This guest column was originally a blog post by Sherman attorney Jennifer Laviano, whose practice focuses on special education. It is reprinted with permission.

 

Newtown, Connecticut. It’s where I visited my aunt and uncle when I was a little girl. It’s where I took my niece to see March of the Penguins when I was pregnant with my first child. I drive through Newtown several times a week. I have eaten in its restaurants. I’ve shopped in its stores. I’ve represented many of its children.

It shouldn’t be.

A rare in-office Friday, packed with phone calls. My cell starts going off with texts and voicemail. My sisters. My mom. “Tell me you’re not in an IEP meeting in Newtown today!” Not today. Why? Shootings. At an elementary school. In Newtown. My brain goes into overdrive. Newtown cases, where are those kids. Which schools? Which elementary schools? Does it matter? Siblings. Friends. Neighbors. Innocents.

It shouldn’t be.

My assistant and I start to cry. We talk to family. We search the Internet for news, or something like it. The call comes from my daughter’s school. She is 6. They are on heightened alert, a State Trooper outside, doors locked. all safe, no outside recess today. All schools in the area are doing the same in case there’s another shooter on the loose. A shooter who might be targeting elementary schools.

It shouldn’t be.

The news is initially conflicting. “The target appears to be the principal.” Then “a shooter with connections to the school.” My mind races. Sadly, I’ve seen more anger and volatility in school districts than you can imagine among so many of the possible people “with connections to the school.” Nightmare scenarios abound.

It shouldn’t be.

The news goes from terrifying to unthinkable. A kindergarten classroom. Mostly children dead. As many as a dozen? More than a dozen? My friends, neighbors, family with so many connections to this horror. Newtown friends and clients. First responders. My dear friends in the Danbury ER.

It shouldn’t be.

The debates begin. Gun control. Mental illness. Speculation about the shooter. My brain hurts with the memories. All the memories of all the meetings over all the years of frantic parents, having to fight so many systems to get their kids help. Kids with mental illness who are in crisis.” My kid needs help. Lots of help. Therapeutic services, throughout the day.” The insurance company responds: “Oh, during the day you say? Well, that’s an educational issue.” Okay, let’s go to the school district. “Mental Health services, you say? So sorry, that’s medical.” Services denied. Crisis not averted.

It shouldn’t be easier to access guns than mental health services.

How about this for an idea? Let’s take all of that money we’re spending on the clearly failed and so-called “War on Drugs,” and use it to finally fully-fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This must stop. The lives of all of our children depend on it.

 

This guest column was originally a blog post by Sherman attorney Jennifer Laviano, whose practice focuses on special education. It is reprinted with permission.