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A Tree Fell in the Woods

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"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." - Henry Brooks Adams

The graduating class at Hollywood High School was provided with the pomp and circumstance that the occasion deserves. Held at the historic Hollywood Bowl, the LAUSD's Superintendent, Alberto M. Carvalho, was a featured speaker. He was joined by Board District 4 representative Nick Melvoin and City Council Member Mitch O'Farrell.

Last Thursday, the Diane S. Leichman Career Preparatory and Transition Center (CTC) in Reseda also held its ceremony for its graduating interns. Instead of the Hollywood Bowl, this event was held in the Multi-Purpose Room of the school, lovingly decorated by the community. While the gathered interns, parents, guests, and staff did not have the privilege of hearing from the Superintendent, Board Member Melvoin (whose recently redistricted area of representation now includes the school), or their City Council person, both my wife and I had the honor of addressing them.

The lack of representation by elected officials is symbolic of the lack of respect that special education programs get in the district. It saddens me beyond belief that a teacher that changed my daughter, Morgan's, life is no longer in the classroom sharing her gifts with other students. Melvoin's actions as a board member have shown that he either does not understand or does not care about the needs of students enrolled in CTC programs.

Was it not possible for Melvoin and Carvalho to coordinate their schedules so that instead of both of them attending the same ceremony they split their time with other communities? I guess after 16 years of negotiating the LAUSD's special education bureaucracy I should have already known that answer.

The following is the speech that I delivered to the community:

Almost 16 years ago I met my wife, Nicole, on an online dating site. During our first phone conversation, she mentioned that she had triplet daughters and that two of them were on the autism spectrum. I could hear the pause in her cadence as she seemed to wait for me to find the excuse to end the conversation and move on. As you can tell, I didn't run. Instead, I jumped into this journey fully aware. Sort of.

The truth is that I had no real knowledge of what autism was, never mind what it would take to eventually become a father of two children with special needs. But the chance to get to know Nicole better made the challenge worth it.

As we celebrate this milestone today I can tell you that being a father to Zoey and her sister, Morgan, has made me a better man. They have taught me patience. (Boy, have they taught me patience.) I have learned through them to ignore the judgment of others and to focus on the present. Most importantly, they have taught me that achievement does not have to be big to be celebrated; every step forward needs to be appreciated.

I feel sorry for those within the district who do not recognize the importance of this school. No, my child will not leave these halls to attend college, but Zoey does know how to advocate for herself better than she did before she arrived. Zoey found her sense of humor here and the ability to interact in some way with her peers. She leaves this school closer to reaching her full potential and what more could a parent ask for?

To everyone from this community who has worked with Zoey in her journey, thank you. I know this is not the easiest job and I know that you don't always get the appreciation you deserve, but I need you to know that you have made a real difference in Zoey's life and in my family's lives.

And just one final note, just because Zoey is moving on does not mean that I am done fighting for this school and for the students that you serve. Please let me know if you ever need my help. I have a big debt to pay back and I look forward to the opportunity to do so.

Zoey celebrates with her mom and one of her sisters
Zoey celebrates with her mom and one of her sisters
(Image by Carl J. Petersen)
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Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with special education needs and public education. He is an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and serves as the Education Chair. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him "a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles." For links to his blogs, please visit Opinions are his own.

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Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a " (more...)

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