Making Waves

30 Jul

No, not yet. But I have made waves before and know that the day will come (and might be overdue) when I have to do it again.

In 2000, I can into this county as some one with some experience in special education, but none with the severe and profound disabilities. I had worked with mostly LD and EBD settings, albeit very restrictive in a psychoed and state hospital. But what I lacked in experience, I more than made up for with the fire in my belly from just recently having my oldest son diagnosed with PDD-NOS at the age of 18 months.  I had some extra motivation that needed an outlet, and fighting injustice was just the thing.

The situation I walked into was pretty appalling. We were getting students with more and more severe disabilities, but there was no changing area. We had one student who we had to catheterize and change and we did it on a computer table in our little office area. The school nurse was prohibited from helping us with catheterizations. There were no accessible drinking fountains. The conditions we were working in showed me that there was a very clear pattern of discrimination, exclusion and prejudice. So I amazed and shocked my new administration by detailing several of these injustices in writing, listing all of them as recipients and then filing it with the county special education director as a list of section 504 violations. Looking back it was an extremely audacious thing for me, a new hire, to do.

The special education director did come out to the high school to meet with us in order to rectify several of the issues. While she was amused at my boldness, she was supportive and worked with us to address my grievances. Not all of them were addressed right away. Some of them were never resolved. But we made gradual headway and progress. The administration seemed to be genuinely interested in meeting the needs of our students.

NCLB has not been good to students with severe disabilities. In fact, it has totally thrown all of us under the bus. Sure, there is lip service toward ensuring that all children have a quality education delivered by highly qualified teachers. But with the constant drumbeat of accountability and test scores, these students and their teachers are totally marginalized and alienated. It is all about college preparation. What does someone with an IQ of less than 20 have to do with a college prep curriculum and diploma? And what does that say to those who really work hard to get one if they just give one to these kids by virtue if their GAA and staying until 22? Administrators all over the country, faced with tough economic choices are following their keenest business instinct; getting “the most bang for the buck.” That means test scores. That means NOT my program. That means disproportionate overcrowding.

Consider this:

The state sets various limits on class sizes for various grades, as well as disability categories. The limit for a PID class is 5, with at least one para. For a regular high school class it has been around 30. This means 1 student with severe disabilities is about equal in support to 6 regular education students. So what if I have 8 in my class? An administrator might see this as still being a small class. Numerically, it is. But support-wise, it is equal to increasing a regular class to 48! Even under the toughest of economic times, I do not know of a single regular teacher who is expected to be with 48 kids for one class period, much less being with all of them all day long all year long. Even with extra para support, there is a limit to how many one teacher can handle, no matter the level of experience or competence.

Numbers alone never give an accurate picture of anything. IQ is not a measure of character, worth or how much dignity a person deserves. And yet, this is the climate that is driving more and more decisions that routinely leave those who most need support and care into situations that are rife with neglect and abuse. It’s time we push back before we get run over.

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