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A blog about our busy family with two amazing kids, one of whom happens to have Down syndrome!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

School. A little (or a lot) soapbox-y

Next week I have THREE kindergarten planning meetings for Lauren. We're currently considering three options for school for next year.

1. Public school. Our district is going to offer us special education kindergarten. It's still kindergarten, but at a slower pace with less kids. It's called cross categorical or cross cat. Or simply, the center program. In theory I don't have a problem with this. Except for that I don't understand why gen-ed kindergarten isn't being offered as an option. It's kindergarten, not higher level learning. Life is not segregated. The kids in this classroom have varying IEP classifications. In some districts, this kind of classroom can be used as a "catch all" for the kids that either don't quite fit anywhere else (emotional impairment, otherwise health impaired, etc) or for kids whom their classification classroom doesn't have a spot for them (if the ASD rooms are full). Or it can be used very appropriately for kids with mild cognitive impairments. I am not against this placement. I am against only this placement. Our district doesn't have mild CI classrooms. I asked about gen-ed time if we choose this program and I was told "they don't do that". Hmm. There's a kindergarten planning meeting on Thursday next week for parents of kids currently in special ed preschool in our district. Both center teachers and gen ed teachers will be there.

2. Charter school. There is a charter school in our city that does Montessori. They use a full inclusion model, but I'm not sure exactly how equipt they are for a kid with a mild cognitive impairment, like Lauren. Do they have a resource room? Do they have speech and/or OT? I'm not sure. I have a meeting with the principal and the special ed coordinator on Wednesday. I don't know a whole lot about this school, but I love their attitude about inclusion.

3. Private school. I'm going to a kindergarten open house for a private school in our area on Tuesday evening. This school only goes up to kindergarten, so we'd be in the same spot as we are now at the end of next school year. This school is 100% pro inclusion. They keep spots open for kids with special needs. It's an awesome program and I've heard only great things about it. It is, however, expensive. I'm not sure how expensive yet, but I'll likely find out next week. Another con is that it's not in our city. A huge plus for this school is that it shares a building with my work. I love the thought of being so close to Lauren every day even if I'm working at she's learning.

We'll have to see what information the meetings bring. I'm wary of our public option simply because I think Lauren CAN be successful in a gen-ed classroom. Obviously her work would have to be modified. But socially, emotionally...she's ready and she'll be fine. She's already been in the classroom for 3 full years. Lauren is doing really well cognitively. Her receptive language scores are low for a typical kid... but really really awesome still considering she is not a typical kid.

Another big concern of mine is that if we don't try gen-ed now, chances are we never will. The gap is just going to get bigger because development is a moving target. I think it would do Lauren a huge disservice to not even give her the chance to succeed.

Lauren will have cognitive testing next month. We consented to the IQ test, which I know is pretty hotly debated. But I'm a person who likes to see things as concrete as possible and I think being able to look at her strengths and weaknesses academically will help us to make the right choices. At her age, the best indicator if IQ is the receptive language score. Last year hers was great. I'm curious to see what it looks like this year. Either way, we're pushing for inclusion because studies show that kids with Down syndrome do very well with inclusion.

http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/lre.incls.rsrch.whitbread.htm

http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr320.shtml

http://www.naset.org/782.0.html

I understand that funding is frequently an issue. But quite frankly, that's not my problem. Tax money is slated for education. My child, by law, must be educated. And the federal law indicates that the least restrictive environment is where a child should be placed. How do we know how little to restrict if we never even try it?

Let's look at some of the verbage used in the law. I don't think this is unclear at all.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is the requirement in federal law that students with disabilities receive their education, to the maximum extent appropriate, with nondisabled peers and that special education students are not removed from regular classes unless, even with supplemental aids and services, education in regular classes cannot be achieved satisfactorily. [20 United States Code (U.S.C.) Sec. 1412(a)(5)(A); 34 Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) Sec. 300.114.]

In all honestly, this is kind of a switch from my previous way of thinking. I previously felt that special education alone was "good enough" for Lauren. I didn't (and still don't) expect her to earn a high school diploma. However, I feel like I was selling her short a little bit. She is smart, she is capable. She loves to learn. She loves school. She loves to have friends and be included. I do still feel like her most meaningful friendships will be with others that have disabilities like hers. But why does that need to happen in a separate environment? When she grows up and gets a job, or goes to a post-high school program (there are tons available and more popping up every year), or runs errands out the community she will be in our community as a whole, not in a separate disabled community. And I truly believe that Lauren, along with everybody else with a disability, has the capability and potential to be a contributing member of her community. That will likely look different for Lauren than it will for her typical peers, but different does not mean less than.

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