Saturday, February 17, 2007

When is a rose a dandelion?


We are fortunate that we live in a very good school district. At least that’s what I thought when we adopted our son 7 years ago. Our school district is one of the best in our area, and routinely sends a high proportion of its grads to prestigious universities across the country. Unfortunately, over time I’ve come to understand that perhaps our district isn’t as great for our son as I once thought it would be.

First of all, there’s the problem that our district is the victim of its own success. Our district has historically enjoyed such a good reputation that a higher percentage of parents send their kids to the public schools in our district than in other districts. Even though many of the families in our district could afford to send their kids anywhere, they choose the public schools because of their perceived quality. Their’s nothing inherently wrong with that, except that all of the schools in our district are now bursting at the seams with kids, to the extent that trailers are being brought in to serve as additional classroom space.

This means that rooms that were previously used as special ed classrooms are being taken over for regular classrooms, and sometimes there are two sped classes combined into one room, with cubicle dividers put up between them. Hardly an ideal setup for kids with noise and distractibility issues. Also, the school administration seems to be in constant “crisis mode” trying to deal with the sheer volume of students, and is thus not very interested in any particular individual student.

Secondly, there seems to exist what has been described at “Wrightslaw.com” as “organizational narcissism”:
…In my experience, people who work in affluent school districts are far more difficult to deal with that people who work in inner city or rural school districts. As Pam says, people who work in affluent districts are subject to "organizational narcissism." School personnel in affluent districts tend to view themselves as superior to people who work in less affluent districts. This belief is often manifested as arrogance. …

This is something that we have definitely run into in our district. When comparing notes with other parents on a local autism list-serve that I am on, it’s obvious that our district goes out of its way (more so than some other districts around us) to try to impose its wrong views on parents, no matter what. We’ve considered moving because of this, but after a year and a half of arguing (along with our advocates and a lawyer) with the district, we are to a place where things are a little better, and we definitely know the players (and them us). So we’re a bit reluctant to strike out and start all over again at this point.

Finally, I have been very disappointed by some of the responses that have been made to us and other parents of special needs kids by others in the community. We live in an area that is solidly middle to upper middle class, with some really well off people thrown in, as well as a few lower middle class. The area is solidly Democratic politically, and everyone is expected to recycle, talk about global warming (even while driving large SUV’s) and to toe the line on other progressive issues (guns, abortion, diversity, etc.).

Unfortunately, it would appear that many are very hypocritical when it comes to the inclusion and support of our “neurodiverse” kids. Some complain at school board meetings about money and space devoted to special ed kids that could be better spent on their normal kids, while others complain about the “behaviors” of some of the special ed kids that are disrupting and disturbing their own little angels.

I don’t know if there’s a point to be made here, or whether I’m just letting off a little steam. I guess if there’s any point to be made, it’s that a school district is much more than its reputation or statistics. I would certainly talk to other parents before moving anywhere new, but even then you have to take everything with a grain of salt, as there are individual personalities within each individual school, as well as the fact that each school or district may be generally good with some disabilities, but awful when it comes to dealing with “disruptive” children.

**n.b. If you live in the US and have a special needs child, I highly recommend Wrightslaw.com. It is a great site chock full of really good advice on IEP’s, advocacy, and special education law.

Joe is 208

4 comments:

Daisy said...

Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating -- and if I told you why I completely understand your story, I'd end up losing my job for breaking confidentiality.
Keep pushing, and keep your lawyer by your side.

abfh said...

Joe, have you read the Autism's Edges blog? It's written by a mother who is looking for a better school environment for her autistic daughter, after discovering that in a school full of wealthy children and elitist attitudes, her daughter often is seen as just a nuisance.

Club 166 said...

I have been over to Autism's Edges. It's a great blog. I especially enjoyed the pictures she recently posted.

Although it's cost us a boatload of money, we are finally getting them to "do the right things". The last couple of months have been, dare I say, "good". Tomorrow Buddy Boy gets his first inclusion in a regular classroom in over a year. We're going to see how that goes.

If the school and the district start jerking us around again, my next move that I am contemplating is running for school board.

Just Writing said...

I'm beginning to see this now in our school district. We moved here last year because of the excellent reputation they have but while that reputation is well earned, I'm starting to see cracks and holes. Oh, and the arrogance, I cannot even begin to tell you about that. I am watching them very closely this coming school year.

BTW, happy father's day!