Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Sad news, unreported

I was talking with the mother of one of my son's special-ed classmates the other day, and she asked me, since I'm involved in a lot of things at school and am presumably up on what's going on, whether I had heard anything about a student who was in our kids' class a few years ago. All three kids were still at the same school, but as the whims of self-contained classrooms would have it, all were in different rooms this year. Apparently my son's friend had heard from this girl's sister that the girl had passed away during the summer, and we wondered if it could be true, or maybe just a tall tale facilitated by the girl being transferred to another school. It's not that unusual, after all, for a special-ed child to be at a school one year and just not there the next, with no dire circumstances attached. As the whims of self-contained classrooms would have it.

I hadn't heard anything about it -- not from my son, not from his invisible dog (who is usually my best source for school gossip), and not from any of the mainstream moms through whose circles I pass, along the loop but not quite in it, as I pursue my little on-campus volunteer opportunities, library duty, class parent meetings, book fairs. And I'd like to think that if I hadn't heard, it couldn't be. Surely the death of a 10-year-old child who'd been at the school since first grade, and who had a surviving sibling at the school as well, would arouse some sort of comment among those chattering moms, even if it had happened over the summer. Surely there would be a memo, or a memorial. The death of a fifth-grader's father the year before had prompted a phone-chain effort to make sure her classmates didn't hear it through gossip on the grapevine; wouldn't at least my son and his classmates -- if not the whole student body -- deserve similar respectful information about their friend?

Apparently not. The next time I was at the school I asked around, and indeed, the girl had died over the summer, of causes nobody was quite sure of. The special-ed teachers had taken up a collection in her memory, and the Home and School Association had donated as well, and it was sad but over. And maybe it would have been the same for any student who passed quietly away due to unspecified health reasons during the long school-free summer months. But I tend to think not. I tend to think that you can bus children with special needs into schools, and you can take them to the assemblies and put them in the chorus and mainstream them for a couple of classes and pretend that they're part of the group, but in the long run, if they're not from the neighborhood and not represented in the cliques and the clubs and the coffee klatches and the committees, in some meaningful way they don't really exist.

It's not that unusual, after all, for a special-ed child to be at a school one year and just not there the next.

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