Monday, March 2, 2009
Due Process - Part Three
Today I am continuing my due process story. You can catch up by reading Part One here, and Part Two here.
I don’t think I slept at all the night before the due process hearing began. I kept practicing over and over in my head how I would respond to both my attorney and to the school attorney. By 3am, I was getting everything all mixed up in my head, and I began to cry just knowing I would mess everything up and have to disappoint Ashley.
I got up very early, helped Ashley get ready for school, and then got myself ready. I had obsessed about what to wear (I know that surprises those of you that know me well), and finally decided on a pink blazer and khaki slacks. I once heard a news story about a prison that painted its walls pink because it reduced the number of violent acts committed by the prisoners. Would it help the school attorney be nicer to me if I wore pink? I hoped so, but by now you probably have a pretty good feeling about how nervous I was.
I arrived at the hearing location – one of our local government offices – and waiting in the parking lot for my attorney and his paralegal. Just seeing their calm, collected faces helped me feel a little better, but I also know that I was trembling when I shook their hands.
We all got settled in the hearing room as did the school attorney and the principal of Ashley’s school. All the other witnesses – both mine and the school’s – were kept in separate rooms, and once a person testified, they had to leave (except for me, of course).
The hearing officer walked in as did the court reporter. As the court reporter set up, the hearing officer introduced himself to us all, and told us what all the ‘rules’ would be. He was a very kindly looking older gentleman, and I prayed that his grandfatherly appearance would relate to a mother, single by choice, who was ready to do battle to obtain the services her child deserved. My mind drifted to thoughts of my own father and the knowledge that he never did understand my reasons for adopting Ashley. I prayed this man would be different.
My attorney started his questioning of me – details and details that I had to keep organized in my mind, and spit out with confidence. I know my voice was shaking, but I also know my gaze was strong. My attorney had told me to always direct my answers toward the hearing officer. He said my eyes would tell my story even better than my words.
We went over Ashley’s life from the time I decided to adopt to the present. I told of her multiple disabilities, low-incidence disabilities that were not easily understood by my school district. I talked about educating myself on Ashley’s disabilities before I even brought her home, and how that education was ongoing. I talked about serving on the advisory council for our state’s deafblind project, about serving on the steering committee that developed our state’s alternate assessment for children with severe disabilities, and about being asked to teach a class on deafblindness to teachers coming back to college for their certification in severe disabilities. My attorney was trying to show that I was more than a demanding and whiny mother – that I was a professional who knew more about her child than any one else, and that I had the credentials to prove it.
My attorney’s questioning lasted until the hearing officer suggested a lunch break. I couldn’t eat – I was such a nervous wreck. My attorney started up again after lunch and his questioning continued until 7pm that night when the hearing officer called a halt and said we would resume the next day.
The next day, the school’s attorney got his chance to cross examine me, and it was every bit as brutal as I expected. But, I think I held my own, and I never cried although I was very close to it. I kept telling myself to act like a professional and that the hearing officer would see me as a professional. During the school attorney’s questioning, my attorney often ‘objected’. I think sometimes he was just trying the throw off the rhythm of the school attorney!
Finally, it was over. I had said all I would be able to say, and now the other witnesses were called. I became the observer, and boy was it an eye-opener…
More next week…thanks for sticking with me through this very long story.