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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Reflections on Elementary School

Friday was Kayla's last day of 5th grade, her last day of being in elementary school.

My beautiful, spunky, sweet, friendly daughter on her last day of school...and after this summer on to middle school.

I found myself reflecting back on her elementary years. Obviously Kayla was the focus, and the priority, in the decisions we made in every IEP meeting about her placement and what we believed her Least Restrictive Environment to be.

From Day One we've had to fight a school system that routinely starts with placing students with intellectual disabilities in 'programs' instead of starting with the general ed classrooms. The diagnosis leads the placement, not the boundary zones of where they live. I'm not exaggerating this point. From the notes of our first IEP meeting when we attempted to enroll Kayla at her neighborhood school it states, "It was also explained that X school is the school kids with Mild Mental Disabilities attend when their home school is Y school because all types of programs are not housed at each school."

They pre-determine placement based on diagnosis. Yes, I realize that's illegal, but there is a statue of limitation and it's too late to do anything about that now. The notes from that first meeting also state that at her neighborhood school "students typically see the special ed teacher (ie resource teacher) for a brief period of time and are with their regular ed class the majority of the day. Most children receiving this supplemental support have Learning Disabilities or Other Health Impairments. Children typically do not have Mental Disabilities." We heard that to mean: We don't educate children like yours at this school. We dealt with the attitude and realization that she wasn't welcomed, nor wanted, at her neighborhood school.

It was emotionally hard because we had every intention of rightfully registering Kayla at her neighborhood school and that was going to be that. But we left that first meeting so dejected and upset. We had agreed to go visit school X just to appease them, but when they called us later that day to say we could 'try' her neighborhood school and see how it goes we didn't have confidence in them anymore. We felt that if we sent her there she would get lost in the system, they wouldn't really 'try', and she would be set up for failure. So she attend school X - the school they already pre-determined she would attend - for 1st and 2nd grades.

After two years we advocated to change schools because we still felt strongly that she deserved, and had a right, to be at her neighborhood school. We had hoped that as a result of being included, of showing them research, best practice, and resources, that this would not only be successful for Kayla - but secondary to that be successful for the students to come after Kayla. It wasn't our goal to 'open those doors' but we had to open them and we certainly hoped that changes would be made, that it would be easier for the next family because the school team could say, "yes we've done this before and we know how to make it work!"

I'm saddened to feel like we failed at that, we didn't open the door wide enough, we didn't change the culture, and the next family will find themselves reinventing the inclusion wheel.

I wish we could've done more with her time at that school.


ahoy.jenni said...

So sorry to hear of your experience. It's not an easy life, is it!
There are so many more challenges and obstacles to raising our kids.
I was just reading the power point presentation that you gave a link to in another post. It is all about changing the culture and attitudes. Hopefully the next generation of teachers wont be so averse to doing things differently.
Good luck with the next level of education.
Would love Kayla to meet my Matilda, I think they would hit it off!

FlutistPride said...

I recently got a Change.org account. Shall I petition for this?

Anonymous said...

"failing" is doing nothing at all. In your case "you have not failed"!! love mom by the way beautiful Kayla!

Lionel Braithwaite said...

At least you did more for your daughter than my parents did for me in making sure I was educated normally; they just gave up when I was in junior high, and I ended up being dropped out of the system and sent to a private 'school' that was a fraud, the failure of which had massive repercussions on my life. As a result, all I've ever been to is programs of one sort or another since I was 17, and haven't worked except for one stint at a warehouse sorting out magazines to be shipped out later (I'm on ODSP permanently.)

Don't give up the fight, and don't let them use any excuses to send your daughter to an institution, a special school for kids with Downs, or to a myriad of programs like the ones that I've been to. Make them under stand that she has a right be be educated fully like any other 'normal' child, and that she should not be streamed into menial work simply because of her disability. I-a person with Asperger's messed up by the system-am pulling for you.