original blog post: How Schools Fail Special Needs Children
In my original post regarding how the school system fails special needs children my primary focus was around communication. Communication on multiple levels and capacities. I have refined my list for five ways our public schools are failing special needs children.
- Thinking one size fits all
We know that this concept doesn’t work for all people. Think about women’s clothing that is made one size fits all; one size does NOT fit all! What I mean in regards to special needs children is that just because one ASD child functioned better in class with a weighted vest does NOT mean that a weighted vest is a universal tool for all children with autism. It also means that because my family wants to mainstream our special needs child with autism that another family wants to use an ASD containment class. That family feels that a center with containment classes is what their child needs to learn. I don’t understand why the district appears to take a one size fits all viewpoint when each child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
- Funding and services
Special needs children are worth more money per school funding. Each school district is to receive funds from the state government for each student they have with an IEP. In Florida, we have McKay. McKay is a scholarship program that will tell you how much your child is worth. That money is allocated to each school to supply the services noted on each IEP. This is a very legal situation because schools can be out of compliance. If parents do not ask what does that service look like, when does my child receive this service then how do you know that the money allocated to help your child learn is being used?
- Training and education
There are countless examples of how little training and education that most adults working in education have in dealing with children with special needs. The district places requirements for number of hours in special education in order for teacher’s to re-certify but does not provide real training for the students included in mainstream classes. As a parent, we have to assume that most teachers will not know or understand our child’s diagnosis. We should schedule a conference with teachers to discuss the general diagnosis and our specific child’s needs (both strengths and weaknesses).
- Class size
The state makes changes to class size amendment laws, yearly. Often, as a parent I would not notice or even understand what some legal shift in wording could mean within my child’s actual classroom. This year the wording was changed to an average. That allows schools to place 30 students in one class, often many of those have accommodations, services and additional needs. This is not fair to the student or the teacher. Schools are not telling parents that they are filling classes with “over ratio” numbers and then meeting the state guidelines by averaging classes.
The worst at communication! If you do not request in writing a draft copy of your IEP prior to the meeting then you do not know the proposed changes. They will just review everything with you like it was originally there. No explanation or rationale is offered unless requested or questioned about the change. When a problem arises, limited information is sent home and the expectation is the way they decide to handle it is correct or right without any discussion or communication back and forth with the parent. They try to treat special needs children like they are capable of making the decisions for themselves without support from an adult. Any special needs child is still a minor and a child in the public school system. We have to listen to the child but the parent needs to be informed and involved. It’s unfortunate that parents cannot get information from their children or school and therefore, have to turn to lawyers or in a recent example; recording devices on their children!
What can we do?
Educate ourselves on process, procedures and laws that apply to our special needs children. As a parent, knowing compliance laws will be very helpful and powerful when working with the district.
Learn how to advocate for needs of your individual child. Hire an advocate for IEP meetings, keep documents up to date and observe your child to see what support looks like.
Access outside therapists to help you in your child’s most difficult or challenging need. For my son with autism, we have an excellent ABA therapist. That therapist can also observe the classroom and provide another opinion on level of support. Schools in Florida (Pinellas) are allowing private therapists into schools to work with private clients.