawn to this field because of a personal experience with disability. Rather, I became enlightened to disability issues after I had already become invested in the profession of special education advocacy.

In that capacity, I have encountered thousands of parents of children with disabilities over the years, and many have said to me “thank you for doing what you do; I have to care about these issues because of my child, but you choose to care.” Honestly, while I appreciate the gratitude, I am ashamed when I hear it, because my instinctive response is “why should I be thanked for caring about something so important? EVERYBODY should care about something this important!”

But they don’t.

And so this leads me to Chris Murphy. I have had the honor of knowing Congressman Murphy tangentially as a person in the small Connecticut community of “movers and shakers” who actually care about special education advocacy, and who recognize its impact on the daily lives of children, adolescents, and eventually adults with disabilities. Chris Murphy’s reputation precedes him as someone who children’s advocates know “gets it.” He has routinely demonstrated that children with disabilities should be, and will be, a priority in his mind.

Did you know that Chris Murphy’s wife is a special education attorney?

Cathy Holahan is one of the smartest, universally respected attorneys in Connecticut, whose representation of children has been stellar. And guess what? She isn’t in private practice. She’s done this as part of Connecticut Legal Services. That means she’s helping the least powerful families, with little access to the “system,” if it weren’t for people like her. When my clients in my private special education practice ask me “what do parents of children who can’t afford to hire a Jen Laviano do?” I say “they hope they qualify for Legal Aid and they hope they get someone who knows what they’re doing.” Someone like Chris Murphy’s wife, Cathy.

Now THAT’S a public servant.

I have served on a few panels with Cathy over the years, but we don’t know each other well. I have been honored to participate in a panel by Autism Speaks moderated by Congressman Murphy, but I don’t know him well either. Here’s what I do know. Every day of these two public servants’ lives involves care, consideration, and UNDERSTANDING of the battles that our children with special education needs, and their parents, face.

They get it.

And you can’t buy that.

Not even with $70 million.

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