Monday, August 24, 2009

Disability is Natural: Discussion No. 3

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal law enacted to ensure access to public education for all students with disabilities.

Since Finn is not yet at the age to be in any kind of school setting, it may be that the level of concern and worry I have over the issue of his education is premature. Or maybe not.

From Disability is Natural:

The law's intent is for children with disabilities to start out in regular education classes in their neighborhood schools, with appropriate supports and services. The language of the law is clear that a child should not be removed from the regular educational environment, put in special ed classes, or receive separate schooling, unless the child cannot be successfully educated in the regular educational environment with the use of supplementary aids and services. Further, the child should not be removed from the regular classroom environment (to a more restrictive setting) just because he needs curriculum modifications.

But far too many children with disabilities start out in the most restrictive setting (a special ed school or room) and must try to earn their way out by achieving some standard of "readiness." Some never do, and they remain isolated from the mainstream of their school community for twelve or more years of public education.

Parallel systems of education - regular and special - exist in many school districts today. Yet Congress never intended for special education to become an entity of its own. Special education is not a place; it's supposed to be services, supports, modifications, and accommodations provided to a child to meet his or her unique needs.


Children without disabilities are included simply because they're citizens of their school communities. We don't question the right of typical children to attend their neighborhood schools, in age-appropriate classrooms. Our society presumes that typical children have the capacity to learn, can be successful, and so forth. But when a disability label is attached to a child, these beliefs often fly out the window, replaced by myths that relegate students with disabilities to second-class citizenship, who must somehow earn the right to belong - the right automatically bestowed on children who don't have disabilities or differences.

If we want our children to grow up to be successful in the real world, we have to start them out in the real world. In inclusive schools, kids with disabilities learn academics, social skills, responsibility, and more. They learn how to be wonderfully ordinary children who - like millions of others - are our country's future. Segregated education simply teaches children how to survive in segregated settings.

It may be presumptuous of me to have feelings on this issue one way or the other this early in Finn's life, but I'll say it anyway: I want Finn to be fully included in regular, age-appropriate classes in our neighborhood school when the time comes. And you know what? I'm scared, really scared. Because I already know that I'm going to have a fight on my hands. Because I'm pretty sure that our neighborhood school is not an inclusion school, nor do I believe there are any truly inclusive schools in our entire school district. I am aware of a special ed program at one of our local elementary schools, although I have some understanding that it may have been cut and now the "special ed kids" go to another school entirely. I'm pretty sure there is one high school in our district as well that has a special ed program, and apparently that's where the "special ed kids" are expected to attend. I don't want that for my son. It's true that I have no idea at this point what his cognitive abilities are going to be, but I do know that I have high hopes for him, and I'd like to have high expectations for him. And I don't want him stifled and held back by being segregated in a "special ed" setting. I'm not even crazy about the idea that our service coordinator has already begun making noise about Finn being expected to attend a "theraputic preschool" in another year or so.

I don't want Finn to be a child in the system who just grows up to be an adult in the system. I want more than that for him. And I want him to want more than that for himself. I'm not in denial. I know Finn has Down syndrome, and that he'll have it his entire life, and because of it, there will always be things that will be "different" about Finn. I realize he will struggle with some things that other people don't struggle with. I realize that he will need special help and support in school. But I just don't believe that those are things that he should have to pay for with his rights to be a full first-class citizen just like everyone else. And apparently, the law never intended that to begin with.

There's more, but it's late and I'm tired, so I'll try to get back to this tomorrow.


Mel said...

That is a scary thought. Here inclusive education is the norm, and Luke is lucky enough that his dad is a primary school principal. The principal of the local school has a post grad diploma in Special Ed too, and they are great, so we have choices. Once again I realise how lucky we are. Can you get involved in the local school where your other kids attend in some capacity first and start subtley making hints to soften the way? Failing that, move to New Zealand :) I hope you're wrong and that Finn can go to the local school just like everyone else. He does deserve it. We moved to access the best therapy for Luke, and have never regretted it. Good luck.

Beth said...

You've really got me thinking about this..again. We've got some big decisions to make soon regarding Jude's education. I don't want to write a whole blog post about it here in your comments section, so I'm going on over to my own blog to vent about it now. Come visit me!

Megan said...

We don't need no segregation!

I think you may be surprised. Not that you shouldn't prepare for the worst, but I wouldn't ditch expecting the best just yet. I know that here, inclusion at the elementary level is becoming really the norm ~ at least in the case of Ds. Preschool may be another ball of wax.

Brandie said...

Our school district's protocol would be to bus my daughter to the other side of town where they have the special needs/life skills classroom. I know of a couple parents who fought against this and had their children included in a regular classroom at their "home" school. But, after the crappy teacher my older child had last year I can't imagine fighting for Goldie to be a part of her class. I was told by an advocate that families have moved out of our district to get a better education for their child. I don't see that as an option. We live in the home I grew up in, my kids play in the same yard I did. My husband grew up a few miles away and his family is still there. For now I'm just focusing on pre-k.

Hector and Jennifer Varanini Sanchez said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your post. My plan is the same with Joaquin. He may need extra assistance within his inclusive school but he will go to school where his brothers went. I also plan on having Joaquin attend "typical" preschool just like his brothers and if that means I have to pay for it- great! I had to pay for it for my other two boys too so why should it be different for Joaquin. If they offer me a special ed preschool paid by the state/fed, I will say thanks but NO THANKS!

Michelle said...

Alrighty!! I'm so getting caught up on your posts. I mean, I am caught up now. I just read these, and I have to say, you have such a great way of getting to the heart of the matter. That might sound vague, but it was supposed to be a compliment!

I'm reading DiN, too - but Brian took it over. So I'm still only about 100 pages in, but it's definitely changing the way I think about things. Already.

Catherine Just said...

I feel the same way you do. We are actually looking at all the school districts around us, talking to other parents with kids in schools now - and figuring out where to MOVE so that Max has a school he can go to that includes him because he lives there. period.
I feel lucky we have some choices here and have some friends who have gone before us that have some advice and experience. You will find the right place for your son and I don't think it's too early to think about it. It's good to educate yourself on all the schools around you.

Tara said...

Here's what I'm wondering: What would happen if you just enrolled Finn when he's of kindergarten age and didn't mention Ds? Seriously, I wonder what they'd do? Hmmmm.

We currently homeschool, although it's too early to tell on what that means for Eon.

heather said...

I hope it's ok that I linked this post on my blog. I need to read this book because I feel so inadequate with all of these decisions and knowing what is in Morgan's best interest. This parenting thing is not easy!