I've now sat here for quite a bit of time staring at a blinking cursor trying to decide how best to formulate the words that have been swirling around in my head today. Today is when my walls broke and I cried the tears that haven't been there until now. Today is one of those days when I ask why we have to fight so hard for our child to be a part of a community in which he belongs.
On May 15th, I posted about how we chose to place Colin in the least restrictive environment which for him, we determined to be an inclusive setting in which an in class support teacher came in for part of the day during Math and Literacy. It had been discussed in meetings in the past that Colin would benefit from inclusive opportunities, but the district has currently been unable to provide that because of the fact that the Kindergarteners in special education are currently segregated in a building without their typical peers. The recommendation from the district was a more restrictive environment in an LLD self-contained class and we were told that there would be inclusive opportunities next year (no guarantee to that yet). Even if this was an option, we have felt all along that he should be included to the fullest extent possible and only use the special education classroom as a resource option. After our choice was made, we asked for a paraprofessional to be in the classroom as 1:3, 4, or even 5 for the times of the day in which the special education teacher would not be in there. Given the fact that this is an in-class support class with other children with IEPs, we felt this would be beneficial.
We were told from the case manager that the decision about a paraprofessional would have to come from the Director of Special Services. We chose not to sign to consent to the implementation of the IEP until we knew what kind of decision had been made regarding the paraprofessional. Since the 15 days we have to sign is going to be up on Friday, I contacted the case manager today via email asking if a decision had been made. She informed me we would not be granted a paraprofessional for Colin. When I asked why she said to me "if you feel he is ready for inclusion then he doesn't need one". Wow. Ok.
That's not what immediately got me upset. Initially, this just felt like another bump in the road that I would have to sort out. So, in the meantime, I pulled up the law that I have read a bazillion times now.
6A 14-4.2 Placement in the least restrictive environment
(a) Students with disabilities shall be educated in the least restrictive environment. Each
district board of education shall ensure that:
1. To the maximum extent appropriate, a student with a disability is educated with
children who are not disabled;
2. Special classes, separate schooling or other removal of a student with a disability
from the student's general education class occurs only when the nature or severity
of the educational disability is such that education in the student's general
education class with the use of appropriate supplementary aids and services
cannot be achieved satisfactorily;
6A 14-4.3 Program Options
(a) All students shall be considered for placement in the general education class with
supplementary aids and services including, but not limited to, the following:
1. Curricular or instructional modifications or specialized instructional strategies;
2. Assistive technology devices and services as defined in N.J.A.C. 6A:14-1.3;
3. Teacher aides;
4. Related services;
5. Integrated therapies;
6. Consultation services; and
7. In-class resource programs.
In reading further:
(b) If it is determined that a student with a disability cannot remain in the general education
setting with supplementary aids and services for all or a portion of the school day, a full
continuum of alternative placements as set forth below shall be available to meet the
needs of the student. Alternative educational program options include placement in the
1. Single subject resource programs outside the general education class;
2. A special class program in the student's local school district;
I called the case manager back to ask a few questions regarding some minor issues like busing, summer school and to confirm what his school diagnosis was so that I could contact the Director of Special Services to discuss why he wasn't entitled to the same rights the law outlines for him.
I wasn't clear on whether Colin would ride the "regular" bus to school next year or if he would continue to have door to door service. She suggested maybe we start with door to door service since this was going to be a "big change" for Colin next year with a "LOT of challenges" so we should try and make a smooth transition for him.
Right! Exactly! From there the discussion ensued because I suggested that as the same reason why it would be beneficial for Colin to have another support staff in the classroom to at least start the year out. Without getting into too many details, key phrases were dropped on me like "this is what you chose", "you got what you wanted", "everyone else thinks this isn't where he belongs", "this is going to be really hard for him", and again, "if you think he's ready for inclusion, then he doesn't need it".
I'll be honest; Chris and I pride ourselves on the positive relationship we have established with Colin's support staff. We know that they have worked hard and are a lot of the reason why Colin has come as far as he has. But I will say, I have never felt as hurt and heartbroken as I have today after what this case manager said to me because I feel that the message that came across was one that is setting Colin up to fail because "this is what we chose". Where oh where in that law that I posted does it say that the least restrictive environment is one that if chosen means he "doesn't need support"?
Let me point out that Chris and I clearly understand the fact Colin has an intellectual disability which presents many academic challenges for him. We have spent many, many months reading up on the law, reading scientific studies, taken into account the opinions of other parents, teachers, and support service staff and made a decision that supported all of the many benefits to an inclusive setting (for Colin AND for the students without disabilities).
Do you know WHY we made this decision? We have refused to let a diagnosis define Colin and who he is. We have underestimated Colin before and he has proven us wrong. We have refused to let things remain status quo for him and we continue to push him and set the bar high. Does ANYONE (Chris and myself included) KNOW what Colin is capable of right now? Does anyone truly know how next year will go? You can do every test in the book that you choose, but you never know how much can change with time. The same challenges he faces now might mean nothing in Kindergarten but new challenges and difficulties can find themselves at the forefront. Do these challenges mean that he is not entitled? Why does he have to earn his way into general education? As a teacher myself, I did not walk into a job expecting that every student was going to be the same. I have had to adapt and change the way I do things EACH YEAR because of the unique differences all students bring. Maybe in some ways Colin's difficulties might be MORE challenging but that doesn't exclude him from learning from and modeling after his typical peers.
Do you know how much Colin has learned because of Kailey? Do you know how much Colin has learned by spending the first 5 YEARS of his life in a general education day care setting? Do you know how well Colin has done in his Sunday School class with his typical peers? What about the social settings we have and continue to place him in? Colin is a smart little boy. He knows what is expected of him yet pushes the boundaries just like other kids his age. And you know what? He DOES need help sometimes.
Today, I am going to let myself cry and feel sad over the clear differences that still exist.
Tomorrow, however, I will pick up the pieces and take the next step for Colin because I know he is capable if just given the opportunity.