Ruth Bader Ginsberg was a leading advocate for gender equality. One of Ruth’s most famous quotes was “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”
She fought for women to have equal rights and opportunities in all aspects of life. School occupational and physical therapists are predominantly female (97%), and we are embracing Ruth’s historical wisdom to advocate for OUR seat at the table.
In the school setting, equal opportunities are NOT being afforded to all Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (SISP, formerly called related service providers). SISPs include occupational and physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, counselors, social workers, psychologists, etc.
The other school SISPs have the opportunity for a “seat at the table” by pursuing educational leadership coursework and positions. However, licensed and educated occupational and physical therapists are segregated, and placed with non-instructional employees such as bus drivers, custodial workers, and paraprofessionals in most education departments. This stops OT and PT professionals at the gate, denying them a seat at the table, or the ability to advance in pay or position.
To become a school leader in NYSED, professionals must first be categorized as “Classroom teachers” or “Pupil Personnel”. Pupil personnel is a term that is outdated. Congress recategorized related service providers as SISPs when they passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015. (Nea.org)
In almost every state in the U.S., the state education departments have kept their policies and procedures the same, rather than updating them to adhere to the federal mandate passed in 2015.
Federal regulation says that we are “equal,” but the individual states are leaving things the way “they’ve always been.” This promotes stigmatization by “keeping us in our place,” a place that is inferior to other related service providers/SISPs. A place with no pathway to advance in the school setting.
We all have similar roles, and job duties as Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (SISPs). The historical precedent of excluding OTs and PTs from leadership opportunities must be adjusted.
It’s time to set a new precedent, as state education departments often do when laws become outdated and new needs are identified.
Ruth also said, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”
All the other SISPs have an open pathway to a seat at the school leadership table. This includes a chance for their voices to be heard, to be a part of the decision-making process, and the ability to advance in their roles as school leaders.
It’s time for change.
In order to get the attention of the state education departments about the intense need for this change, we need to speak up. We need to speak out. We need to DO SOMETHING.
OTs and PTs belong in all places where educational decisions are being made.
Zweig, J., Lemieux, C., Shakman, K., O’Dwyer, L., & Schillaci, R. (2021). Teacher Shortages in New York State: New Teachers’ Certification Pathways, Certification Areas, District of Employment, and Retention in the Same District. REL 2022-109. Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands.
Ginsburg, R. B. (2016). My own words. Simon and Schuster.