I was surprised and saddened to hear this weekend of the death of special education advocate Dee Alpert. Alpert died of a brain aneurysm at her home in New York; funeral services are pending.
Dee’s name never appeared in the pages of Education Week, and she and I never met. Our relationship was carried out entirely by email. But there are several stories I wrote during my six years covering special education here that saw the light of day because Dee poked and prodded me into getting them done.
Her road to advocacy started the same as so many others; her son has a disability, Tourette’s Syndrome, and she decided to help other families navigate the school system.
True to Dee, she didn’t mince words on what she discovered, as she said in this 2007 interview. “I wound up a few months later doing a 12-day hearing, pro bono, for a parent whose son had literally been made suicidal by the awful things his school district was doing to him. They could have cared less. It was scary. It was also, without a doubt, the most corrupt administrative proceeding I’ve ever experienced.”
Dee had sources in New York schools, the state education department, and the federal education department. I have an email from her that she sent at 2 a.m. this past December, asking me why the office of special education programs had not released its most recent correspondence on special education law. She also commented frequently on this blog.
Once Dee read a report, she never seemed to forget the details: in our last flurry of correspondence, she suggested (perhaps too mild a word) that I dig up the details of a memorandum from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration related to restraint and seclusion of children with disabilities. The memo was supposed to go to the Department of Education, but it still hasn’t seen the light of day, and Dee was determined to find it.
I feel that I disappointed her by not turning it up. But when I switched to a new beat earlier this year, I received a lovely message of congratulations that ended, “Kindest regards and best wishes for your new world. If it’s anything to do with Arne Duncan, feel free to call on me for scathing commentary.”
I will miss Dee, and I know that the special education advocacy community will as well. For another remembrance, please read this message from Leslie Packer, another member of the advocacy community.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.