by Rhonda Savage

As a parent to millennial children, I have heard the term “shaming” preceded by numerous attributes: “Fat-shaming,” “body-shaming,” “parent-shaming,” and even “vacation-shaming.” Really, (fill in the blank)-shaming is a term that has come to be used whenever one person is perceived to be judging another. For example, one worker might say they are using their vacation days to go on a cruise. A co-worker might comment that they haven’t used vacation days in years (implying that taking vacations means one is a lazy worker). That co-worker might be said to be “vacation-shaming.” You get the idea.

Recently I was in a meeting with two Special Education (SPED) administrators and two parents. The parents thought their child, who was on a 504 plan, should be placed on an IEP instead. The administrators mentioned more than once that they try to keep the “special ed label” off of kids as much as possible. They didn’t see why the parents would want to put that label onto their child by having an IEP. All of my previous exposure to (fill -in-the-blank)-shaming flooded my head. “Oh, my goodness,” I thought. “Stop SPED-shaming these parents!” Afterward it hit me that “SPED-shaming” is a real thing. And it shouldn’t be!

There is absolutely nothing wrong or shameful about receiving special education services under an IEP. Some students are happily thriving with a 504 plan. As long as those students are fully accessing their curriculum, enjoying effective communication in all school settings, working to their potential, and continually increasing their self-advocacy skills, that’s awesome. But that is not always the case. In fact, in my experience, it rarely is the case. Many, if not most, students who qualify as deaf or hard of hearing would benefit from special education services under an IEP, no matter their language and communication modality.

A child who has an IEP can absolutely be a top academic achiever. They can go to college. They can be successful, independent adults. Please do not let anyone tell you that those things are not true if they have a “special education label” during their K-12 years. Yes, in college or in the workforce they will not have a document called an IEP. However, they will have protections under the American’s with Disabilities Act. And do you know what they will need in order to use those protections? A solid base of education and self-advocacy skills…which are often best acquired with an IEP.

I am still dumbfounded that people who work in special education would “SPED-shame” by saying they try to keep the special education label off of kids. If, as a society, we are striving for equality and inclusion, how can this be useful? If the very people who are on the frontline of the education of children with disabilities (I use the term disabilities because the protections for our kids fall under the American’s with Disabilities Act, so I personally believe it’s an important word) are implying that students with IEPs will not be perceived favorably by society, how can we expect those in our communities to think differently? I cannot change what people say or do, but as a parent and a California Hands and Voices ASTra representative, I can at least write this down and try to let other parents know that there is no shame in receiving special education services through an IEP. Graduating high school prepared for what comes next is cool, SPED-shaming is not.