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 🙂