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.
Whats wrong with challenge says
Good for you and all others that will challenge the School Board and any/all potential candidates that are running. Without challenge there likely isnt change and growth. As people, in order to grow, we thrive and flourish when pushed out of our comfort zones. If we stay in our comfort zones we remain stagnant/complacent and that either leads us nowhere or we fall behind. As members of a community everyone should be concerned with the education system from the top to the bottom and all the in between because everyone has a part in one way or another in the upbringing of youth. The youth is the future and the amount of time children spend in school plays an important role in their upbringing because everyone they come in contact with on a daily basis or even those they may never come in contact with has a part in shaping that child. Like the saying goes, it takes a village yet somehow people tend to forget that schools are part of the village, everyone in the community is part of the village. As parents whether special needs or not we find out we are pregnant, we seek the best doctors, hospitals, we seek the best pediatricians, babysitters, daycares, why should it be any different when it comes to school? We want the best for our children and in order to find the best we have to research, do our due diligence, we have the responsibility to our children and our community and often times when challenge is faced it comes with backlash, it comes with negativity because people fear challenge/change rather than embrace it for the beauty and growth it produces. Parents of special needs children often times are the voice because their parenthood has been a challenge from the beginning, they have learned to be their childs advocate, their voice, they have learned and had to fight for better for their children where parents that dont have special needs children are comfortable because they havent experienced the daily challenges, they tend to automatically assume the schools, school board etc has the best or is offering the best when in reality that isnt so. This community needs to challenge one another because our youth deserve better and the future (youth) depends on us. Thank you for being the voice for many and challenging those that are part of our childrens lives. Hope more members of the community will become more involved when it comes to our children.
Kristi Furnari says
Thank you for your support!!!
As a grandparent of a child currently receiving ESE services through Flagler County schools and the parent of a former student receiving such services I can personally say things have progressed over the decades, at least in my own experience. I also am of the opinion we have a ways to go. I serve on EPAC to ensure we do not go back to that horrible earlier time and that we continue to improve. The direction of any entity is guided by its leadership. Tone is set, parameters are put in place, policies follow. Of all the very important positions held within the school district, the superintendent position is the most important. I wish to ensure we hire someone eminently qualified, experienced, knowledgeble, capable, someone with integrity and courage to always do the right thing, who is open to communicating with all stakeholders, leading staff to continue to develop their skills, and who will look out for ALL our children. Why would we settle for any less?
Kristi Furnari says
Thank you Joan!
Bravo for your advocacy for your child and all of the other children with needs that are not met in a traditional classroom setting without accomodations and specialized instruction to meet their needs in the most inclusive environment setting possible. I too am a parent of a child with multiple disabilities. Although my son is now 43, I too had to be a tireless advocate and warrior at times to make sure my son’s needs were being met. When my son was born, I was advised by a doctor that I should send him to a state home and I should move on with my life! That was back in the 70’s. I of course refused and became determined to fight for my son’s right to live a full life to the best of his ability. I was on school advisory/advocacy boards, took part in lobbying for changes in state and federal laws, and more. We tried very hard to pave the way for other children to receive a quality education. This was an on going battle that I fought until the day my son graduated from high school. It was a hard road to travel! But today I am proud to say that my son is a successful man, with 4 wonderful children and a grandchild. He has thanked me for staying the course and insisting that he be educated in an a “mainstream” setting. So, I totally support you and your group. Thank you for all that you are doing for our children and future generations! What you are doing IS making a difference!
Kristi Furnari says
Many thanks for your support and inspiration. May we stay as strong and steadfast.
Staunch EPAC Supporter says
Parents, grandparents, and guardians of children with special needs are to be commended for their tireless dedication to providing a better world for their children. A more accepting world that will embrace their children and allow them to flourish into the best version of themselves.
Walk a mile in the shoes of these families. Empathize with their daily realities. Applaud their efforts and encourage them to continue to seek the best for their children. Allow them to make informed decisions regarding their children and grant them the ability to voice their opinions without criticism or fear of retribution.
Do not try to silence them. Their voices need to be heard and their stories need to be told.
Kristi Furnari says
If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Thank you!!!