Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"The Class List" ...What If A Child with Special Needs Is In Your Child's Class?....

This post is something that has been rattling around in my head for the last week....

For the last week I have been thinking about "The Class List...."

It is almost time for school to resume...all the back to school commercials are playing round the clock, new clothes and backpacks and folders are being bought...and the ever exciting day that the "class lists" will be posted up on the office windows are soon to arrive. I don't know about you but I LOVED that day...COULDN'T wait for that day. I'd roller skate up to the school to check out the lists and hope that at least one bestie was in the same class as me...then I'd dream of what the new school year would hold.

The class list held a lot of weight as to what kind of year it would be for a kid... Spot the school bully on your list? Well, you knew you'd have to watch your back.... Spot the booger picker? You made a mental note to sit on the far side of the room away from them... Spot the cute kid you'd had a secret crush on on the list? ...You went home to spiff up your wardrobe. Yes indeed, it held a lot of weight, that class list.

But, WHAT IF you were a parent standing there next to your child scanning the lists with them and you notice a name...and know it to be of a child with special needs. What would your initial thoughts be? ..I'm talking your true, honest, quiet thoughts in your head that you might not share out...

Would it be, "Good for them for "Fully Including" their child"?

Would it be, "I think this is good, my child will learn from this experience".

Would it be, "Oh yay, we love __insert child's name___!"

Or would it be......

"This is terrible, kids with special needs belong in special ed classes!"

"Having this child in class is going to rob my child of their education because the teacher is going to have to spend so much attention on them!"

"I'm going to complain, I don't want that kid in class with my kid!"

One if not all three of those last responses belong to an entire group of parents in the next county over from me. A few years ago there was a situation where a little girl with Down syndrome was going to be fully included into one of the kindergarten classes on campus. "Fully Included" means she would school the entire day in a "general education" class from beginning to end just like everyone else assigned to that class...whereas if someone were to be "Mainstreamed" that means that for part of their day they would mainstream into the general ed class setting say for art or science or some subject but the remainder of their day would be with a special ed class. At any rate....this little girl was going to be fully included into the kindergarten classroom... and she showed up on the "class list".

In response, the parents of the children who would also be in that classroom were upset....felt their child's education was going to be harmed and started a petition NOT to have her allowed in their child's class. This is seriously what happened, parent after parent signed their name to that petition... just down the road from me a hop and a skip and just a few years ago. The school got the petition, the school buckled under the pressure....and the parent had to fight for her to stay on that class list. Her parents had to take it to the district level, argue their case, and remind them that their daughter had a legal right to school in that class. Their point was made and the little girl was allowed to remain in that class.

As I type... I can just imagine that confrontation this family had to face with essentially their own "neighbors" in the neighborhood who were rejecting their child.... I would feel so kicked in the gut by my community. I am proud of the little girl's parents for holding their head high and fighting for what was right for their daughter. In the end, the family did not start her in that particular kindergarten...where her parents would need to stand shoulder to shoulder at drop off and pick up each day with all the parents who signed the petition not to allow their child in class... They fought their fight, made their point, and then enrolled their child at a different school where she was embraced. I can't say I blame them under the circumstance.

Grown adults can be cruel, we can be uninformed, we can hold onto harmful biases, we can be arrogant and seclusive and insensitive. ....and sometimes we don't even realize we are being this way.

For those of you thinking... maybe those "petition" parents were right...maybe she would of robbed the other kids of their education". My response would be.... "Where is the evidence of that?"...they never gave the little girl the chance to prove her abilities...she was shot down because of unfounded parental fears before she even got to start her first day of school. In many cases children who are Fully Included are given full time aides beginning in kindergarten, so had she needed extra assistance she would have had her aide. This little girl would not have robbed anyone's child of their education. The thing however that most certainly was robbed was for the opportunity for "their" children to learn about acceptance and compassion and differences in a very real way..lessons that cannot be taught from a text book the way loving and accepting a peer would.

What about the response... "Kids with special needs belong in special ed classes?" My response would be, "Not necessarily, depends on the child and the child's needs...". To say they should ONLY be in special ed classes would be putting a child in a box and dare I make the comparison would be like me telling you your tall, skinny kid belongs only on the basketball team. What if baseball was actually a better fit for him, far be it from me to deny him that....nor the room to allow him to grow in that sport. There are beautiful special education classes and there are beautiful general education classes with teachers who welcome working with a child with special needs. Each special needs child has different needs and believe me, parents think long and hard about the choices for their child's education..... and those decisions are best placed in the hands of the parents who know their child best and the team of specialists and school administrators who form his/her team....not insensitive petition signing parents, that's for sure.

Why do parents choose to Fully Include? ....Sometimes it is because they feel their child would benefit from the role models their "typically developing peers" would be for them, sometimes it is because they feel their child can learn right along with the other children (and they can), sometimes it is because they feel that the high expectations that would be held for that child would motivate them to reach beyond their limitations, sometimes it is because their typically developing peers would be hugely beneficial for them in regards to speech modeling or perhaps even social modeling.

So, we take that step for our child and hope that we are not met with parents who respond as the group I had mentioned above. And as we stand there shoulder to shoulder at pick up and drop off and we see parents smile lovingly at our child... or they comment about how glad they are that our child is in class with their child... or comment on how well they did something.... or reassure you when a naughty incident happens that all kids have naughty moments.... I cannot even begin to tell you how much those words mean, truly....... they. mean. so. much!

So IF a child with special needs does indeed end up on your child's class list and you have reservations about it.... please watch and see, you just may be surprised, your pre-conceived ideas just might change.... and the words of encouragement you might even find yourself sharing with the child's parent... will make you both feel great. And... if all those things just mentioned do occur, well then I hope your child ends up on MY child's "class list"!

** Disclaimer: Sometimes, we as parents feel that mainstreaming might be better for our child, or it might be better for our child to school solely in a special ed class..... all those options are beautiful options if and when it is the right fit for our child, and we'll know when it is. I don't want anyone to get the impression that I am saying we as special needs parents are failing if we choose not to "Fully Include", that is not what I am saying or how I feel at all.



Summers Family said...

great post! Annabelle's only 2 so I haven't thought much about school yet but boy did your post get me thinking. My heart sank to read such a disappointing story.

I hope you don't mind but I linked your post on Facebook. I wanted to make sure as many people as possible read it as we prepare to head back to school.

Hope you guys have a great school year!

Nicole (Erin Moland's friend)

Cassie said...

Great post. My son, Caleb was born with Spina Bifida so he wears leg braces, uses a walker and a wheelchair. He started kindergarten this week, mainstream general education class. I always wonder what the other parents think about him being in a class with their kids. I can't imagine having parents sign a petition to keep my child out of their class! I can't even wrap my brain around that. We all want our kids to be embraced. We want teachers, parents, kids to see past the labels and instead see the beautiful, perfect child.

Sarah T said...

oh boy - I'm planning on holding Gideon a year (he's an August baby) - so that puts him into Kinder at 6. And then my plan is to put him into full inclusion - Spanish immersion - at our home school. Here's hoping! I have a friend who teaches Special Ed high school and she has kids with DS that are tri-lingual (and this is in the very low functioning class). She is very supportive of the idea...I'm still working on everybody else - although i've started the conversation with the district, the magnet office and the head of the language program at Franklin. I'm praying I do the right thing! But I so think he can do it, considering how well he's picked up ASL (300 plus signs).

Deborah said...

Wonderful post, Cheri! As Sean enters 1st grade, I have the same butterflies as I did when he entered kgarten. Will the new kids and parents embrace him again? I hope so! (PS Sent you a friend request on fb! Missed reading about your family! I am aka SunflowerStories!)

Katia said...

Timely... considering that Tuesday Genevieve will be Fully Included in our (High Achieving) home school that does not have a Special Ed program on campus. I am anxious about what this year will bring. I am comforted by the fact that her teacher is really excited about having Genevieve in her class! She will be the second child w/ DS on campus... the first had to take the school and district to court to attend.

Runningmama said...

I enjoyed this post so much as this is the first year Emily is in any sort of classroom, she is in a mother's morning out class with other 2 year olds. Her teachers love her and send home little notes saying so, but I wonder what will happen when we have the first class party and the parents realize she has Down Syndrome. I have to admit I am a little bit nervous about that day!

j*e*n said...

Great post! My prayer is that Reid & Ainsley & others will change a few minds as they grow.

Sweet Pea's Mommy said...

I started tearing up reading this post! It's always been a concern of mine and I pray that we are surrounded by open minded parents. Sweet Pea's preschool has been wonderful so far and all the other families have been very accepting. I hope that continues as she gets older and switches schools!

Thank you for writing this!!!

tania said...

We have been living in Cambridge, England, for several years, and our 3 year old son with Down Syndrome, was born here. Along with nationally covered medical assistance and various therapies, our son Qeis was just provided with a full time aid to assist him with mainstream schooling starting in January 2012.
Qeis will be in the same school as his older brother and sister, and 3 other children with down syndrome! All the other school parents/neighbours/strangers have been fully supportive of always including Qeis.
I am shocked to hear that it can be any different, especially in the fabulous United States of America. From a New Yorker of 18 years

mum2brady said...

Such an amazing post - and I can't tell you how much it means to have parents come up and tell me things like that. This year I had several parents come tell me that their kids and they were sad that Brady wasn't in their class this year. But - there is a different boy with ds in their class, and I know that their experiences with Brady will also help them be friends with him too! Thanks for sharing your wisdom - and I will pass it on!!!

Lisa said...

Wonderful, beautiful post. Thank you, Cheri.

nancy litteken said...

I loved reading your post! You are articulate and spot on! But the pictures of your little guys just captured my heart...

Nancy Litteken

Jenna said...

My name is Jenna and i came across your site. Reid is an amazing, inspirational hero. I am disabled and have developmental delays. My mom fought hard for me to be in regular classes in highschool, and she did everything in her power to try to get the teachers to change their minds, but they were stuck, on putting me in a special needs class, where I got labled and bullied by my peers because I was "different."
I was born with a rare life threatening disease, and developmental delays. I love it when people sign my guestbook.