By Kristi Furnari
I am a proud member of The ESE Parent Advisory Committee. This committee has drawn some controversy of late in regard to the Flagler County Superintendent search. I write this letter as context for why we are so passionate about advocating for the best possible leadership for Flagler County schools.
Being the parent of a special needs child can be overwhelmingly difficult. When our daughter was diagnosed with Cri du Chat Syndrome, we were crushed. The sadness in realizing that our daughter may never walk or talk and will likely have a moderate to severe intellectual disability was devastating. When any parent receives this kind of news the experience is as if you are mourning the death of a child. Your hopes are wiped away and replaced with constant fear of what the future will bring. You worry about who will care for your disabled child when you are dead.
Fast forward a few years. You’ve spent countless hours at doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions. You’ve researched and networked and spent thousands of dollars on any way to improve your child’s life. You see your child grow and mature and beat the odds. She can walk. She can say lots of words. She has friends. She may have an intellectual disability, but she can read you like a book. She relishes in teasing her little sisters. She has a great sense of humor. She’s beautiful. You’ll never give up on her.
All parents and families of children with disabilities have a similar story. Our daughter and all other students with disabilities is the reason why EPAC exists. The members of EPAC are dedicated parents, educators and administrators who share in the collective vision of providing the best educational experience for all of our children in an inclusive environment.
EPAC has had a great ally in Superintendent James Tager, ESE Director Tim King and Student and Community Engagement Director Lynette Shott, who advocated for the creation of EPAC. We are grateful for their efforts. Wonderful steps have been made that we think will move us closer to our vision. This is why EPAC members have been so vocal in advocating for new leadership that will keep us on this positive path forward. We are terrified that the next superintendent will take us backwards.
Yesterday the Flagler County School Board selected its finalists for Superintendent. We are grateful that they took into consideration EPAC’s recommendations. Thank you for that.
It is fair to say we were tough in our evaluations. We ruffled a few feathers. One candidate hired an attorney and sent EPAC a cease and desist letter and is threatening to sue us. Our EPAC chair (and my husband) Stephen Furnari was present at the School Board Meeting where in the public comments there were veiled accusations that EPAC is racist and we are “evil.” Eh, Sticks and Stones.
Our goal remains the same. We will be unapologetic and undeterred in our pursuit of challenging Flagler County Schools to provide the best educational experience for all of our children in an inclusive environment.
We thank the Community for supporting EPAC.
Kristi Furnari is secretary of the Exceptional Student Education Parent Advisory Council.