Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Make up your mind

It's one week until the start of school. You'd think this would mean that every teacher had a classroom, every classroom had a class list, every person had an assignment, every kid had a place to be. You'd be wrong.

For our district, anyway. And not even our entire district--for the special-education department. Children in regular education have the luxury of knowing all summer what school they'll be going to and at least an idea of which teacher they'll have; not the specific one, perhaps, but they likely know from the previous year which teachers handle the next grade up, and where their classrooms are, and which one is nice and which one gives too much homework.

But special-ed kids, well, they can get bounced anywhere, with anyone, right up to the day before school starts. Teachers move, classes move, classifications transfer. Last year, the child study team was in agreement that my son should stay at his familiar school and have a particular teacher who was very experienced, very good with children like him, and had been at that school for years. Wording was put in his educational plan to ensure that he would stay at that school and have that teacher. During the summer, I spoke to the special-education director, who confirmed that indeed, he would stay at that school and have that teacher. All summer, I told him about that school and that teacher. As we walked into the school on the first morning, I told him how much he would like his new teacher. And then, surprise! Different teacher. The one we wanted had been transferred two days before school started, and her class taken over by a new, inexperienced teacher who had about a day of prep time to get ready for this very difficult class. We then had to decide--while school was on, when changing would be most disruptive--whether we wanted the familiar school or the right teacher.

The ironic thing about all of this is that children with special needs are the most in need of predictability, routine, and steadiness in their school experience. These children more than any need to know well ahead of time where they'll be, who they'll be with, what they'll be doing. In a perfect world, these placements would be figured out by the beginning of June, and the children would be introduced to their new teachers and shown their new classrooms. They would have a secure summer knowing what was coming up. They would be afforded the same rights as their non-special-ed peers.

Maybe in some school districts this happens. Not in ours. As I walked into school with my son last year, firm in the faith that I had done everything right and knew just who he would be with, I spoke briefly with another mom who was bringing in her daughter, another special-ed student. The girl had been nervous all summer, worrying about who her teacher would be. She was particularly apprehensive that morning, scared and reluctant to enter the building. As it turned out, she had the same teacher she'd had the year before. They couldn't have told her that in June?

Again this year, I think I know what's going on. But I've learned not to relax until the kids are actually, finally, securely in their classes. Only one week to go.

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