It’s Back to School time, and for military families it’s an extra sensitive time of year. Those of us that are parents want our kids to have a great year, make new friends, being included and inclusive, and do their best. But this time of year can be even more stressful for those of us who have special needs children, ones who have an IEP or a 504 plan. In this episode, I spoke to a special needs parent turned educational advocate for all military children.
Michelle Norman’s story began over 15 years ago when her daughter was prematurely born at 27 weeks in Norfolk, VA. She suddenly found herself navigating the medical and educational world of special needs and refused to accept the status quo for her daughter. In 2016, Norman successfully battled their school district over the appropriateness of her daughter’s educational plan resulting in the establishment of a case law in her daughter’s name. She continues to pursue change by promoting awareness of the challenging special education issues military families face. Among many things, she engages with legislators, supports bills that will help low income military families access an appropriate education and co-founded the support group Parents for FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education). Norman not only continues to fight for her daughter’s education but is committed to supporting the many families struggling to find a way to effectively advocate for their own children’s education. “Being a parent in a military lifestyle is difficult as it is. And if you are parent of a child with special needs in the military, it is exponentially more challenging. Moving every two or three years makes it almost impossible to make any positive change when the education of our most vulnerable children fails to meet the minimum legal standards, even for the most determined parents,” says Norman. “As united military families, our collective goal is for ALL of our children get the opportunity to learn and be productive members of society. I am thankful that the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year program allows me to shine a spotlight on this important issue and am honored to represent these extraordinary military families.”