- Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 November 2010 19:23
- Published on Wednesday, 24 November 2010 19:23
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Editor’s note: Linda Davis has served as coach for the King George Little League Challengers and is coordinator for King George Special Olympics. Her years of experience working with children in the special education program gives her a unique perspective on how the program is serving children with special needs. This is not a traditional news story — this is one woman’s perspective of one child’s situation, one woman’s opinion based on first-hand knowledge.
Bobby’s IEP team finally has a plan. Not an actual IEP but a plan to get one. First, Pat Nealon, Supervisor of Special Services for KG County Schools, will no longer have any role in the process. Bobby’s mom requested he be removed from the case based on our last meeting with him.
There have been rumors flying since I started this series. It seems teachers are worried they will be blamed for the lack of education Bobby has received. I can’t help that, if they had a part in the under-education of Bobby, then they might have to answer for that. That’s not my decision. Personally, I think the rot starts at the top. I think the teachers involved were afraid to lose their jobs by suggesting Bobby needed more, so Bobby’s education was neglected. I don’t know when we became more concerned about dollars than children.
As far as the teachers or administrators, I wouldn’t worry too much, this division is hardly known for disciplining employees. Superintendent Candace Brown has been included in the process from the beginning. We will never know if she is going to hold Nealon accountable for the sad and illegal state of Bobby’s IEP, or for the egregious way he treated Jenn at the last meeting. We will never know if she asked him why he sent draft after draft disregarding the team’s changes, embarrassing the division with his obvious disregard for protocol. We know the School Board members aren’t going to involve themselves. First, they haven’t received their orders from Brown, so they probably don’t know what to do until Candace tells them what they should do. They still haven’t figured out that she works for them and not the other way around.
Some folks wondered if the lack of cooperation by the administration is because of my involvement. Surprisingly, I am not the school division’s favorite person. As sad as that makes me (NOT), Bobby’s IEP was wrong long before I got involved. I would venture to say, it’s always been wrong. So that dog don’t hunt. They have the right to hate my guts. They can spread rumors about me. I don’t care. They can even make a voodoo doll of me and stick pins in it, but they cannot continue to deny Bobby an education. Not for any reason.
I thought it might help if I shared some of the facts and let know you what things we were requesting in his IEP. You can decide for yourself if we were being unreasonable. If you really think it matters you can determine who you think is to blame. I don’t really care how we lost Bobby. I just want to help him get back to where he needs to be.
LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT
Bobby’s mom wanted Bobby to have more time with his non-disabled peers. As you know from the first story Bobby has joined the HS swim team. We were concerned that it might prove to be overwhelming for him. Bobby has always been in a self-contained classroom. Bobby’s mom wanted him to be integrated as much as possible. Bobby has no behavior issues that would cause problems for him or other students.
He is physically able to keep up with ordinary kids, so we asked if he could be in a regular PE class. Bobby learns by imitation. He always has. When he started swim training, he was working alone with a coach. He would occasionally give the coach a hard time and play around in the water when he was supposed to be practicing. We were concerned he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the other kids, but when the season started he watched how the other kids behaved and he imitated them. He is doing great. He wants to fit in.
We also asked for an integrated art class. Bobby’s mom felt the artwork he was doing was not appropriate for a 14 year old. True story: On Bobby’s first day riding the non-disabled bus to the YMCA, his teacher put him on the bus wearing a turkey hat made out of construction paper. Now, in Bobby’s self-contained class that turkey hat was probably the best turkey hat of the day. But how is allowing him to wear it outside the classroom going to help him be accepted by the non-turkey-hat wearers in the high school? Any 12 year old can tell you, getting onto a high school bus wearing a paper hat is not a great idea. Thankfully, a girl on the bus told Bobby that swimmers don’t wear turkey hats, and he took the hat off and threw it away. His art teacher says his coloring is perfect. Of course it is. He has been coloring every day for the last 11 years. When he was 5 he would proudly show off his pictures. In October, when I asked what he did all day he pulled 12 pictures of pumpkins out of his book bag. They were wadded up. Even he knows they are silly. As you can imagine his mom is really looking forward to the hundreds of Christmas tree pictures he will bring home next month. I think they are both getting tired of turkey pictures and pilgrim hats.
HOMEWORK and CLASS WORK
For the first several weeks of school Bobby was getting no homework, there was no class work except coloring being sent home. You saw in the last article what happened when we asked for more. We want an age-appropriate curriculum for Bobby. He needs high interest, low vocabulary books. Bobby has been bringing books from home to have something to read in class.
One of my favorite pictures shows 5-year-old Bobby hugging me. I can still remember the moment. Bobby gives the best hugs. He always has. He used to greet me every time he saw me with a hug. He was always truly happy to see me. I always felt loved when 5-year-old Bobby would throw his arms around me and pat me on the back. Bobby doesn’t hug me as much anymore. I had to ask him to stop. He’s getting older. It’s natural. Bobby used to greet everyone with a hug. We had to teach him that hugs were reserved for your family or by invitation only. He still hugs me sometimes, like the day he threw out the first pitch on opening day and the crowd roared. Bobby was so proud. His eyes locked with mine and he flew across the field and leapt into my arms. I will remember that hug as long as I live. Still, we had to teach Bobby a more appropriate way of greeting other people. It was best for Bobby. Ordinary 14 year olds don’t go around hugging everybody. They would probably be suspended or arrested if they tried. At Bobby’s first IEP meeting one of Bobby’s teachers said “I love Bobby, every time he sees me, he comes up and gives me a big hug.” We had to explain to her, the educational professional, that allowing Bobby to hug her was wrong. Do you think she hugs all the other 14-year-old boys at the school? Well, of course she doesn’t. Why is it OK with Bobby? It’s not. We are not trying to reduce the affection people feel for Bobby. We are trying to keep him safe. We are trying to help him fit in.
At the last IEP meeting, I saw Pat Nealon smile and wink at Bobby. Bobby smiled back at him. A couple other people at the meeting saw it and smiled too. It was actually a sweet moment. I don’t think Pat had any evil intent. It wouldn’t have bothered me at all except I can’t imagine Nealon winking at a non-disabled student. Bobby doesn’t know Nealon, they don’t have a personal relationship. If Bobby didn’t have Down syndrome and Pat winked at him, it would just seem weird.
We asked that Bobby be given a hearing test. His IEP said he had some hearing loss, but it didn’t require any services. Bobby’s mom had his hearing checked before he started school when he was little. They told her the school would test him and be able to track any regression. Bobby’s hearing has never been tested at school, even though state law requires it. Not a single person ever suggested Bobby might benefit from a hearing test, even though his speech has been steadily getting worse. Over the last few years while Bobby has quietly gone deaf, the school’s response was to reduce his speech services. He needs hearing aids and we are trying to find a way to help the family get them. At the last meeting Nealon suggested that Bobby receive speech therapy once a month. A reduction in services.
As you can see, we haven’t asked for anything of substance, we have no idea why the division is resisting what they know is the right thing to do. We don’t know why they insist on wasting time, money and resources denying what little we have asked of them.
We know Bobby has Down syndrome; no one can fix that. He will always have an extra chromosome, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t learn to read, speak and become a productive member of society. We are simply asking them to help Bobby be all he can be and to stop treating him like he is a non-person.
— Linda Davis