If you have a school-age child with special needs then you know what this time of year typically represents - the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting. I have to say, these meetings can be down right exhausting.
We are getting ready to have our 3rd meeting regarding Kayla's placement for the next school year.
A brief background on how school has looked for Kayla the past 2 years. She is zoned for school A. When we attended our first meeting there we were told that "School B is the school kids with mild mental disabilities attend when School A is their home school, because not all schools in the district have the program for students with mild mental disabilities."
That shouldn't be how students are placed; they shouldn't be grouped together based on their disability level and then have it pre-determined where they will attend school because of the 'program' they are being placed in. IDEA states that students with disabilities should be placed in a general education classroom in the school they would attend if they didn't have a disability, with supports, accommodations, and modifications to the maximum extent possible.
We voiced our desires for having Kayla attend School A, but for reasons I'm not getting in to for this post (long story) she goes to School B.
In 1st grade she went to the general ed (GE) classroom for most of her subjects except for language arts (special ed/self-contained room) - which is a pretty good chunk of time. Her time being included in GE classes was a little more than half her day. For her IEP last year (2nd grade) it was recommended that she have language arts and math in the sped room. I wasn't totally on board with that, but by the end of the meeting relented while stating my goal was to have her gradually be in the GE class for more and more time.
Based on the change to having math in the sped room this made her time in GE classrooms less than 40% of her day, something that bothered me, but, yes I agreed to, because maybe it was best for Kayla. You don't know what works until you try it.
For the last 2 months it was agreed to have Kayla go to the GE classroom for 30 min during their phonic/spelling time (she's had no spelling in the 1st/2nd grade sped room - they don't work on that until they go to the 3rd-5th sped room). Since going to the GE room she's now been exposed to, and working on the STEPS program like her typical peers are doing. She learned to identify 14 of 24 sounds from the 'green' set. Spelling has been a bit of a struggle, but she has learned to spell a few words (palace, penny, button as an example) but she's able to differentiate between the correct and incorrect spelling of the words on her list. She's also able to read the words on her spelling list now - words she wasn't exposed to, or learning to read, in the sped room.
I've tried it this way for 2 years and now I would like some change. We're requesting her LRE (Least Restrictive Placement) be the GE classrooms. I read studies (like the one I posted about here) showing that kids with disabilities who are taught with their typically-developing peers in the GE classroom do better overall on math and reading tests. I hear examples from so many other families across the country who have their child in GE classroom with accommodations and modifications and it's working successfully.
I'm not denying special education services because that's exactly what special education is - a service, not a place. I'm just asking for those services to take place in the GE classroom with collaboration between sped/GE teachers and therapists. I'm not opposed to ANY pull out services at all, I would agree to having some extra help in math and reading in a resource room like the rest of the student body has access to.
It was suggested if we want to put her in GE classes full-time, as her LRE, that it might be better to repeat 2nd grade and do it that way. I can understand, to a certain point, the pros of doing it that way ... but I'm not convinced that's the best thing to do at this time. Kayla is probably not going to 'catch up' to typical peers on grade level, but that isn't the point to having her in GE classes. The point is to have access to the general education curriculum alongside her peers ... something she didn't have access to in the sped room.
It's all so overwhelming to think about. These seem to be the choices/decisions we have to make:
- Repeat 2nd grade with LRE being GE classrooms
- Continue to 3rd grade with going to a 2nd grade math class
- Continue to 3rd grade with getting some resource help for math and language arts (how much time is TBD)
- Then there is the possible discussion of transferring schools and having her at her home school
My other issue with her not being at her home school is if she continues at School B for 1st-5th grades she will not be at the same middle school as those kids will go to - because they will be zoned for a completely different middle school than the one she would be zoned for. So she would go to a middle school where she doesn't know any of the kids.
It's a common refrain to hear "You're the parent, you know what's best for your child." and "You'll make the best/right decision for your child because you know her best." But I'm finding that difficult to believe. I don't feel like I've made the best decisions over the last two years and in fact feel like I've failed her in my lack of adequate advocating skills.
And how can you truly know what the right decision is to make, especially when there are more than one paths to chose from? You can't know what is the right decision because you can't go back and see what it would be like if you had chosen something else. I thought I did right by her on last year's IEP, but at the end of this school year I don't feel like I did make the right choices.
And what I want for this school year might not end up being the right choice either, but Kayla deserves to be given a chance at an education in the GE classroom. She deserves a chance to have the right supports and services to make it successful. Maybe it won't work out for her. Maybe she really does need a self-contained room for the core subjects, but it's successful for so many other students, and we won't know until we give it a try.
So many colleges are now offering students with disabilities a chance and those colleges are fully inclusive. From what I've read about most programs to date - none offer a chance at going to college with the understanding that the students with disabilities will be educated in a self-contained room in college. So how can we be expected to prepare our children with disabilities for the possibility of going to college - and expect them to succeed there - if they aren't being prepared for it during the elementary, middle, and high school years? How can I expect her to make the jump from self-contained rooms throughout her school years, to a fully inclusive college experience?
I'm not saying it's going to be easy, change usually isn't, especially in a district that doesn't typically do things this way, but change can be a good thing too.