On the passing of a great advocate and friend (In Memoriam, Dee Alpert)
This is a very difficult blog entry for me to write because a few hours ago, my friend Dee Alpert’s son called me to tell me that Dee had died suddenly.
Dee and I go back 20 years. I first met her when I was struggling to get my son the help he needed from his school district but had been getting nowhere. In desperation, I had pleaded with the national Tourette Syndrome Association that they must know a lawyer I could call for help.
They gave me Dee’s phone number. And as they say, the rest is history.
For months, Dee would advise me on the phone what to say or do. For months, I would faithfully follow her advice and call her back to tell her that it hadn’t worked. Even the request for a due process hearing that she helped me file failed to accomplish anything.
I still remember the night that Dee said, “That’s it. Time to go to court.”
And go to court we did. January, 1992 found us in federal court against everyone – my son’s school district, the Governor, and the Commissioner of Education. I can still picture Dee standing before the Chief Judge explaining what the law said should have happened and what the district hadn’t done and what the state hadn’t done. She must have done a great job because the judge basically threatened to start throwing people in jail if they didn’t do it and come back to him within hours with a draft of a consent decree to settle the case. I couldn’t hear everything that was being said because I just sat there crying with relief that finally, finally, my son would get some help. It was an overwhelming experience.
As a result of that litigation, a few things happened. First, we got a consent decree that my son’s district would do what they should have done all along. And thus was born the first public school program in the country for gifted students with Tourette’s and its associated disorders. That program went on to serve dozens of students in New York State. Many of them never even met Dee in person or knew of her role, but if they had a successful school experience, it was only because Dee Alpert threw her heart and soul and legal skills into getting my son and all kids like him a free and truly appropriate public education.
The second thing that happened was that I became an education advocate for the Tourette community to help share what I had learned. I would go on to be involved in hundreds of cases locally and nationally, with Dee as my backup and resource if I didn’t know or understand a child’s rights. She was the 800-pound gorilla to my 400-pound gorilla.
Even when I retired from active advocacy for TSA, Dee and I remained close friends and comrades in advocacy arms, teaming up on issues like the use of aversives in New York State-approved education programs.
Dee was the most intense and dedicated advocate I’ve ever known. She’d obtain massive amounts of research and federal and state documents, digest them, and figure out where things were corrupt or going wrong. She had the ear of people who could act on her information, although sadly, many times politics trumped the needs and rights of disabled students.
Dee was an active member of COPAA and other advocacy groups and mail lists. I have no doubt she will be missed terribly on all of them. I have no doubt that the many parents of special needs children who reached out to Dee and found her an empathetic and caring advocate will miss her terribly.
In a few days, we will get together for our goodbye to Dee. But it will not be a final goodbye, for Dee will live on in all of us whose lives she touched. It will be up to us to pay it forward.
Update: So many people are asking about the memorial service for Dee and where to make a charitable donation. Those details are being worked on and I have created a separate blog entry where I will post that information after Mike finalizes plans.
Update: Jacob Gershman has just posted a piece about Dee in The Wall Street Journal.