“Free” and Appropriate

Two weeks from Monday, the Monster returns to school.

Since we’ve been a little out of touch with the school this summer – or at least that’s how I’m feeling, to some extent – the wife reached out to the Monster’s teacher to get a list of school supplies for the coming year in the Together We Grow Kindergarten class.  Most of the list really isn’t all that surprising to me… but still.

Full disclosure – I went to a very good public school system in northern New Jersey.  My parents moved from the town in which we lived to another town, specifically on the basis of the schools.  Where I live now – Baltimore, Maryland – is not that school district, nor is it ever going to be that school district, despite the best intentions of the staff therein.  So my feelings on what is normal are… biased.

And, as I said, most of the list is not really a surprise to me.  I still somewhat object to the idea of having to send in rolls of paper towels, or clorox wipes, or other supplies that are clearly not directly related to the Monster’s education, but are clearly other supplies for the classroom that I think the district should be providing.  (Notice that I say the district, not the teacher.  Ms. A doesn’t need to be dipping into her wallet either to be supplying them.)  When I went to school, it was pencils and paper and notebooks… and today, it’s cleaning supplies, kleenex and the like.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s this article from NBCNews.com discussing the continuing rise of what schools are charging parents for “free” public education.  I’ve yet to see any of these trickle down to our district, but yet is the operative term there.

I can, just so easily, imagine the city wanting me to pony up more cash for parts of the Monster’s education, on the basis of “you can afford it”.  It’s said a lot to parents in general around the country, and from what I’ve seen on Twitter and the like, it’s said even more to parents of special needs children.  Can’t you picture it?  You want your child to be picked up at his door to be bussed to the school across town?  Fee.  You want to continue to guarantee “small group” SLP for your child instead of larger groups?  Fee.  Paraprofessionals in the classroom to keep the student-to-staff ratio low?  Fee.  Your child’s not fully toilet trained and/or won’t signal verbally that he needs to use the facilities?  Fee, and double if a staff member has to change him after an accident, plus a danger-pay bonus added on.  You want your child in a private placement (yes, the Holy Grail for a lot of parents for kids with Autism)?  Don’t ask…

(The above is, to remind, just conjecture.  I have yet to have the school ask me to open my wallet for any of those… but please, imagine with me.)

I live in Baltimore – City, not County.  Meaning I pay the highest property-tax rate in the state, and I already feel like the school district nickles-and-dimes us when they think they can get away with it.  The question, especially for my son who is guaranteed a “Free and Appropriate Public Education” under the law, is how long before “free” is exactly that – a word used solely in quotes when used for this discussion…

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