Social Justice in Special Education
National Special Education Day was on December 2, and so we reached out to Director of Special Services Amy Okeze to learn more about the importance of this day and the impact of the work being done by the Special Services team at Puget Sound ESD.
PSESD: Can you tell us a bit about your role and the work of your team?
Amy Okeze(AO): I am one of three Directors of Special Services at PSESD. We work in service of students with disabilities, their families, school staff, and administrators in the districts, charter schools, and non-public agencies within our region.
PSESD: How did you end up coming to this role at PSESD?
AO: I came to PSESD in 2015 from being a practitioner and administrator in one district for 18 years. I accepted a position as a Program Manager to support special education services in the new charter schools that opened in our state. In August of 2018-19, a Director position opened. I applied and accepted the position.
Growing up knowing and loving him as part of my family was a blessing and provided me with a different perspective on respecting individuals with differences.
PSESD: What led you to focus on working in Special Services/Special Education?
AO: I had a cousin who was born with Spina Bifida in the late 1950s and the hospital recommended that he be euthanized. My father took him from that hospital to one that knew how to treat him and he lived to 44 years old. Growing up knowing and loving him as part of my family was a blessing and provided me with a different perspective on respecting individuals with differences.
PSESD: What keeps you motivated in your work when you’re faced with challenges?
AO: I am focused and motivated by my passion for serving children and families who face more challenges than I’ve ever known.
PSESD: What does National Special Education Day (December 2) mean to you and/or your team?
AO: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was signed this date in 1972. This was the first national law that guaranteed the rights of children with disabilities to a Free and Appropriate Education. Prior to this law children who were different were institutionalized and denied an education. It is good for us to be reminded of this reality and stay focused on the commitment of ensuring they are educated with their typically-developing peers to the greatest extent possible.
I hope it is recognized that serving in special education is social justice work.
PSESD: What information do you wish more people (either at the agency or externally) knew about your area of work?
AO: I wish colleagues at the agency understood the complexities of special education law, funding challenges, and the amount of support required by districts and schools that serve children and families. I hope it is recognized that serving in special education is social justice work. We advocate for the rights of individuals with disabilities and those historically marginalized groups that have been over or under-identified as needing special education support. We critically examine referral processes and actively support MTSS to ensure only those who truly need special education are receiving it. Lastly, we are excited about the opportunities ahead to collaborate, design and provide inclusive, high-quality practices for all students that remove barriers to learning and allow for all students to learn together.
“Stories Across the Agency” is a bi-monthly column dedicated to the stories of the people who make up Puget Sound ESD. With over 100 programs across King County, Pierce County, and Bainbridge Island, our goal is to share the experiences of staff throughout the agency to increase awareness around the collective impact of our work. If you or someone you know is interested in sharing stories from your work, please reach out to email@example.com.