“Empowering parents is a great thing,” Cerra said. “But it is the school district that is legally required to provide a free and appropriate education. Some school districts have actually been sued because they went along with the parents.”
Oropeza, of Fund Education Now, sees broader problems with the bill. She considers it part of an agenda driven by the Foundation for Florida’s Future that she said aims to dismantle public schools. The foundation is pushing a separate bill called Parent Empowerment in Education, or the parent trigger, that would let parents demand sweeping changes at failing schools.
“They are using the semantics of parent empowerment,” said Oropeza. “But what they are doing is using parents as a tool to hurt teachers and public schools.”
The debate has been intensely emotional.
Last week, Jeanette Ramos, a Broward County mother, testified in front of the Senate Education Committee about her efforts to secure a classroom aide for her daughter, kindergartner Aniah Daniels.
“I did not prevail because my input is not taken into consideration,” Ramos said.
Nancy Linley-Harris, Mariah’s mom, described her fight to put the girl on the path to a standard diploma.
When Mariah entered middle school, her mother said, “it seemed as if there was a strategic plan to remove her from being able to get a real high-school diploma anymore… The IEP team, with the blessing from the district [special-education] department, purposefully dumbed down all of my daughter’s quality educational IEP goals and redid her entire document without me.”
Linley-Harris appealed to an administrative law judge, she said, “and lost miserably.”
Said Mariah: “My mom gets sad and cries after my IEP meetings. I don’t know why.”
The education committee responded with a round of applause and voted 8-0 in support of the proposal. The bill won the unanimous support of a House education panel later in the week.
“The question of whether parents should be considered full partners in their child’s education has been settled,” said Richard LaBelle, executive director of the St. Petersburg-based Family Network on Disabilities. “This is what full partnership looks like.”
Miami Herald staff writer Kathleen McGrory can be reached at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.