The State of Special Education

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I’m not an educator, I have no background in special education and I’ve never had a child of my own in a resource classroom. I’m also not an investigative reporter, but with your help, I might become one.

My blog is only a month old and already I’ve got about 25,000 thousand of you to turn to for input, so I’m hoping you can help me figure out what the hell has happened to special education.

Maybe it’s just here in Huntsville. Maybe there are other communities out there where they’ve got it all figured out and have a great system in place for supporting students who require special education services. Maybe I’m uninformed or am only hearing one side of things because my sources are parents who are in the trenches, fighting every day for their children to have the education they are entitled to receive.

I’m hoping that you’ll comment on this post and enlighten me, guide me in my search for answers.

I’m going to start my investigation with one situation, one policy that has me scratching my head and wondering … what the hell has happened?

From what I’ve been told, in most of the schools in our county, parents are not allowed to visit or observe in their child’s resource classroom. When I first heard this from a parent, I thought I had heard them wrong.

What do you mean, you’re not allowed to observe what’s going on in your child’s room? You mean, you have to make an appointment so you don’t disrupt the class, so the teacher knows you are coming? No, they told me, it’s not that simple. They have been told flat out, “You are not welcome in your child’s classroom.”

My first reaction was to think this has to be a singular occurrence … maybe this particular parent has been “prickly” in the past, has done something to put the school’s administration on notice and made them think this parent might be looking for something to cause a stink about.

But as I asked more of the parents, I heard the same answer over and over:  Nope, we’re not allowed to go into our kids’ classroom.

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Okay, I get that since Columbine and Sandy Hook and all the other horrific incidents in public schools there is an increased need for security. I understand that the days are long gone when a parent can waltz into their child’s school unannounced and have lunch or help the teacher or watch what’s happening in class. I accept that you have to sign in, show an ID, have a purpose for your visit.

And I also get that a teacher wouldn’t appreciate a parent barging in without arranging it first, since I know they are held to an impossible standard of adhering to a certain number of “teaching minutes” in each day, minutes that are too precious to waste with unanticipated interruptions.

But to be told that you can’t come in the classroom ever? I don’t get that.

Parents told me they are given a variety of explanations for this policy, including privacy and confidentiality (if they go into a resource classroom, they might be able to ascertain another child’s diagnosis or might witness behavior problems), but the same parents also told me they are encouraged to volunteer in the school clinic … where they are privy to more confidential information than they would be in the classroom, info like which students take ADD medicine, who had diabetes or asthma.

Who’s behind this policy? The parents tell me it’s not the teachers – they would welcome parent support of their classrooms. Parents say it’s our school administrators, who don’t want a parent to visit a classroom and possibly see that their child’s IEP isn’t being followed.

Parents tell me that teacher’s hands are tied because special education in our city has been cut by more than $7 million, aids have been let go and it’s impossible for a teacher to adhere to every guideline in every student’s IEP because of this.

And what about those parents of a child who’s non-verbal? That child can’t go home in the afternoons and tell their parent what they learned in class that day. They can’t tell their parents if something wonderful happened to them … or if someone abused them.

The parents can’t help reinforce the things the teacher is working on because the child can’t communicate exactly what they are doing in class. And the parent doesn’t know what’s happening in the classroom because once the IEP meeting is done, the parent is locked out of further direct input into their child’s daily experiences. They get notes from the teacher, but a note isn’t the same as seeing for yourself what’s happening with your child in their classroom.

One of the things parents talk to me about is how isolating it can be when you have a child with special needs, how cut off from mainstream activities they and their children are. Not only are they cut off from the mainstream, they are cut off from each other, because in our school system, parents are not allowed to know who else is in their child’s resource room (privacy, again).

I find this ridiculous.

When my children were in school, I was the room mom and knew every child in the class and I had a roster with the names and emails of all the parents, too. I could get to know other parents because of that list, as we worked together to put on class parties and special projects. I could arrange car-pools, play dates and activities with the other parents because I knew who they were.

In the resource classroom, the parents are cut off from each other and, since they aren’t allowed to visit the classroom, the only way they can find out who else is in their child’s class is by becoming a vigilant observer of things like who’s on the bus.

Why do we make it so hard for families to connect?

What would it hurt for parents to know who else is in their child’s class?

So, please fill in the blanks for me as I try to understand this policy:

Why is it a good idea to keep parents out of the resource classroom?

What is it like in your school or community?

Is there a better way to protect privacy and still facilitate connection between people?

Please share your thoughts so I can understand what the hell has happened!

10 thoughts on “The State of Special Education

  1. I fought the system a lot while Chelsie was in school. It sucks. Was never so glad for her to turn 21. It’s horrible. They focus on what they think our kids need not what is good for them. When our kids hit high school age they should be doing daily living skills and teaching them a job. Not science, history and crap like that. Our kids need more reading and math when young and then do a lot of repeative work. Things that they won’t remember are. Not necessary or important. The problem is the kids are supposed to have an IEP. If they set goals per age then all IEP’s were the same which is not at all individualized. There Are people writing these laws who do not have a child nor have ever been around them. Each child is different and likes different things. They should focus on each kids strengths not some stupid goal that the state or federal government set. It’s a battle and all you can hope for is a great teacher who cares. There are some but they are fighting the stupid system also. I remember when Chelsie was in 11th grade her goal was to learn Reganeconomics. I told them that was the stupidest thing I had ever heard and we were not wasting our time on it. The goals they set are ridiculous because we all know that most never come close to reaching them and they just pencil whip the paper. It’s very sad and depressing. I dealt with the Madison County system. Like I said is a lot about the teacher and who cares.

    • Sissy, you are so right…an IEP is supposed to be INDIVIDUALIZED!!! I’m so tired of hearing horror stories like yours..maybe I can get some traction with this post and two more I’m working on. If we raise our voices loud enough, maybe someone will listen!

  2. I think it must be a “Huntsville thing”. Abbey was in a dedicated Special Ed Pre-K classroom in Lincoln County, TN. I was welcome in her room all the time, anytime. I came in through the back door a lot of the time. The teacher and the aides (4 of them that classroom) were happy to see me coming, as I would usually stay and help cut out art projects, wipe down tables, or whatever they might need help with. We had a wonderful relationship, and I knew almost all of the other parents and children in that class because parents were always invited to the many field trips and activities that the class went on. I may be out of touch since this was 8 years ago but then again, not much ever changes in a small town.

    • Thanks Cindy! I’m glad to hear it isn’t everywhere…I hope I get lots more comments like yours but I’m afraid many people will confirm what I’m hearing. Things have got to change!!!

  3. The most important question to ask is: Does the school system have the same policies for students with special needs as it does for typical students? A local school system would say “yes” to this question. However, having a typical and a special needs student what has been my experience is that in practice this policy ( if they even have one) is executed differently. A visit to the “special ed room” requires clearance from not only the teacher, but the principal, and central office staff. An observation is also not done without a representative from the administrative office. That might be a principal, special ed director or other representative. So, why is this necessary.? If we can agree that policies are created for ALL students, why can’t they be implemented in the same way.? I challenge a representative from any school district to speak to this. My guess is they will not.

  4. What you encounter in special needs classrooms that is not as big of an issue in a standard classroom is confidentiality issues. In a standard classroom, you are not necessarily ecountering students medical or developmental issues that should not be released. Let’s face it parents talk to each other. Some might not have discrestion enough not to discuss what other students in the class are doing. This can cause legal issues for a school system. This is way many have what appears as separate rules for the two classrooms.

  5. Huntsville City Schools gets an F- on everything related to Special Education. School Administrator’s hide behind policy and confidentiality to keep parents out of the classroom, and disconnected. Why? Cost. Special Education students are expensive and a burden to this administration. And what Special Education student will ever contribute to our infamous Superintendent’s fame? We are talking about a guy who has way more important callings than Special Education — like making a name for himself by being the first public school superintendent to eliminate textbooks and go to e-texts. Principals and teachers fear for their jobs, so they adhere to the policy, without question. Great Special Education teachers (yes, we had one once) are rewarded with additional students and reductions in teacher’s aides. There’s no financial reward for having the capability to put together meaningful IEP’s or for having a proficiency in providing individualized instruction. Teachers with these skill are rewarded to go do other things. As the experienced Special Education teachers are “run off” or retire, replacements with no experience are brought in as their replacements. Untrained individuals that have no teaching experience, let alone experience teaching 8-10 students who all need completely individualized curriculums. So the policies are created to keep parents as disconnected as possible because the Huntsville school system is well aware its policies are teetering on the edge of illegal. For example, if student A’s parents were to let student B’s parents know they were able to get into a “regular ed” social studies class … student B might try to get in one too, and then they would have to hire another aide … It’s not about capability and what might be best for the student, its about cost. Parents who talk are likely to drive up cost.

    So, Debra, this is where Merrimack Hall has already started to make a difference in this community. Merrimack Hall gives families of Special Education students a safe place to talk and compare notes. Not only are our kids getting the much needed enrichment the school system denies them, we parents are getting the opportunity to talk and compare notes with each other. Its been the place where we garner the energy to put on our suit of armor back on and go back to battle at the next IEP meeting.

    And what a shame in this highly educated Rocket City. Everybody knows better ……

  6. you would be correct. special education students have protections related to privacy and confidentiality that are not afforded to regular education students, because frankly, reg ed kids do not demonstrate the same level of difficulty that many of our students in SPED do. a bigger question and a far more important one, is the deconstruction of SPED from the inside out. it is being done away with in a very slick way.. we call it RTI, or inclusion, or mainstreaming. pretty soon everybody will be with everybody else, except those kids who have profound difficulties..

  7. I am amazed by this article. Amazed that it could be true. Amazed that I had no idea. Just amazed. I hope parents realize that a student’s IEP is never locked and can be amended by the parent or anyone else at any time. The goals are chosen by their Special Ed teacher or caseworker but hopefully always given to the parents as a draft before each meeting. Parents have more say in their child’s education than they realize. I do not know about the closed door policy in terms of the resource room. It seems at our school, parents have free reign.

  8. Segregation still exists within Huntsville City Schools, and
    they’re getting away with it.

    I’ll start with my story..

    My son is a well-adjusted, very outgoing, extremely sociable child who has Down syndrome. My son started Kindergarten in 2010 at Weatherly Elementary, which is our home school, based on our home address. At the end of that school year, I, along with all other special needs student parents, was informed that the next year my child would be moved to Challenger Elementary. They relayed to us that this segregation was based on the children’s IQs. All kids under a certain IQ were to be moved to a specialized unit where they would focus on life skills, etc. – Basically they were writing our children off as incapable of learning, which is the mindset of the past. Today we know that these kids are capable of learning
    and accomplishing all sorts of things and can and do have meaningful lives. I was asked to sign an IEP agreeing to this change. I refused to sign that IEP. I was morally opposed and also believed this move to be illegal. I didn’t put up much more fight and although I didn’t agree to sign the IEP, I decided to transfer my child to Challenger because it was evident to me that Weatherly (Huntsville City Schools, to be more precise) was not going to facilitate teaching my son. I’m sure Weatherly is a fine school for typical children.

    We moved to Challenger and my son then repeated Kindergarten and went on through First, Second & Third grades. We loved this school. The Principal, the teachers, the aides, all other students, etc. This school really rallied around the special needs students and worked to do their best to
    include these children with the general education kids. We all know that the special education students learn a lot from the general education students and the general ed students also learn a lot from the special ed students. We had settled in. At the end of the 2014-2015 school year, we were informed that our children were to be moved again. This time, they were ALL being moved to Whitesburg – even further away from our home school. There was nothing we could do to stop this as we were informed that there would be no unit to facilitate our kids there anymore. – I understand that the Principal of Challenger really fought to keep the program there as there is plenty of room. I think everyone can agree that ALL children thrive with structure and stability. ESPECIALLY special needs children. Now we were about to move them again. We were also informed that, this should be
    the last move ever, until high school.

    As we all know, Whitesburg is a brand new facility. Clearly, Hsv City Schools knew how many students were going to be facilitated there.
    At least, that would be an educated assumption. We moved our kids, again, and began at the brand new Whitesburg. We all noticed
    right away that there were two tiny classrooms and 30 students. This was an overcrowding concern. This is a brand new school and there should
    have been plenty of room to accommodate this change that Hsv City Schools had, once again, forced us all into. We are now into the fourth week of school at Whitesburg and several of us have received the call that our children are being moved AGAIN due to overcrowding. Now they’ll be moving back to their “home school”. The school that they should have stayed in from the very beginning to establish some structure and stability – and friends.

    The bottom line is, our children are being placed and re-placed like they are stray animals. These children are being disregarded, apparently because their IQ isn’t high enough to warrant fair and equal treatment within this school system. Apparently, this is the year 2015 and Huntsville City Schools just cannot bring themselves to break the cycle of segregation. How many more times are our children’s lives going to be disrupted because Dr. Wardynski cannot figure out how to manage special needs students and their rights to an education?

    I believe this is all entirely illegal. I am certain that Federal law prohibits any group of people from being segregated in a learning environment. These children are being discriminated against at every turn. When are they going to guarantee that they aren’t going to do this to these kids again?

    They’re not ever going to guarantee that and such is why it is time to stand up for these kids. Please help me to bring light to this dark and embarrassing matter. Huntsville is a wonderful city filled with wonderful people and we are better than this.
    There are more families with more stories waiting to be told.

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