On Thursday night, during the Autism Society of Baltimore/Chesapeake meeting, there was an interesting discussion about what a school is actually required to provide.
The conversation started with a parent discussing that her child – who is four – is showing an interest in writing, but the school system is asserting that they’re not required to provide OT to teach the child a proper tripod grip because that’s a “kindergarten” skill. The basic thrust, as the members of the panel asserted, is that the school is not required to pursue ‘advanced skills’, but to provide a ‘free and appropriate public education’ as they define it.
I don’t wholly disagree, for the record, with this approach. If my child is interested in music, and that’s not part of his grade-level curriculum, I’m free to get outside music lessons (or, as we’re talking about special-needs children, music therapy) at my own expense. I can’t expect the schools to give him additional music to fulfill his wants.
But that also brings us back to the placement discussion for next year, and whether the Monster is going to our zone school or if they’re going to send him elsewhere again. It’s a question, really, of whether Baltimore City Public Schools has a plan to give him an environment with the social and academic supports he needs.
My gut – if you had to ask me what I think they’re going to do, based on the surrounding school districts – is probably going to make the decision to send him back to our zone school… but I don’t know if that’s to mainstream him into a typical first grade class, or in a self-contained ALS classroom. I don’t know that the Monster is ready to really be mainstreamed, if only because we’re concerned that he’ll be a distraction to the other children in the class. We don’t want to set up him up for failure.
But that also brings us back to other questions. We don’t know the setup at our zone school yet to know if they actually have an ALS class at the moment, or if they’re going to fight about having to provide the service. We don’t know if getting him a one-on-one paraprofessional aide will help keep him in line in class enough to have him in that environment… or if they’re going to decide to ship him to another school for yet another year for a specialized classroom. (The program he is in ends at kindergarten.) Or if they’re going to decide that they’re going to wash their hands of him and ship him off to a private placement (which is unlikely).
It’s all a question of what one can expect from a “free and appropriate public education”, and whether we manage to craft the IEP well enough to have the right tools at our disposal to evaluate whether the agreed-upon placement is the right one.
And that’s going to be the battle of the next few months, figuring out where we’re going next year…