Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Part 2: Parent of 2 Special Education Kids

(This blog is a continuation from Part 1: Principal of 1030 Students)

While my morning was focused on supporting all of our #teamUMS students, my afternoon was much, much different.

Almost five years previous, my wife and I adopted wonderful twin girls from Murom, Russia. It was an otherworldly experience, from the very first picture we saw to the very first time we held them in our arms to the first night they spent with us to the plane ride home and every moment leading up to today.

And from the minute we first met them until today, they've improved so much.

Kenna, despite her cerebral palsy, is trying her best to run and be included in as many activities as possible. For a kid who wasn't able to walk or communicate for the first three to four years of her life, the advancement we've seen has been impressive. You won't find a kid who tries as hard as she does to do what most students can easily accomplish.

Molly has developed so far, so fast... despite her sensory concerns, the struggles with focusing on the task at hand, and a few other dozen issues. She's my personal partner in crime and just thrives on personal, individualized attention.

My wife and I wouldn't change a thing about bringing them into our lives. We feel blessed to have them as our daughters.

And while it has been a challenge to best support them through their appointments and services, the biggest struggle has been our collaboration with the local school district. 

In contrast to my experience in the morning where I, as the school principal, worked to best serve a student in need of support, my afternoon was spent in what feels like part 8 of my daughters' IEP. It did not go well.

At Union Middle, I make a strong, sincere effort to give every student whatever they need to be successful. I'm interested, as a site principal, in providing our students extra supports in order to access the general education curriculum and accelerate them to grade level as soon as possible. We have three short years to prepare our students for high school. It goes fast; we can't waste any time.

My daughters' experience has been something different altogether.

The classroom teacher is wonderful. I'd hire her in a second.

Their "learning center" teacher is fantastic. I'd create a job for her if I didn't have an opening.

The principal, a former colleague of mine, is an asset to the school. She gets kids and how to effectively run a school.

Their needed adult supports, however, do not end with these three.

We've battled the school district for over 2 years in our efforts to provide our daughters with the necessary supports to give them a fighting chance to advance to grade level.

Every issue, no matter how minimal, has been a challenge.

I've lost count of how many IEP meetings we've had to address our concerns brought forth from over a year ago. We've spent close to $10k in advocates and private assessments in an effort to show the district what our daughters' need to access their Free Appropriate Public Education. Every step of the way, the district has put roadblocks in the pathway of their educational journey.

They've tried to label them Intellectually Impaired.

They've tried to advance them to first grade despite not meeting the standards of kindergarten.

They've admitted that one of our daughters experienced a "lost year" due to the ineffectiveness of their aide and classroom teacher.

Simply put, they've failed to support my daughters. They've failed to give them the level of care that every educator should have for their students. It's hurtful to see. It's harmful to feel. It's horrendous to experience. Every step has been an unnecessary battle.

During the latest IEP meeting today, the district continued to ignore the reports we've provided and the repeated concerns we've have. At one point, after my wife expressed how disappointing our experience has been, one of the members of the district team looked at another member of their team and gave a wink with an eye roll.

I could not let this go.

How is this ok? Where is the sense of "team" that I experienced this morning at my school where we worked together to best support a student? Why is our daughters' education and our opinions therein being discounted by the behavior of one of the district's employees? Again, I ask... how is this ok?

And so I brought this individual's behaviors to the attention of the team. I made it very clear what they had done, what I had seen, and how it was not ok. Perhaps not unexpectedly, the individual denied what I had seen. While I should have expected a blatant denial of their poor behavior, I was stunned to experience such lies first hand.

Are we not a team to best support the students?

Where is the dedication toward my daughters that my own staff provides for all of our 1030 students?

The meeting continued to fumble toward a non-resolution to best support my daughters. We repeated our concerns brought public in meetings past. Why hasn't the district worked to consider our suggestions? Why is their default a constant "no" when everything we try at Union Middle starts with the phrase "yes"?

I suspect things will get substantially worse before they get better. The "Part 1" of tonight's writings ended with a "we don't give up on kids" -- Sadly, I feel like my local school district has given up on my daughters. It's a horrible feeling to have as a parent about the district I attended as a student, that I received my start in education with, where I furthered my career as an administrator, and where I now live to raise my children.

And it reinforces how hard I have to work as a school principal to make sure that no student, no parent, no family feels the way about their school experience that my wife and I do about our struggles to best support our daughters.

I knew it wasn't going to be easy to have two special education daughters, but I had no idea it would be this hard.

And I didn't know that a school district would be the main reason for our difficulty in adequately supporting them.

Educators: Try and say yes. Support your students. They are someone's son, someone's daughter. Give them what you'd want for your own kids. Every bit of effort you give is recognized and loved.

1 comment:

  1. Your daughters are adorable, and I keep hoping that your district will get out of their rut, look at them with fresh eyes and make a plan that will nurture all of their strengths.


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