And So It Begins

This is a post long overdue and tonight I am finally sitting down to write out some of the things that have been going on with me and Sir Charles these last few weeks. I’ve known for the last two years that at the end of this school year there would be big decisions to be made. What I did not realize at the time was how it wouldn’t feel like I was making any decisions, but was, instead, being told what I should do with my child by a person who rarely sees him (if at all).

About a month ago, Charlie’s classroom teacher broached the topic of Charlie’s placement for next year. Charlie’s teacher is not the same one he had for the last two years–there was some staff shuffling in August and we got “new teacher” as I’ve now been calling her for seven months. I like New Teacher very much, and my complaints are in no way with her or with the other staff in Charlie’s classroom. They work hard for my boy and I know it.

This topic was broached with me because there are no special ed classes for children in grades 1-3 at our home campus. There are children in inclusion, but nothing for a child that might need to spend more time in the special ed room. While Charlie has proven himself to be pretty adept academically, he also needs to work on many other things like speech therapy, occupational therapy, and so on.

Two years ago I learned that children like Charlie are nearly always sent to a school that I will call “Canterbury Elementary.” When I say children like Charlie, I mean children who don’t go into inclusion–there are several children of varying diagnoses who have been sent from our area to Canterbury.

About a month ago, New Teacher told me that she’d started looking for a place for Charlie to go next year, and after speaking to some administrators, she thought that–you’ll never guess–Canterbury Elementary would be perfect to him. It’s a severe class. These administrators, to the best of my knowledge, have not worked with Charlie personally. They *may* have seen him in the last three years, but I’m not certain of that. This has not, however, prevented them from suggesting that Charlie attend Canterbury even when both the classroom teacher and I raised concerns about how this school would fit in with the rest of his academic career.

I’ve got a ton of reasons why I don’t want Charlie to attend this school, and I’m going to go lazy-style and just list them:

  1. I don’t think a severe class is where Charlie needs to be. Maybe he’ll get tons of one-on-one attention, but I don’t know that for sure, and my experience with severe classes hasn’t been the best. Cognitively, Charlie is very aware, and I’m just not convinced he’ll blossom when surrounded by children who are cognitively quite behind. I also think that social skills and integration are very important to the disabled and unless Charlie is disruptive, I think he should have plenty of access to regular children and classes. PS: The research backs up my thoughts on this as well. This is, however, sort of a minor complaint compared to the the two other issues, which will make life with four children even more fun (and by fun I mean difficult).
  2. This elementary school and its corresponding middle school don’t feed into our area’s Junior High and High School. This means that when Charlie hits seventh grade–a vulnerable time for most kids–he’ll be shuffled to a Junior High with a completely different group of kids than the ones he’s been in school with for the previous six years. In Fairy Tale Land I could keep him with his peers by sending him to a different Junior High and High School, but it would be further away from my home and it would be a different school than the one attended by his three brothers.

    This child's butt is so big he scoots around on it instead of actually crawling.

    This child’s butt is so big he scoots around on it instead of actually crawling.

  3. The reason they want Charlie to go to this particular Elementary School is because it has spaces available. The reason it has spaces available? Is because public perception is that this school isn’t as good as some of the others. I’d go and check for myself, but I can’t because it would violate student confidentiality. We currently live two blocks from a school with an A rating (this is some sort of state ranking thing that I don’t completely understand). They want to take him to a B school. I know it’s a little nutty, but I feel like I should be offered a school that is comparable to the one we are attending now. I had to pay more for the house by the “good” school–shouldn’t I get the benefit? Lord knows my property taxes are higher as a result.

My husband called Special Ed and asked that they accommodate Charlie at our school (this is laughable because people ask every year and every year they turn them down, but we thought we should at least ask). He was told that we’d have to wait and see what the IEP committee decided about his placement. So, they “decide” where he will attend, but then pretend that they haven’t decided when we call to talk to them about it? Stellar.

Can you see why I’m annoyed? I think I would feel better if I felt like the people in charge were looking out for Charlie more than they were trying to make sure they had evenly distributed children at certain schools.

No telling what the next step is–I have some calls to make.

Hanging with Papi

Hanging with Papi

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  1. What do you mean you can’t check out the school they want to send him to?! It’s a public school and you are a taxpayer. My mother (former principal) told me that it’s illegal for a school to not allow you to tour it. We toured all the preschools that we were considering for M.

  2. Is there no therapy at the local school? I mean if they have therapists there, could Charlie go there with a 1:1 aide?

    • All the therapists he would need do come to that school. From my perspective, he could go to regular classes with an aide IF they would allow him to nap in the Kindergarten classroom in the afternoons. Physically he doesn’t have a ton of stamina and I’m worried that he would need that nap. I do think that cognitively he is very able, but this is not a school or district that has a lot of full inclusion going on.

  3. Ugh. That’s all I can think of to say. My son is headed into the 1st grade next year, not at our home school either. He is headed to another elementary school because ours does not offer a self-contained class, which means he would be in a fully inclusive situation, which he just isn’t ready for. Also, it has too many stairs for him to be able to manage. At the school he will be attending, he will be in the same 1st grade class with most of his current classmates, and hopefully, as he learns to communicate better, we can try to get him in to more inclusive educational activities.

    At his IEP, I was told that if I want him at a different school, then it was my choice. I am so truly sorry that you don’t have that same option. That’s terrible. Fight the good fight, Katy!!

    • I will fight. They may just be telling me these things so that I don’t fight. I’ll definitely be talking to an advocate to see what our options are and I’ve been reading a lot of law myself! Putting the ole college education to use for once!

  4. I don’t know much, but I do know this: if you advocate for Charlie the way I know you always have, you’ll find the best place for him and get him there. Because you know your boy best, and you know what he needs. Good luck as you continue fighting for him.

    • Thank you, Jenn. I need all the encouragement i can get since this is giving me a serious case of the nerves.

  5. We were in a similar situation going into preschool last year. At the end of a long IEP meeting we were given one option… nowhere near our home. We were not allowed to tour the program while students were present due to confidentiality issues.

    We refused to sign anything with regard to placement and the IEP meeting ended abruptly. In the end, we caved after talking with family groups, etc. about our options — basically none. We were also told that under state law the school system did indeed have the right to refuse for us to tour the classroom, despite the fact that the transition guide the Dept. of Education gave us talked extensively about touring classrooms! So we signed; he went… it wasn’t a great fit, but it was okay. And then we moved out of state a few months later and now he’s in an excellent program.

    Obviously I have no insight or helpful suggestions; just commiseration. I hope it works out for Charlie.

    • Thank you, Amy! I have done a LOT of reading on the topic and as far as i can tell, from a legal standpoint, they are allowed to consolidate services to one location. It gets hazy, though, as to whether or not they can tell me that I must get services from X location if they offer those same services at Y campus as well. I guess we’ll see. . .

  6. may become your homepage! YOU are a part of his IEP team. You have equal say in ALL decisions. Sounds like you have a difficult district , but that doesn’t mean you can’t win. Is there a local resource that helps advocate? In my area, it’s the ARC. They know the secret info about every school and principal, and there is no charge. Still some tough battles. Such a huge drag that we have to go fight to get what is right for our kids.

    Good luck!

    • We do have an organization that provides advocates to families when they need assistance. I’ve spoken to one and she’s agreed to come to our IEP so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens now.

  7. While I think it’s very possible that they are looking for he easy way to give him services and not Charlie’s true LRE, it’s also super important to look at how schools are “graded” by the state. Higher grades may mean better test scores, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the school is better or that he teachers are better. I’ve taught in an A school and an F school, and both had incredible teachers- but very different clientele. In this case in particular, having more special education services at this school could absolutely be a factor in their test scores. Check the state’s DOE site for released test scores and see if you can find where the difference really lies before you judge based on the ‘grade.’

    • I totally agree, Jenny! I know grades aren’t everything. There are, however, schools that offer the same programs and that are graded higher. If they could find me a fantastic teacher, I wouldn’t care what school Charlie went to, but they’re not giving me much opportunity to meet anyone or tour a campus before-hand.

  8. Katie, you must trust your gut on this one and press on for what’s best for Charlie. Although in your case, it goes beyond gut because of your education background. Stifle those nerves and press on! I will give you an in-person prep talk at Blissdom. You might want to check out (Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates) and consider joining to get feedback. Also: Can you connect with anyone in your area who’s been down the same path? Also: What Maya said. You have a right to tour prospective schools!

  9. Rooting for you as always and will be eager to see what you find, esp. as Ellen said, you have the education background and thus a completely different POV than “just a parent” like me! The advocate I hired was worth every penny. Also, remember that special education is a collection of services, adaptations, etc. and not a PLACE. It is no fun being a trailblazer, but that, my friend, is what you are, and a brilliant one at that. You got this!

    • You are far nicer to me than I deserve, but I am going to get an advocate in there–thank goodness. If I don’t get anything that way, then I’ll see what else I can do. Fun times, huh?

  10. Kathie, we went through this with Nathan, and it was really tough. We fought the school teeth and nail for inclusion. They wanted him in the severe class and told us the same thing – the IEP team would decide. What I’ve learned is their “decision” is what’s in their best interest, not the child. Generally school administrators are looking at various factors – availability, staffing, budget, convenience, etc. From what you’ve told me of Charlie, he’s doing amazingly well cognitively. The belief that special ed is great because they get more 1 on 1 time may work well for some kids…but think about it, what are the other kids modelling in this sort of environment? And with all of the studies coming out on patterning and how children learn by imitation – what are they imitating from these environments? Nathan is far more involved than Charlie in every way, but inclusion has been great for him. He LOVES the kindergarten classroom and the kids LOVE him. We already went to Due Process with the school once and we’re about to go again, because school administrators are always looking for shortcuts. If they don’t offer the placement that you want, you can fight them. Given Charlie’s cognitive abilities, if you use a good lawyer, you WILL win and you can get the school to reimburse your lawyer fees. I included our lawyer”s website in case you want to talk to him. He’s in CA of course but he offers free consultations and he can probably give you some guidance relevant to your state. BTW, I used 2 different advocates and the school laughed at us, it was when we brought in an attorney with the power to take them to court that they finally payed attention.

    • Thank you so much, Marcela. I will definitely take all of this into consideration. If the advocate doesn’t work out I will definitely be looking for an attorney.

  11. Please rember that you know whats best and know that as a self advocate inculsion is well worth the fight. It really pisses me off when kids with CP are placed in a self contained class because you do not know what they comprehend that being said intelligence should not be the factor that lets him stay at the neighborhood school. He has a right to go to the same school as his brothers and neighbors because he lives in the same distrct do not give up and let me know how things go

    have u heard of certain proof

  12. Please rember that you know whats best and know that as a self advocate inculsion is well worth the fight. It really pisses me off when kids with CP are placed in a self contained class because you do not know what they comprehend that being said intelligence should not be the factor that lets him stay at the neighborhood school. He has a right to go to the same school as his brothers and neighbors because he lives in the same distrct do not give up and let me know how things go

    have u heard of certain proof

  13. Early childhood special education teacher from Iowa here. The IEP team will make decisions about Charlie’s placement. YOU are part of that team, and the most important part. Yes the administration has the checkbook and will have to agree to anything involving money, but you should definitely have a say in where he attends school. You should also be able (and encouraged) to tour each school that is an option (and at this point the neighborhood school should still be in the mix) as should Charlie, before making a choice (and then after as a transition preparation). The law says ‘least restrictive environment’–a separate school does not seem like the best choice for Charlie, from what you post about him here. An inclusive environment with a 1:1 associate and a space available for his therapies and whatever other accommodations (including a rest time) he would need seems appropriate to me. Do your research and bring it with you to the meeting. Best of luck to you!

    • Thank you! I said this somewhere on here already, but this is not a school system that is familiar with or comfortable with full-inclusion. I know of at least one instance where they wanted to send a child with Down Syndrome to a school other than their home school, and Charlie is, of course, much more physically involved than a person with DS would typically be.

  14. Katy,
    This is bullshit!! I had to get that out…sorry. I can’t even believe they told you you couldn’t see the school. That is never a good sign, in my opinion. Makes me all kinds of suspicious.
    I don’t know you – but I have been reading your blog for sometime. What I do know? You ALWAYS get it done. I know you’ll advocate for Charlie and he’ll end up exactly where you want him to be – with a fantastic aide – and I bet in hindsight it won’t even be as hard as you imagined. (What can I say – I’m an eternal optimist).
    We have a “Canterbury Elementary” in our area – I call it “The Warehouse” because it seems every kid they don’t quite know what to do with ends up there. So Gavin would be in a class with kids that are cognitively brighter than him – and also kids that often require restraining because of violence. Clearly, this was not an option. I wouldn’t even go for a tour. I feel your pain.
    Good luck – I’ll be reading, cheering you on…and learning from you!

    • I’m really glad you think I can do this because I’m kind of scared. Luckily we have a bunch of people on our side, and I’m hoping that gives me the strength to push forward and get the right answers for Charlie.

  15. We went through this last year with Phia’s kindergarten placement. With much persistence on my part, she has spent her Kindergarten year (with her twin) at our neighborhood school with a 1:1 aide. Phia does not appear to be at the same level as her peers cognitively, and there have been some academic compromises to which we agreed. I am glad we did this. Many of the other kids are great with her, and I’ll always be happy that she has had this opportunity. Next year may be a different story, but please know that it is possible to get what feels impossible. Good luck.

    • I’m glad you did it too! I’m not sure if Charlie is cognitively the same as his peers–honestly I’m not sure if that’s even a reasonable expectation given how different his life experience has been. But I think he would learn a lot being around other children his age who have good social skills. All day in the severe class won’t give him that.

  16. I have no words…. I know you though will follow your gut and get what is right for your son.

  17. ECSE Teacher says:

    Hi Katy
    I’m an ECSE teacher at a “Canterbury Elementary”. Special education schools have pros and cons. We have more equipment and adapted materials & technology. There are therapists always in the building working with and observing the kids. It’s not right for every child though. Think about things Charlie has learned from his peers. Use that as proof that a special education would not be his least restrictive environment (LRE). As for touring Canterbury, you are not allowed because children with IEPs are protected with confidentiality laws. Some parents don’t want to other people to know there child is in special education and that is their right (and yours). At a typical school the idea is you can’t distinguish who has an IEP one child to another. But at a special education school, everyone has an IEP, therefore all are protected from visitors/outsiders. My suggestions would be to sign up to be a volunteer at the school if you are really interested in seeing what it is like. It’s usually just a couple pages application/ background check. I know it’s not easy to get away and volunteer with four young children but that’s the only way to really get a sense. Alternatively, you could ask the school if you could come after school hours to see the school (when the kids are not there). You can learn a surprising amount of information from how classrooms are set up and decorated and hopefully meet some of the teachers. Go with your gut and advocate for Charlie. Remember his IEP and placement can be changed at ANY time! You could try a school for a year or a couple months and then change your mind, it’s no big deal. You adapt as Charlie’s needs change. Best of luck!

    • Hi! I really appreciate all of the information that you’ve given me here, but I want to clarify that this is not a special needs school that they are recommending. It is a regular elementary school much like many of the other ones that they say he cannot attend. The only reason they want it to be this particular school is because of class size. We have no special education schools in my area.

      I’m open to the idea of trying one thing and if it doesn’t work, trying something else, but I’m definitely getting the feeling that they would like to offer me approximately zero options and honestly, that’s the thing that makes me the angriest. If you haven’t met my child, then you should be able to make a decision that will effect him for years without any room for debate. Sorry, stepping off my soap box now. Thank you so much for commenting and reading and listening to me rant on this sensitive subject. And thank you for all the work that you do–Charlie has grown so much under his Early Intervention teachers and I am forever grateful to those of you that are called to that line of work.

  18. The only thing I would add to the great things already posted is that the LRE requirement is really slanted towards the family that wants their child in their home school with their typically developing peers. The language is written such that the school district has to prove that the child absolutely can NOT be educated in their base school WITH accommodations. In other words, the onus is not on the parent to prove that the child can be in his base school, but the complete opposite.

    I think your counter to them trying to place Charlie in “Canterbury”, if they won’t budge, is to say – and say it clearly – that you strongly feel this is a violation of his right to be educated in his LRE, and that you want him in his base school with accommodations for a trial of 3 (or 6) months. If at that time it isn’t working, you agree to reconvene the IEP team and discuss other options, but to do any less than that is not complying with IDEA. Get an advocate to come with you if need be. We used an advocate for the first few years of IEP meetings until we really understood how to navigate.

    Our son’s first “real” IEP was a brutal, heart-wrenching experience, taking over 6 hours over three separate meetings to push through. In the end, we were able to get him the placement we (AND his private therapists too) wanted on that sort of a “trial” basis and, after the school had their hands on him for a few months, THEY saw what we already saw and there were no more questions about the proper placement.

    It’s a battle worth fighting…if you have to. I sure hope they see the Charlie that you do without having to pull out the big guns.

    • Well, that’s a heartening story. I hope that we have a similarly happy ending–even if I do have to rip out all of my hair to get there. I really like the idea of a trial. They did that with another student at our local elementary school and now he’s fully mainstreamed!