Left High and Dry

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Even after three days, I continue to be angry, shocked, and resentful. Never have I witnessed such unfair behaviors from the very individuals who should have been acting in the best interests of children; from the very individuals who claim that the schools are "child-centered."

Most of us are now well aware that very few children ever test out of the "black hole" of special education. The "speech and language" students get out; the high school drop-outs escape; those who manage to stay the course, do leave with a diploma, meaningful or not. But very few special placements end because of successful remediation. With full knowledge of these depressing statistics, we were therefore elated when the results of the three-year re-evaluation came back that this student no longer qualified for special education services due to having made so many gains in reading, writing, and math.

Fear, however, was the student’s second reaction; fear about leaving the support and safety found within my classroom. So we talked for weeks. We discussed strengths, abilities, motivation, and you-can-do-its. We reviewed how swiftly she reads through series of books. We considered comprehension skills solid enough to allow her to "become lost" in a book, despite noise and activities about her. Still, the child was nervous and very worried.

I could certainly understand her reluctance, for I have never forgotten a similar situation in my own life. I had successfully completed a swimming course, but before I could believe in my new competency in this area that I most feared, or have the opportunity for much practice, all supports were removed. An instructor ordered me to shed outer clothing, jump into the shallow end of the pool, then swim rapidly to the deep end — where an adult instructor was pretending to be a drowning victim. I was expected to "save" her. She played her part well, but my new skills failed me. She fought me and pulled me under water several times, until the tables turned. That "victim" had to drag me, drowning, from the bottom of the pool and still, forty years later, I hate to swim.

I did not want this child set up to fail, as I had been.

So we discussed options that could provide her with scaffolding and support while allowing her time to strengthen skills and gain self-assurance. We thought that we had come up with a very child-centered plan — (our district claims to put the children first) — one that would help this child exit special education, by transitioning from the shelter of my classroom. Our suggestion, that she serve as my teacher’s aide for one class, would not only assist the child in successfully handling this large change in her life, but would enable her to solidify her own skills by using them to help younger children learn to read.

This plan was discussed with the certified special education consultant — the same one who had done the testing — and she fully agreed that this shy, quiet child should have support — almost a bridge — from special education services to total autonomy in regular education classes. One month prior to the meeting, a note, explaining the child’s needs for incremental changes and support, was sent to the counselor. However, the counselor and principal (the two members of the IEP team who have no training in special education) were offended by our attempts to comfort the child and plan a safety net.

The meeting began and the principal told the team that I had "put the district over a barrel" by discussing the child’s needs with the child, and he made it clear that he would not agree to any plan that would provide transitional placement or support. We were all (except the counselor) shocked by his unfairness. We were appalled by the fact that such closed-minded behavior would come from a principal who, of all people, should know that special education laws require that such decisions be made by an IEP TEAM, not by an IEP DICTATOR; that such decisions should be based on common sense; that such decisions should be made according to the best interests of the child.

He was true to his word, and stubbornly refused any and all suggestions. He would not agree to a year as an aide; he would not agree to the first semester, only, as an aide. He would not agree to "independent study" in literature, under my guidance, even though I have a master’s degree in American Literature. He would not agree to an internship. He pushed for a meeting to be held, after the child had spent 5 weeks in full time regular education, to evaluate how badly the child might be failing. Having ignored parental requests; student preferences; and all advice from the certified special education staff, he walked out of the meeting, leaving the child "high and dry" and set up for failure

As if the child’s disappointment weren’t already enough, the counselor pulled out a pre-arranged “School to Work” type schedule. Still disregarding the needs of the child, the wisdom of the parent, and the advice of the trained special education teachers, the counselor filled the first two years of high school with difficult, required classes, leaving the final two years open for vocational programming. (Recall that Marc Tucker and the Clintons drafted the School-to-Work legislation so that the offspring of American sheeple could be forced, by eighth grade, to choose life vocations based on the projected needs of local business and industry.)

The mother insisted that the child did NOT want to attend the vocational center, preferring, instead, a career in art and design. But, the “I know my child” from the mother was ignored; the skills and goals of the child were ignored; the advice from the "team" members trained in special education were ignored. The counselor forgot the PR babble of a child-centered philosophy, bowed to the dictates of the principal, and solidified a class schedule that allows no transitional support, but retains time for vocational mandates.

This meeting, which should have been conducted as a celebration, ended in frustration and discouragement. After advising the parent to seek advice and advocacy before signing the papers, I returned to my classroom, forgetting to serve the brownies that my husband had prepared as a reward — a reward honestly earned by a child who had worked hard enough to beat incredible odds and fight her way out of the Black Hole of Special Education.

Instead of the treats serving as a "BRAVO" to the child’s achievement, they set, uneaten and left to dry — a sad reminder of a system too arrogant, too dictatorial, and too retaliatory, to be flexible enough, and honorable enough, to provide a helping hand to an innocent child. "She no longer qualifies for special education services, and that’s it!" he maintains.

This cruel and rigid stance may stem from anger over the impending loss of federal "black hole" monies. It may derive, as retaliation for my successful remediation of, and advocacy for, special needs students. But for whatever reason, the fact is that a deserving, hardworking student has been left high and dry, and the decision was made by one unyielding person, rather than by the legal IEP team.

The repercussions from such actions could cause many teachers to reconsider providing special education programming so successful that children are able to escape the dark, swirling trap. If teachers give in to this type of intimidation — due to fear that students, lacking sensible transitions and supports, will be set up to fail in regular education — all will be lost.

Should large numbers of special education students begin testing out of special classrooms, the financial loss for the schools would be great. However, if the students continue to be retained in dumbed-down classes, the personal, lifelong price paid by the students will be without measure.

Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] lives in Michigan. She is a free-lance writer and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.

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