The blog title is extreme sarcasm. The time has come for our local school district Unit 4 to begin the process for parents to choose what school their Kindergarten child might attend. The history of why Unit 4 has “School of Choice” vs neighborhood school can be found here.
Everywhere I turn the past few weeks there is someone talking about choosing a school. Tours are scheduled for specific dates and times and there are public forums to help. There is also a Family Information Center to help families navigate the process.
Guess what you won’t find. Any information specific to help parents who have a child with special needs. I made a few phone calls today and sent out some emails asking for specific answers and I was dismayed at the lack of response. I called the Family Information Center and asked what I should do since my child has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and choosing a school is a far different process for us.
The response was very kind and I was told to “choose a school and at registration bring your IEP with you and we will copy it and put it in with your child’s file for the school you end up at”
Can you imagine the smirk that spread across my face? I was very polite and said “well my child has severe and profound disabilities and therefore I am not just choosing a site I am choosing an education team to serve her needs. Therefore I will need to set up interviews with each Principle and therapy team to evaluate exactly which school best serves her needs.”
Can you imagine the stunned silence that met that question? And I was told to call the Mellon Building and speak directly to the Special Education department.
I made that exact phone call next and I was told that all schools in Unit 4 offer the exact same services in every building.
Can you imagine …. ok enough of that stuff but seriously I almost cracked in half. Well that my friends is a load of crap. We have schools in Unit 4 that serve English As A Second Language (ESL), serve children who are hearing impaired, visually impaired, only so don’t give me that garbage that all schools are the same with services.
I asked the question on Twitter asking WHO is going to provide the blueprint for parents with a child with special needs to navigate schools of choice. I also spit into the wind with the same success.
What bothers me is that I am a fairly informed parent and I am involved in my child’s education plan and I can’t figure out how Unit 4 expects me to pick a school without an interview of the TEAM who will be providing service to my child. We aren’t like the majority who will pack into the school and be anxious as to whether or not Suzie will test into gifted or heaven forbid get into a school that is our 3rd choice!!! Oh the HORROR!
I get to ask each school exactly how they will address my child’s safety concerns, health issues, oh and give her the free and appropriate education she is entitled to. I get to worry about minutes of therapy. I get to worry about WHO will give her the medication that keeps her brain working properly and keeps her from having physical seizures. I get to worry about who will be TRAINED appropriately to best support her daily routine. I get to worry about who will change her diaper and will they do it in a manner that is safe and respectful to her. This list could go on for 3 pages.
Supposedly I get to do all of the above AFTER I tour a site with a crowd of others who don’t have our issues, hear a presentation from an administrator who hasn’t a clue to our needs and has never met us.
Would YOU do that?
I’m not going to.
I spent my morning in a meeting with another advocate going over Larkin’s IEP and discussing what would be best for her. Discussing goals that would be appropriate for her and that I feel she could achieve. My friend who helped me has been there done that. She has a child with difficult and special needs and she has the warped sense of humor to go along with mine. She knows my pain and my grief has boiled to the top again.
I have opened the wound again and she is bleeding freely my friends. My sweet amazing little girl who deserves every beautiful thing in life has goals such as learning to feed herself without choking, dressing herself, and learning new sign language without losing a current sign that she knows. These are just a few examples we will address. I am OK with these goals because it is what she needs but it is very hard to begin writing a plan anew with a school change, team change, and not feel the grief of seeing it all on paper in black and white.
Larkin is so much more than what the goals and descriptors say she is however they are important pieces to the puzzle to ensure that everyone know where she currently can be expected to function and not feel defeated if she doesn’t meet a goal.
That is the most important piece to her education and the building site doesn’t mean anything to me if the people inside it are not the very best for what our needs are.
So I am off to interview staff, view what mornings look like inside a particular K class, meet the teachers, see the resource rooms, go over the qualifications of therapist, and envision Larkin thriving in the environment presented. All of that to go back and write an IEP with goals that are appropriate for her success and prepare for a new team to meet Larkin and fall in love with her as much as her current one has.
Unit 4 should better prepare parents for the process but since they don’t, our next Parent Inclusion Network meeting will be about how to write an IEP, write clear and appropriate goals, and feel good about “schools of choice” even when it’s really not true.
It’s exhausting, painful, and hard, but the same could be said of raising a 15 year old and 14 month old twins who are typical 🙂
Coming from Round Rock, TX (near Austin) and being a pediatric speech pathologist for 8 years, it amazes me that unit 4 doesn’t have specific special education programs at each school!!!! Each elementary school had very specific classes-PPCD (preschool program for children with disabilities), FA (functional academics) classes for children with disabilities ages 6 and above, AIMS (class for children with Emotional Disturbancs), etc. The school I worked at had a PPCD class that I served and an AIMS room. Some schools didn’t have any of these classes but had others. Once a child qualified for special education services, they were placed into one of these programs that was closest to their homes or that was most appropriate to meet their needs (i.e. if a child had Autism, they were placed into the class that specialized in it and used strategies/techniques to improve their individual skills.) Does Unit 4 have programs like these at each school if they say that every school offers the same services? Texas public schools are really amazing-the support, the materials/programs, the courses offerred to therapists….I took for granted living in a state with an exceptional public school system for both typical children and children with special needs….
Well said, Amy. And, the scary thing is that the strength (or weakness) of these “teams” that you are going to go interview is based on the individual members. And guess what, there is never a guarantee (or warning) about where they might be placed the following year—or if they will have the same responsibilities if they are at the same building. But, as you know, you should trust them all. Of course, in all other situations in life, trust is earned. Sorry, feeling a little cynical right now, as I am working with a few families going through similar situations.
In your case, you know I am also going to remind you to look at the program in a neighboring district that has been well established and is supported at all levels. It’s hard to believe that Unit 4 could suddenly develop such a good program out of nothing just because you advocate for it. If they are sincere, let them partner with an existing successful program and learn from them. Just my 2 cents!
Good luck—and keep us informed.
Schools make it so hard and confusing. The parents have to be in control and in the know when we have our one situation to deal with. When in reality they should be the experts because they deal with multiple special needs students. Now, each would need to be evaluated and treated as individuals, but it shouldn’t be each family reinventing the wheel. Just think about families that are as adept as you are! In my small town I don’t have choices (which I think I like in this case) and the only person I deal with is the principal and I’ve never really been given any other options than the principal. Best of luck to you and stay strong!
Should say are not as adept as you are! Sorry.
I hope you find the perfect school for the whole family. The schools of choice model is a nightmare for a parent of a typically developing child, throw in even the smallest special need and you are simply in for it. Fortunately for Larkin she has you to fight for her and insist that she get the education and services she deserves.
PS, I can only imagine the response FIC gave to interviewing the whole team. When we were starting the process the first time, I asked about meeting Kindergarten teacher during the school tours and was told that wasn’t really possible. It turned out to be a school by school thing but it seems like meeting teachers would be a pretty big thing when choosing a school!
I also agree that the “choice” system is a disaster. I have a typical child in 2nd grade that we have bounced from private for Pre-K, to public for K, back to private for 1st, and now in a different public school for 2nd. The education level at both public schools is a joke compared to the private school, but it is just so expensive. There are a number of kids in my daughter’s 2nd grade class in the public school that can’t even read at all yet, and over 80% of her K class at private school was reading at 1st grade level (all of them could read by the end of the year). Don’t even get me started on the behavoir problems. I have personally seen some shocking, even violent, things and heard an even longer list from my daughter about what happens in and out of the classroom during her school day. The “good” public school she attended in SW Champaign for K was not as bad from a safety stand point, but the behavior problems still held the whole class at a snail’s pace educationally as the teacher spent most of her day reprimanding a quarter of the class.
Due to her jump start from pre-K and K at private school, our daughter has always been way ahead of the curve at the public schools. Now in 2nd grade, she reads at a 4th grade level and has started learning multiplication tables with us at home (her class just began learning how to add 2 digit numbers this January!). Even with the enrichment progam, she tells us she is bored. She is given all kinds of awards and prizes at school for her work, but I know that every kid at the private school she has attended is doing the same work as her.
Unit 4 has “leveled the playing field” only by spreading the “problem” students around and effectively lowering the bar. What good does that really do for the kids it was meant to help? How much has it hurt all the other children in the process? When did our school board decide that mediocrity was good enough for all students? Wouldn’t it make more sense to try and help those kids in need (without support systems at home) achieve the same level as the kids in the other areas? Why aren’t they spending all that money they use busing kids all over town (my neighbor’s kid spends almost an hour on the bus both ways each day!) to fund tutoring and mentoring programs at the schools that need them?
I also have a daughter with special needs in pre-K at the same private school my eldest attended. Not as severe as Amy’s angel, mine has Sensory Integration Disorder and is ADHD. The SID qualifies her for an IEP at the public schools. However, as a result of our experience from our other daughter, we have decided to keep her in private school all the way. We just don’t feel that she will receive anywhere near the level of care or education she needs. We are also concerned about both our daughters’ safety in the public schools. My children watched a group of boys beat a girl on the ground with a 2×4 only blocks from the school on our way home one day earlier this year! This is the worst we’ve seen so far, and thank God my daughter has never been the victim of any of the violence she has seen at such a tender age. It’s still more than enough to scare the hell out of me. I mean, the middle schools have dedicated police officers on duty inside the school ever day. No, seriously.
Anyway, our experience has been good. I have heard far more complaints and horror stories than the slightly higher test scores for a select group of students can possibly be worth. We are actually considering downsizing our house this summer just so we can afford to send both our girls to private school from here on out. They deserve it. It’s not their fault we live in an area with an incompetent, ineffective school board!
Finally stepping off my soap box now…thanks for lending an ear. (Unit 4 hasn’t given me the courtesy, even though I have left multiple messages for various administrative personnel over the past few years.)
Joc there are programs that fit different dx however the support staff and teachers are stretched thin due to budget issues and the consent decree. There is a wonderful program for kids who are severe and profound in Urbana (116) but Unit 4 is all inclusion all the time. It might work for us but she would need to be supported so heavily that I worry the teacher will feel taxed.
Ann ~ I am going to Urbana to see ASSIST one more time if you want to join me. I will email you the date.
Leslie it is very confusing and even the SPED Director couldn’t find registration dates on the website. She and I will work on this to see if we can change the process.
Katie ~ you are doing the very best job you can with what we have. I worry for Unit 4 and the School Board because they simply can’t fix what doesn’t happen at home. Parents are checked out and expect the District to raise their child. Until we have a 2 way partnership I fear the worst is yet to come. I see it every single day and often hear it in meetings.