Friday, July 11, 2014


N skipping a stone across a small river in the Yorkshire Dales during our recent trip to England and Scotland.
On Monday, I got a call from N's middle school. They wanted to tell me about a program he's eligible for, one where he would be one of two or three special ed kids in a regular gen ed classroom (with a 'consulting' special ed teacher and a classroom aide) for one of the four academic periods he was in a special ed classroom for last year.

It's optional, they said. But then they said this: We're doing this because this is the model they use at the high school, and we need to move toward it.

Shit. That's what I was afraid of.

Seventh grade was exceptional for my kid. After seven years (K-6) in a general education classroom with varying amounts of support and pullouts, he was over the whole inclusion thing. Last year, he was in classes of 12 (with one class of 16) with a trained sped teacher in each one, plus one or more aides. He thrived. It wasn't perfect, but he thrived. He still got lower-than-I-think-he's-capable-of grades (Bs and Cs, mostly, with an A in math the first semester), but had certain test scores and--more importantly--an ability to recall what he was learning and to work independently that were remarkable.

After thinking the program over a bit and talking with Baroy and N, I wrote the following email to the school. I'm proud of it, mostly because I didn't just go gentle into that inclusive night…though that's ultimately where we wound up. I said what I needed to say. I'd like to think that they not only read it, but that they forwarded it to the sped coordinator for the district. Maybe *I* will forward it to her.

The email started with a paragraph about why we weren't giving them an answer when I said we would, which was because N said he wanted to talk to his favorite teacher, the one whose class he won't be in if we do this program (but who will be the consulting teacher in that case). I said that I was actually thrilled about that, because, "if there's anything that's even more important to my husband and I than our son's education, it's giving him the ability to speak up and advocate for himself." And then I wrote this:
All of that said, I do want to go on record as saying that I think that the consult model is a terrible direction to go in--or, rather, to have as the only option for a kid like N--and even moreso at the high school level. Inclusion/a chance to be with his "peers" may be a much-ballyhooed concept, but in reality, the one thing I've learned these past four or five years is that my son's true peers are the kids who are like him, the kids he can relate to--i.e., the kids in his RSP classes. What the district is talking about when they say peers is N's grade-mates. Nothing more. 
I attribute the success N had in seventh grade--or, I should say, successES--entirely to his feeling safe and supported and accepted for who he is, rather than mocked and bullied and physically pushed around. The RSP program, to me, is the best kind of inclusion; that sense of safety and support are what we're after for N, and that is what we got last year. I'm willing to give this new model a try in eighth grade, mostly so that I can determine if OurHighSchool will be an appropriate placement for N in the end, something I hadn't realized I might have to worry about. But having done gen ed from kindergarten through sixth grade with N, I have to say that I'm highly skeptical about his ability to learn in a general education environment, with all the social and attentional demands it places on him, and the enormous developmental gap between him and the other children in the class. 
I realize that none of this larger-issue stuff is in your hands, nor is it your decision. But I wouldn't have felt right not stating it for the record. Your RSP program--and its teachers--are wonderful. I hope this new program will be able to measure up.
I did get a response, in case you're wondering, thanking me for my "candidness and honesty." And the assistant principal I sent the note to made a point of stopping N on the playground at snack that day and answering all his questions; he then decided he didn't need to talk to Mr. T, and gave me the go-ahead to sign him up for the program.

Really, I'm doing this for the reason stated above: I want to be sure that this is something that CAN work for N. He desperately wants to go to OurHighSchool, where there will be kids he's known all his life, plus several of Em's friends who are a year behind her, who've promised to watch out for him. But if this is the best they can do for special ed--shoving him in a general education classroom with people making sure his accommodations are being met…but not necessarily making sure he's TAUGHT IN A WAY THAT ACTUALLY REACHES HIM--then I don't know whether that's going to happen.

We'll see. As I said, I'm skeptical.

And, also, frustrated. There must be people for whom inclusion is important, for whom inclusion works. But ohdeargod, not my kid. I want him included, of course. I want him included in the learning that goes on at school. I want him included in the opportunities for growth and development. Last year? He was, for the first time in a long time. Their plan? Is more likely to move those things out of his reach than to make them ever more possible. But I'm keeping my mind open. Because, hey. Maybe everything is different now. Maybe the other little shits his peers won't pull his chair out from under him, or refuse to take a pen from him because it has "N cooties." Maybe they won't taunt him when he exhibits behaviors that are, let's say, young for a boy his age. Maybe they'll try to connect with him rather than ignoring him when they're not mocking him. And, more to the point, maybe he'll now be able to listen to a lesson in a room of 30+ kids, rather than spending all the time trying not to be seen, worrying that he'll be called on, trying to block out the shuffling and snuffling noises, trying to figure out what page they're on, find his pencil, put the right heading on his paper, keep up. Maybe he won't be completely shut down by trying to control all the input and the stress. Maybe some small amount of information will leak in along with all the rest of that stuff. Maybe.

Did I mention that I'm skeptical? And looking for a good special ed advocate, in case I need to find a different high school for him in the next year? Because I am. Though I'd hoped I wouldn't have to.

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