Friday, May 20, 2011

The Mystery of Public School Special Education

Somebody needs to publish a Special Education for Dummies or Navigating the Special Education IEP for Complete Idiots book.  Because that's exactly how parents feel after dealing for even five minutes with the special education bureaucracy.  Basically, as my astute oldest child remarked, you pay into it but you have no say in it.  But they want to make you feel like you have a say in it.  So they give you all sorts of paperwork that tells you about your rights as parents, but they don't tell you in plain language what the expectations for your child should be or how you should go about making sure they are met.  And the phone tag is just awful when there are so many parties and they are all on different pages.

To recap, our third child, a girl with Down syndrome (hereafter to be referred to by the blogname "Tertia"), is completing 5th grade at our local elementary school, "fully included" (whatever that means) in a regular classroom.  She receives pull-out instruction, which I gather is called "learning support," but we have fought to keep her in a more inclusive, mainstream environment and especially resisted the push to put her in a "life skills" classroom full-time.  It has paid off -- she is popular in her class and loves school.  But 6th grade, as I can freely attest after teaching it for 11 years, is a different environment.  Tertia will not be able to keep up academically, even if she does read at the same level as many of her peers.  We are prepared for there to be some fairly major changes for her next year, but we still want her to be pushed, preferably just enough and not too much, out of her comfort zone (which is watching Curious George and reading Disney Princess books, just to be clear).

Apparently we may have set ourselves up for a lot of confusion when we made an IEP calling for some time in Life Skills classroom (although not as much as they wanted to give her) and more time in various Learning Support classrooms, along with one literature class and "arts block"  in regular classrooms.  Add to that the fact that we would like to have the option of considering two different middle schools -- one down the street, hereafter referred to as "Methodist Missionary", and one in a slightly more upscale neighborhood, hereafter referred to as "Third President."  Now, Methodist Missionary is not a bad school, although they do serve a wide territory and include some rough kids.  Many of Tertia's friends are going there and she herself wants to go there.  The district will provide a bus for her to go there, even though it's a fairly short walk away.  Many other friends are going to Third President, which has a slightly better academic reputation, and not so many of what I would consider "problem" kids as far as bullying -- although I would probably be the last to know.  The district will not, apparently, provide a bus for her going there, even though she would definitely need automated transportation of some sort to get there because it's further away.  And there's "no room" in the Life Skills class there, although we are not exactly clear on whether "no room" really means "no room" or "we will have to pull some strings to make room."

I know that we are not allowed to visit either of the life skills classrooms because they don't want parents "shopping" for the best program.  I'm not so sure about the learning support classrooms or meeting with the teachers.  And there seems to be a little confusion over whether Tertia would be considered a Life Skills student or a Learning Support student, and I'm not sure why that matters, but it seems to matter very much to somebody.  I'm more than a little intimidated by making phone calls to strangers at the best of times; now I've been told I need to contact the principals of both schools to set up a visit so we can make an informed choice -- but I'm not sure whether we're even supposed to ask for a meeting with potential teachers, and if so, which ones?  And what questions should I ask?  The school counselors and psychologists are referring this up the chain of command as if we are the scariest parents ever, and the elementary school teachers who have served us so well for many years are limited in what they can do other than relay messages in an enormous game of Telephone.  I understand the district rep. for special education has some information to convey to us, but it hasn't happened yet and we will stay in this holding pattern a little longer.  Stay tuned...

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