The last time voters in Illinois House District 36 in the Oak Lawn area had a choice on their general election ballot was in 2012. Now, for the first time in a decade, they will have a choice not only in the Nov. 8 general election for state representative but also in the Republican primary June 28. David Sheppard was recruited by Illinois Policy to offer that choice and help end the voter suppression inherent in a system that fails to give voters choices.
“At the end of the last school year, in June, I sat down with the principal at my son’s school to put my son’s individualized education plan in place so he could start school in August on time. My son is 8 years old and is non-verbal autistic, so we met to discuss procedures to be sure he could start on time.”
“Immediately, in the beginning of the conversation, the principal insisted on my son attending a full day of class. I explained again, for the third or fourth time, due to his disability, he will never be able to attend a full day at school. I departed with an understanding that things were OK, and my son’s plan was in place.”
“Behold: August comes along and there was no start date for my son because no plan was in place.”
“So, we met the first day of the school year, and the principal insisted that my child go to school full-time. I explained to them that he cannot go full-time: he understands time in a different concept than we do, and he has to be gradually put in school. So, I asked that we build up the time until he’s there for the full day, so he won’t know the difference. The principal refused, insisting on full-time.”
“I had to hire an attorney. The school district brought their attorney. This was the environment for the next several meetings.”
“Every time I requested an accommodation for my son, the district response was, ‘We don’t think he needs that.’ According to the state of Illinois, a student’s attendance can be adjusted for medical reasons. The district stated I was misinterpreting the law. The state’s requirements have a separate section for children with autism which says districts must make special accommodations above and beyond what’s normally required since they have sensory issues, time perception issues, etc. The district wouldn’t budge on the grounds that they didn’t consider his autism a ‘medical reason’ for him to go less than full time.”
“I said, ‘Autism is a medical diagnosis. Why do you keep treating my child as if his problems are non-essential? They’re not, they’re real.’ He’s non-verbal, so it’s up to me as a father to speak for him. And it’s just not a level playing field. When I walk in the room, it’s 12 of them vs. one of me. When you walk in the door as a parent, the state of Illinois states that you are the most important person a team, but still you’re out voiced, outvoted and disrespected at most of those panel discussions.”
“If I am treated that way and I’m a local police chief, I cannot imagine the families out there who suffer, because they’re shy or don’t know their rights for their disabled children. And the district doesn’t tell them what’s really going on with their child.”
“Why political office? It’s simple. This fight has turned personal, but there are so many people in the same fight. The most powerful and important thing to me is my son. Now that I’ve experienced conflict with the district office over what his rights should be, no family should have to endure that.”
“I called our state representative personally and they wouldn’t do anything about the situation.”
“So, I want to make sure the voices of the mental health community and those with illness are heard. In order to get access to the things that they need, they must be heard. And on top of that, the school systems cannot tell a parent what to do with their child. He is my child. The school has him for five hours, and I have him for the rest of his life. You can’t tell me what’s best for my child. And I want to take up that fight for the individuals in my district because I know there are many families affected by this.
“As I was out collecting signatures, I ran into so many people with children who are autistic, have anxiety and things of that nature and that there were no resources. So, I want to make sure those voices are being heard. That’s the first part of my fight and then the second part is crime. Again, I shouldn’t be scared, as a police chief who has a weapon 24 hours a day, to drive on the Dan Ryan.”
“We pay some of the highest taxes in the country, but I’m too scared to drive my car on the roadway for fear that someone might shoot me while I’m traveling. I should not have to see that people who carjacked individuals can get out of jail to carjack somebody else. That shouldn’t be the case. If you carjack someone that individual should stay in jail until the actual trial is held. It’s not rocket science.”
“There are a lot of people who think like me, but they are not able or in the position to take their voice to that room down in Springfield. Instead of just sending the message to the room, I want to be in the room to be the voice for my community down in Springfield.”
Robbins, Illinois, police chief
Oak Lawn, Illinois
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