There is power and purpose in sharing stories. One voice can join a chorus to make a difference.
This week, I joined a director from the Surrey Place to make a deputation to our school board, the largest school board in Canada and one of the largest in North America.
Our goal was to raise awareness about FASD and to advocate for more awareness, supports and training for students and staff – including commemorating FASD Day every September and recognizing FASD as an exceptionality.
We had been planning to do this since Spring and our last two tries were postponed as the relevant committee meetings were cancelled.
It worked out for the best as the meeting we deputed at was the one attended by all school trustees, which are citizen-elected positions.
This was my second time making a deputation; the first was in January 2020 after T’s specialized program was cancelled due to budget cuts.
As a special needs parent, it is essential to be your child’s advocate.
It is exhausting and can be demoralizing as you often wonder if your voice is making a difference.
I believe it does. And when joined together with a community chorus, the message can be amplified.
I walked into the delegation room and immediately felt nervous.
It was a different room from my last deputation; larger, double the member seats and two large screens displaying members joining virtually, meaning I was being broadcast online.
I do public speaking for work, but the stakes were personal, so I felt antsy. I had a busy day at work so I didn’t get to practice.
I reminded myself I only had to speak for 2.5 minutes and I thought about T, the hubby, his CYW and school, and it calmed me down.
The meeting started and we were up first; the Surrey Place director and I had 5 minutes total.
She went over by a minute and made good points. I lost 40% of my time and improvised on the spot by skipping over chunks of my speech, while keeping an eye on the countdown on the big screen. I finished with three seconds to spare!
The reaction from the trustees reinforced why it’s important to advocate for FASD.
I thought we’d be met with crickets but we generated good discussion.
One trustee asked if we think it should be up to the Ministry at the provincial level and not the Board at the city level to determine if FASD is an exceptionality.
This is the frustrating ping-pong game politicians play to pass the responsibility.
So I said the trustees and board can advocate to the Ministry. What I wished I said, in hindsight, was the board can demonstrate leadership by setting a good example for other boards to follow.
Another trustee asked what is the impact of having a student with FASD in the classroom on other kids.
I responded by reminding him the board has an inclusive approach to education and that with the right supports, students with FASD can succeed.
Another trustee asked what is it that we hope to achieve with awareness.
I responded by saying that with awareness, we can build understanding and empathy. I shared that it wasn’t until 7 years ago that I knew what FASD was and I am often reminded just how little awareness there is of this invisible disability.
With awareness, training and supports, teachers can provide the right approach for students with FASD to help them thrive.
The pleasant surprise came when one trustee shared that in February 2020, a month after my first deputation, a motion was made to recognize September as FASD Awareness Month.
She was the co-author of the motion and I politely let her know that as a parent, I have not seen any action from the board to recognize this month and she agreed they need to do better.
As we walked out after our deputation, another trustee approached us and let us know that a message is sent to board staff during FASD month.
I let her know the message needs to trickle down to school staff, parents and students – and that schools need to visibly recognize this day – for this motion to have meaningful impact.
And so, the advocacy continues.
The amazing FASD coordinator at Surrey Place had gathered 30 statements from parents, students with FASD, service providers and medical experts and provided a package of printed statements to each trustee at the meeting.
We will follow up with the two trustees whom we agreed came across as allies to continue the advocacy conversation.
I’m not naive enough to think a 5-minute deputation will change the world.
But every contribution counts towards a larger whole.
If we just helped a few light bulbs go off in that room then I consider it a job well done.
And I think we did.
Transcript of My Deputation
Here’s a link to an edited transcript of my delegation. I edited identifying details out for privacy reasons.