Us versus Them. That’s the attitude many of us have about our child’s school if an IEP is involved. We’re taught from more seasoned parents to come in with our gloves on, ready to fight.
But what if I told you it doesn’t always have to be that way? What if I told you we have more in common with the school teams than we realize?
Think about it – you hate IEP meetings. They won’t say it, but I bet teachers and administrators hate them too. You hate all that paperwork. Who doesn’t? All of the jargon and technical terms give you a headache? I doubt your child’s school team enjoys writing up goal after goal during IEP season. You’d rather just enjoy your child? I’m guessing teachers would rather be in the classroom teaching than in another meeting.
Inclusion isn’t easy. But if we work with the school as a team, it can be possible.
I wrote about a very difficult experience back in October. (You can read it here: https://centerforfamilyinvolvementblog.org/2016/10/17/inclusion-bruises/) To summarize, I requested a casual get to know you meeting which turned into a formal sit down with teachers telling me how difficult my child is and all of the problems he was having in his 1st grade general education classroom at the public school he attends in Northern Virginia.
What I haven’t shared yet is what happened after that meeting.
The following week I received calls from the special education teacher, the assistant principal, and the principal. All of them felt the outcome of the meeting wasn’t right. They wanted to talk again about how to make sure my son is getting the most out of his education.
When I tearfully explained how the meeting went and talked about how painful it is to hear your child talked about in such a negative way, the principal cried with me. He told me he was going to make this better. And he did.
Throughout the rest of school year we all collaborated on what sort of adaptations would be best for him. The special education teacher and my son’s one on one aide have shared with me how they are accommodating materials. We discuss how to carry over what he is learning at school into our home.
It hasn’t been perfect. I still feel disconnected from his general education teachers. At times it feels if my son is in a bubble, floating in his class with his supports but not truly integrated. But that’s me as much as it’s on them.
In fact, when I do engage more it becomes clear they care. After a recent IEP meeting, one of my son’s general education teachers invited me into her classroom to show me “something special” … and it was. All of the kids sang “True Colors” as it played on the smart board and then danced to another song from the “Trolls” movie. She normally reserves that for break time, but she broke protocol for me. I then got to see her in action, engaging with all the children, firm but loving. It was the highlight of my day.
The assistant principal has requested meetings with me to better understand our expectations for my child. She has assured me that they are doing everything they can to help him reach his full potential. She has proved through her actions that she means it.
What I’ve learned is that meaningful inclusion is a new concept for many schools. We talk about it. We read about it. But implementing it is an entirely different beast. Even though inclusion has been around for ages, many parents either opt out or don’t realize it’s viable option. Others don’t want their children to be a guinea pig so they stick with the status quo because the teachers in those segregated classrooms are often fantastic; it feels safe.
But nothing compares to students of all abilities learning together when all the necessary adaptations, modifications, and co-teaching practices are in place. When schools create a nurturing culture of inclusion – it is magical.
The truth is, despite the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s (IDEA) least restrictive environment mandate which states the schools must educate students with disabilities in the regular classroom with appropriate aids and supports to the maximum extent appropriate, it’s still not happening. A combination of parents not understanding their rights and schools not knowing how to implement best practices has students with disabilities placed in segregated classrooms more often than not. And the kids with IEPs who are in “general ed” are usually pulled out more often than services are pushed in.
It takes a collaborative effort to make inclusion work. When we as parents reach out with kindness instead of coming into meetings with anger we can create that dynamic. We have to educate each other. We have to put the students’ interests first. We have to be involved.
Some of us are trail blazers. And my family is lucky enough to have a school that is willing to pick up the machete and plow that path together.
I just hope the families coming up after us keep the momentum going.