A post in which we receive some very unexpected news.
We’ve tried to create a team with the people who work with Rowenna at both schools. I regularly speak with her teachers and therapists, we use the communication notebook to some extent, and I am at every drop off and pick up possible to remain a regular and friendly face available for questions and collaboration.
We’ve been thinking all along that we were pretty aware of Rowenna’s strengths as well as the areas where we have a lot of work to do. We are under no illusions that Rowenna is at age level for the majority of her skills, particularly academic skills. We thought we were being honest with ourselves and realistic while also recognizing that we occasionally wear the rose-tinted glasses of proud parents.
Rowenna’s next IEP meeting is in February and her Montessori school has started enrollment for the next school year. The next month is going to be full of big decisions for our family.
Last week, Rowenna’s Montessori teacher let us know that if we enroll for next year, Rowenna will be in the same class for the third year in a row – a class of 18 month to 3 year olds. (She will be 4.) If we want to promote her to the next class – late threes as well as fours and some fives – we need to provide a one-on-one aide. Even though aides, sadly, make an abysmal wage, there is still no way we could afford both tuition and an aide. So sending her to Montessori next year means keeping her with students who have typical abilities, but they would not be her same-age peers – negating one of our main motivations for sending her there in the first place.
That in itself was hard to hear. I was (naively) hoping for a much more creative, Montessori-like solution. After all, Montessori is all about child-led learning and was originally developed for kids with disabilities. It also prides itself on promoting things that cannot be tested – things like civic duty, resourcefulness, and a sense of wonder. Rowenna excels at many of these non-traditional skills.
But what really hurt, the sucker punch, was that her teacher thought keeping her with kids as young as 18 months would be a benefit to Rowenna, and presented it as a bit of an “obvious” scenario. Like we were asking for the world to keep her with same-age peers.
Like we weren’t working with the same child and seeing the same abilities.
So that made us wonder what the public school system might have in store for next year. I asked a very broad, seemingly innocent question in Rowenna’s communication notebook about what the school district offers for four year olds. I was expecting either a suggestion to sit down and chat or a list of the programs available in the district. I did not ask what they recommended for Rowenna – this didn’t seem like a good place for that. Should I have called instead? In retrospect, probably.
Instead, I got blind sided at pick up with the following, casually tossed out there as I gave Rowenna hug:
“I think you’ll agree that Rowenna is not ready to move on to 4K with typical students next year.”
I think you’ll agree.
As my child walked in circles around me in the parking lot, I barely squeaked out a “well, no” at which point I was told they recommended a self-contained placement, half days, four days a week. I also learned that the school district is restructuring its early childhood program again (didn’t we just play that game last year?) and that they have no idea at this point what will actually be available for 4 year olds receiving special education services.
I was then assured (as Rowenna tried to walk to the car, pulling me along) that I’m “still on the team” and I would “have input” at the IEP meeting. It felt like a simultaneous “there, there” pat-on-the-back and a slap in the face. Do they really not realize that they are on Rowenna’s team, and not the other way around?
I got to the car and I cried. Bawled. Ugly cried.
How could I have been so naive? We approached school with optimism and trust. We have heard so many stories about fights with schools, lawyers, and advocates. My facebook feed is full of people marching into battle with full armor and wielding swords (ok, binders). We wanted to avoid that kind of approach and only bring out the big guns if we needed to. Our IEP meeting was nearly anti-climactic compared to the stories we’ve heard and read, and so we hoped this year might be equally amenable. After all, it shouldn’t really be a fight for preschoolers to be grouped with preschoolers, right?
But now it’s looking like it might already be a fight since at this point, at this developmental stage and set of abilities, we refuse to accept a self-contained placement for next year. Now I need to go in with my binder and talk about rights and least restrictive environment and the rest of the alphabet soup that comes with special ed. I will sit across from a team of people who think they’re doing me a favor by allowing me input and who think Rowenna cannot handle spending her day with typical 4 year olds.
We thought we had a team. We thought we were working with people who saw that Rowenna has potential. But that’s really not the case at all.
And it was a sucker punch to hear it, but we will figure it out. We will come to a solution that is right for Rowenna.
So until these meetings are had and these decisions made, we will stay the course. Work with Rowenna, encourage her, and love her fiercely.