A military spouse attorney has partnered with other advocates to secure essential educational opportunities for today’s military children.
Grace Kim, co-founder of Partners in Promise, experienced the struggles faced by military families of children with special needs. Instead of allowing it to defeat her, she took on the fight against a flawed special education system.
Kim, a mother of two, is the wife of an Air Reserve chaplain. She was born in Seoul, South Korea, and her family permanently emigrated to the U.S. when she was 10 years old. Growing up in New York, she credits both her school’s English as a Second Language services and reporter Connie Chung for helping her to learn English. Kim not only learned English but later also learned Spanish, making her fluent in three languages. Her father was a bible scholar, and her mother and brother had also gone to seminary school. Like her parents, Kim started down the path to church ministry.
Her son, Josiah, was born with multiple neurological and physical disorders, including a rare condition known as Persistent Hyperplastic Primary Vitreous, autism, ADHD, and a language disorder. Kim said Josiah received “amazing” care and services in New York under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, but when the family received orders to Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina (now Pope Field), they faced some new and unexpected challenges. Shortly after her son started school at Pope Elementary, administrators were adamant that he needed English Language Learner (ELL) services.
“Rather than providing the services outlined in his IEP, they were pulling him out instead for ELL and were convinced that he couldn’t understand English,” Kim said.
Soon after Josiah received services, Kim was told by school administrators that better options existed elsewhere — essentially asking her to sign away her son’s rights to services provided by the school district.
“They said that because I was an officer’s wife, that my family could afford private services, and they needed to make room for those who couldn’t afford them. To me, making room for others seemed like the right thing to do,” she said.
Special education lawyer serving special needs military kids
After signing away his rights, and facing what seemed like racial discrimination, Kim’s relationship with the school district was strained. Even though she paid for private tutors and services, she decided to take her advocacy for her son’s rights to the next level. Prior to this, she was going to apply to a Ph.D. program in biblical hermeneutics, but circumstances urged her to pursue special education law instead.
“If the schools wouldn’t listen to a mother who was well versed, highly educated, and had multiple degrees, then I would become the lawyer that they would listen to,” Kim said.
She was thinking not only of her own son, but of all of the other military families who had struggled with similar issues. She wanted to help them, too.
Today, Kim and her family live in Virginia, where she has her own law practice, representing special needs families and their children to ensure they receive the free and appropriate public education they are entitled to.
Partners in PROMISE
In January 2020, Kim partnered with Michelle Norman, Shannon DeBlock, and Kaci McCarley to create Partners in PROMISE — an organization united under the idea that military parents can come together to Protect the Rights Of Military Children In Special Education (PROMISE). So, they wrote the PROMISE Act, a bill designed to help make services more accessible to military special needs families by addressing the systemic problems in special education. With Partners in PROMISE, military families have access to more resources, including:
- An EFMP Special Education binder, which allows families to stay organized and better advocate for their children’s education
- A downloadable special education checklist to help families document all of the services their child receives
- Informational articles about EFMP and other special education resources available to military families
Their EMFP Stories tells the stories of other families who have faced some of the same struggles with the education system. They also provide resource videos on how to handle certain situations, including IEP meetings.
Partners in PROMISE recently conducted an in-depth 2021 Military Special Education Survey to examine the problems faced by the EFMP special education community. Findings from this survey will be released in early 2021.
If you and your child are new to the world of special education, Kim’s top advice is to familiarize yourself with the law. She also advises that you should take the time to ask questions.
“It is a good idea to ask how to address an area of need, rather than make demands. Ask them for what you want, and give them the opportunity to say yes or no,” she said.
She added parents have the right to record IEP meetings under the IDEA act, but to be sure to give advanced notice according to your state’s regulations. And when all those options are exhausted, you should seek appropriate legal representation.