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 - they 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.