Thursday, July 24, 2014
What I Want From the Schools....
Summer is waning and families and children all across the United States are being saturated by Back to School ads and Back to School thoughts. Kids are nervous to know what their teachers will be like. Teachers are excited to meet their students. Parents are nervous and excited.
We buy school supplies and clothes. We notice how much our children have grown and we get ready for orientations and open house activities. Parents greet each other in the halls. Anxious smiles and nervous waves make the entire school hum with excitement.
This scene is normal and familiar to all of us. Autism though takes the familiar and typical and adds a bull horn.
The truth is....I'm scared. I have reason to be. Isaac starts at a new school this year. A new school means new administrators and new teachers. There will be new therapists and new assistants. Isaac's success depends on the competency and compassion of everyone who interacts with my son. I will not discuss the history that has made me unusually trepidatious. Suffice it to say I believe my ever present worry is warranted and every sentence within this piece has a two hour story behind it.
School officials are scared too. I know that. Parents of children with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) can scare school officials to death. We tend to be very protective of our children. We have had to be. It is difficult (but essential) to give new professionals a fair chance. We, as parents of children with special needs, have been through so many difficult situations already.
Some professionals are scared to even have conversations with parents of children who participate in special education without convening a full meeting of the IEP team. Some school officials are afraid that as parents we will ask for dolphin therapy, that we will be intentional thorns in the school's side and that we want to micromanage our children's education.
Sigh....fear leads to lesser communication...and less communication leads to fear and misunderstandings and frustrations....parents and educators can easily be drawn into politics and no one suffers except the children.
I cannot speak for all parents. I am only Isaac's mama but maybe I can help to bridge the communication gap. I'll try because I am so very tired of the games. I have no desire to be an intentional thorn in anyone's side. I have four children including one with severe autism. I have neither the time nor the energy nor the desire to be a pain in the rear just for the fun of it. I do not like having to keep coming back and expressing a dissenting point of view. I promise. No part of this is fun for me. I have no desire to micromanage Isaac's education. Really. I am an expert regarding Isaac. I am an educator. I am always pursuing the latest information regarding autism and special education. I will educate myself but I want the professionals educating Isaac to grow their knowledge too. I have too much to do to rewrite the curriculum. I know what that takes. I have no desire to do that. I do not want to write Isaac's IEP. I do not want to manage the classroom. I want Isaac to be educated by professionals who can do all of that as easily and with as much skill as those who educate my typical children in typical classroom environments.
Maybe it would help if I just put it out there. Here is a list of what I want from the schools.
What I as Isaac's Mama Want:
I want....what is legal. Honestly, its a big deal to me. So many have fought in the courts and through the legislative circus to establish laws to protect children who have disabilities. The law is written. It has been interpreted and decisions have been put forward to delineate what the law means. The law has been enforced throughout the years. Students with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate public education. Isaac falls within one of the disability categories. I want what he is entitled to...a free and appropriate public education.
Appropriate means that qualified professionals who are knowledgeable about the tenants of education and in Isaac's case of his special needs are working with him. Appropriate means that basic tenants will be adhered to. He should be kept safe and clean when at school. Appropriate means inclusive. More on that later.
I want...equal access to anything that a typical child would be granted in the school environment. Persons with disabilities are a protected class under Section 504 which is typically thought of as civil rights legislation and also protects people of every race and gender from discrimination by governmental entities or any organization that accepts federal monies. I want Isaac to be included, as is legal, in school assemblies, lunch, pictures and school related activities.
I do not particularly want separate programs for my son. I would love accommodations and modifications to be in place as is legal so that Isaac would have the same opportunities to participate in every aspect of school life if he and we so choose. I would love to never hear that Isaac cannot participate in a field trip or other program due to his special needs but that there is another program which he may enjoy more.
Separate is not equal. Ever. At all. We have a long legal history to back that up. I would love for every child with whatever special need to be accommodated at their zoned school. Without question. I would love for every school to be able to provide an appropriate education for each of their zoned students no matter their disability category. Like I said....I want....what is legal. What I am arguing for is adherence to a minimal standard.
I want ....educators to look first to the student's strengths and abilities as is purposed in the legislation. I want the first thoughts to be of how can we as an educational community include children with disabilities into every aspect of our community. That is legal. That is minimal. That is what I want.
I don't want anything extra. No dolphin therapy. No private flights to California for additional therapists or treatments. No luxury gym. None of that....
I want the same thing for each of my children that I send to school. I want to know that they are going to be educated by professionals in their zoned schools under school administrators who look at students with disabilities as members of the greater educational community. That's all.
I want....what is legal. It sounds so very simple. I wish it were.