Periodically, I like to take a break from the sweets and healthy vegetarian fare and give you updates on my sweet son Graham. Just this year, he has learned to ski, swim, and ride a two-wheel bike. There were times when I wondered if he would ever do any of those things, let alone all three. We are proud parents.
I went in to his school recently to amend his IEP. IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan, and each student with special needs has one. Graham has met a lot of his goals that were set last year, and we just needed to draw up new goals and adjust the amount of time he spends with the resource room teacher and the speech therapist. Graham is doing incredibly well in school. He is learning to read, do addition and subtraction, and, as he always has in his short life, he is bringing joy to peoples’ lives. The librarian in particular thinks the world of him – the enthusiasm Graham shows for books makes him happy. The principal told me that he is delightful and that any teacher would be lucky to have him in their classroom.
Graham is attending our neighborhood school. It is public, it draws from the area surrounding our house. The permanent structure is under construction but when the school moves into that building, in the fall of 2012, it will be a very short walk from our home. We did a lot of research last year and looked at several private schools and a parochial school. What we found is that Graham would be best served in our local public school.
Recently, the school board made a decision that spells disaster for us. With pressure from the neighborhood, the school has been designated a “language immersion” school. This means that all children will spend every morning learning math and science in either Spanish or Japanese. Immersion meaning that those languages will be the only ones spoken in the classroom for half the day.
What does that mean for a child who has a speech delay? A child who tries with all his might, but who struggles with English? A child who has been getting speech therapy since the age of 22 months? It means that he cannot go to his neighborhood school. It means that his neighborhood school, a public institution meant to serve the people in the neighborhood, those who reside in the area, does not serve our child. Is this discrimination? I think so.
I went to a meeting recently with other parents who are unhappy with the decision. The goal was to let a school board representative know how this decision affects our children. It was an emotional meeting. A woman, seven months pregnant with her third child, told of her typically developing child older child and her younger child with Downs’ syndrome and how they would not be able to attend the same school. She was devastated as she was counting on the older daughter being able to look out for the younger. Another woman, herself an immigrant and personally thrilled with the immersion decision for her own child, told the school board that her heart was breaking for the parents of special needs children and how unfair this decision was. A kindergarten teacher who had taught special ed for seven years, told of her desire to teach all children and spoke of the importance of a diverse classroom, especially in a public neighborhood school. Graham’s resource room teacher stood up and said that she has twins starting kindergarten in the fall and she wants them in a classroom with all kinds of kids, not just typically developing ones who are capable of learning math and science in another language. A man wondered about the children who will be diagnosed with special needs later in their schooling – where will they go?
It all did no good. The decision is made. We have to find another alternative. We are fortunate in that Graham’s wonderful resource room teacher is moving to an “option” school that will focus on technology. She suggested even before the language immersion switch that this new school might be a good place for Graham. Now it is our lifeline. We applied during the open enrollment period and now we wait. If he does not get in to that school, he will get bussed to another public school where the resource room teacher has the reputation of being lazy and very old school. At this point in Graham’s life, the resource room teacher is almost more important than his actual teacher, so this prospect terrifies me. But he can’t be in a classroom using another language for half the day.
I also wonder about Spencer, who will start kindergarten in the fall of 2012. Although he is typically developing, I don’t like the idea of language immersion for him either. I fully support foreign languages being taught in our schools, just not immersion style. Will Spencer be able to get in to the option school? Is there sibling priority? If not, I will have kids at two different schools and that just makes me dizzy.
So, we wait. We worry. I remember being pregnant with Graham and being so worried about him. I had had some bleeding about mid-way through my pregnancy and he sometimes seemed to be small for his size on ultrasound, and I was just so desperate to know that he was all right. I remember saying to someone, “I just want him to be born so I can stop worrying.”