Friday, May 20, 2016

We Should Be Celebrating, But We're Not

It's been a while since I've posted.

I've been planning to get my new blog at www.thegridirongoddess.com up and running so I can start posting there but life has been a little crazy... between Bryn's 8th birthday, health issues and neighbor woes, it's been a crazy month. Stay tuned though - the new blog will be up and running soon. In the meantime, I'll do my best to keep posting here. You all have missed SO. MUCH!

But today... I've got to get something off of my chest. I cried three times this morning before I even had breakfast, so I figured I'd take my frustrations out on my keyboard.

A couple of weeks ago, we got a phone call from Will's teacher informing us about Will's "placement" for next school year. It's common practice in Frisco ISD to wait until the end of the school year to inform parents of special education students where their children will be going to school in the fall. We are at the mercy of the school district... we go where they tell us to go. Optimally we should be at our home school - but Will has been at 5 campuses since we returned home from Buffalo in 2008. Never once has he been at our home school.

"Will is going to Pioneer Heritage next year," Will's sweet teacher said over the phone. Silence. Ryan and I looked at each other, confused. More silence. Finally, I said under my breath, "Where the f*** is Pioneer Heritage?" It's not our home school. I grabbed my laptop and Googled it. All of my fears as a mother of a child with autism manifested and filled my eyes with tears as I turned to Ryan and said, "We don't know anyone there. No one."

We asked more questions. Was anyone from Will's current class going to Pioneer Heritage with him? No. None of the teachers or aides? No. Do you realize Will thinks he's going to school next year at Griffin with ALL of his friends? Yes. How are we going to tell him that he's not? Silence.

We've watched Will struggle for a decade trying to make meaningful peer-to-peer relationships. Friendships. For years, there were no birthday party invites. There were no friends outside of those in his special education class asking to hang out. It was heartbreaking. So when Will got to Purefoy Elementary School a couple of years ago and he started talking about his friends when he got home from school every day, we got so excited. He was finally connecting with his peers - something that has been so difficult for him to do in year's past. We sent Will off to school every day knowing that he'd be safe from bullies because his friends would protect him and that he'd have friends to hang out with. It felt normal. We exhaled.

The week after the placement phone call, Will led us through the halls of Purefoy on Open House Night. "Hey Will," a friend called out. Will waved. "What's up Will?" Every time we turned a corner, Will was greeted by a friendly, knowing smile. He probably didn't notice me wiping tears from my eyes, because every time one of his friends said, "Hello," I was reminded that I was going to have to tell him he wasn't going to school with them next year.

Will is in what's called a Functional Academics class. They do not have this type of classroom at our home school so the school district has to look at the next closest campus that has the program. The next closest school is Griffin. Griffin Middle School is where Will's peers will go next year, and not just from Purefoy, but also from the school he attended before Purefoy. The schools where he was placed by Frisco ISD.

We've been told that there are already 9 students in the FA class at Griffin, and there is "no way" Will can go there. I later found out that the school district, in fact, has some discretion - they could place Will at Griffin. But we've been told over and over again that it's not an option, and everything about it makes every single mommy warrior alarm go off in my body. Pioneer Heritage has "space," and it's the next closest campus with room, so that's where Will will go next year. It doesn't matter if ALL of his peers are going to Griffin - so we've been told. There was no input from us or his teachers to make sure this was the best placement for Will. There was a spot available... so Will will go to Pioneer Heritage without any consideration for how this might affect him, his education, his behavior, or his progress.

And we get it - we understand that Frisco is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. We get that the special education department has to do what it can to make placement decisions for all of our kids. But the question that keeps going through my mind is, "Why is that Will's problem?"

Fast forward a couple of weeks. There have been lots of phone calls with administrators and such and no change in placement (yet). We got an email that Will would be receiving an award in assembly today so Ryan and I dropped Bryn off at school and made our way to Purefoy early enough to get front row seats. We'd surprise Will - he didn't know he was getting the award or that we were coming.

Tears.

Will didn't come into the auditorium with his special education class (none of whom will be attending Pioneer Heritage next year. In year's past, we've not had too much of a problem with the constant movement because there was always some sort of continuity - either the teacher, aides or whole class moved together. Will was never alone) - he came in with his 5th grade class. Every time someone announced that it was the last assembly or that there were only 8 days of school left, the kids all cheered. Will did too as he sat among his friends. My heart broke. And I wiped away tears.

When Will's name was called for his award and the auditorium broke out in applause, I silently wiped tears from my eyes as Will ran towards the stage. Did the mom next to me see me using my sweatshirt as a tissue? I don't know. But Will was so happy. His smile was so big as he stood on the stage, so proud. And my heart broke. A tremendous sadness, even guilt maybe, tugged at me. He should be able to go to school with his friends. It's not his fault he has autism. Why is he being punished? It just doesn't seem fair. Or right.

I'm heartbroken y'all. Mama bear is feeling like she's not doing enough to make sure her son continues to thrive. Every bit of what's happened over the last couple of weeks with this school district has caused me to lose hope and question everything about our special education program. And you know what else scares the hell out of me? For some reason, kids' "asshole" switches get flipped when they hit middle school - they are mean. And I'm worried to death about my son to the point where I'm not sleeping at night. Tell me something - do you feel this way about your kid(s) when you go to sleep at night? It's an awful, horrible, heartbreaking feeling. So on top of all the normal pressures of starting middle school, my son has to do it alone.






5 comments:

Anonymous said...

So, the other kids get to go to the preferred school, and he has to ship off elsewhere? There are so many things they could do. Bring in another aide, if they feel the class is too big. Move him with other friends. Um, consult you at an IEP meeting about a placement change, bc this is a placement change, and you have to sign off on it! My son was forced from his home district last year. He'd "maxed out all supports", and they couldn't figure a way to "accommodate his movement needs within the classroom." He misses his friends so much, and is at a school I hate, an hour away. We are still fighting to get him back here. My daughter also goes to a different school, but she had no friends when she left, and it was totally different. People always think it's autism that is so hard, but I swear it's the school district! They've almost ended my marriage, my own mental health, my will to live! They don't get it, and don't care, and it's unbelievable what we have to deal with. I really hope you can come to a better solution with the district. They need to take WILL into consideration, not just the numbers. So sorry you have to deal with this nightmare.

Jen (jentroester@gmail.com.)

digal704 said...

I don't understand the need to transfer him to another school each year. That system just doesn't work. It's as if the school system doesn't want special needs children to prosper. There has to be a better way. I pray he does well and that you and your husband find some peace knowing that your son is flourishing.

Lakeisha Fusi said...

I really have no words for this. I don't understand how people who call themselves school administrators have so little regard for the welfare of special needs kids. What this says is that they don't care at all that he's made epic progress. Do they even know? Maybe not since they didn't bother to talk to ANYBODY. Is there a legal step you could take? Sometimes just the threat will extricate a head from an anus. I have friends with autistic kids, and it's beyond wrong how they have to spend years fighting for their kids' legal right to an education. I'm so sorry!��

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your frustration. We've had to change teachers and schools during over the past 13 years of public special education. Every change brought new fears, but looking back, not one of them was negative. Every single move was a new opportunity for growth. Fresh eyes and the opportunity to practice making new friends in a new environment. It was a chance for him to learn how to adapt and grow in a structured and similar setup before he will someday have to move completely out of the system. I know this is scary and can only hope that you will have as good of an experience as we did.

Dawn Neufeld said...

I see your point Anonymous, and while every move can present new opportunities, that doesn't take away from the fact that our kids shouldn't have to move so frequently. Their typical peers aren't asked to move and adjust so often, so why should our kids be faced with those additional challenges, especially when for so many stability is integral to their education? We provide Will with plenty opportunity to meet new people and learn how to adjust to new situations.

We've never complained about the previous moves. Never. Not once. But this one was made without consideration for Will's particular needs and was done so out of convenience.