Through the Cracks

Out of sight, out of mind.

At one point, I thought that the idea of mainstreaming the Monster was the dream we should be reaching for – that he’d do better with his normally-abled peers and that they’d get a better idea of how to live with children with special needs like him.  That was before the disastrous wake-up call that we got, in the form of a year wasted, which ended up with his being sent to a “non-public placement”, a private school paid for by the city school system, where he’s doing far better.

The problem?  The Monster and children like him are all but invisible to the school district.

It sounds funny, perhaps, to look at it that way… but it’s very true.  The school system pays a decent amount of money annually to the private school to provide an education, they recognize at IEP review time that he’s one of their students… and yet, most of the offices at City Schools are oblivious to his existence.

I serve on the Parents and Community Advisory Board to the Board of School Commissioners – it’s a board created by state law, in the wake of two lawsuits, to put some oversight on the school board and give advice to the appointed commissioners.  (For the record – anything I say in this post is my opinion and mine alone and does not represent a position of the PCAB.)  We meet twice monthly to address matters of district policy and issues that impact our students, and we receive presentations from offices around the central offices regarding programs and upcoming changes that will affect the eighty-five thousand children under their daily care.  Sometimes, these presentations are heart-warming, and sometimes they’re dull, but generally, they’re important on a city-wide level and affect enough students that it pays to bring the matter before our group.

Last Thursday, we heard a presentation about the new schools portal, Infinite Campus, which is a window into students’ performance for parents.  Report cards, attendance records, assessment results, homework assignments, vaccination records, all of these are going to be stored on the site, and available through a slew of means to ensure that parents can see everything about their children everywhere.

Since I’m there to speak for children with special needs, my first question to them was about the availability of IEPs electronically through the site.  (For those of you who read my blog who don’t have a child with special needs… believe you me, it’s incredibly hard sometimes to get an electronic copy of the IEP.  And I’m tired of hauling around a forty-plus page dead-tree copy, much less having to wait for one to be mailed if I can’t find mine.)  The team was amenable to the idea of including PDFs of the IEPs or 504s on the site, but that’s not where I was finishing…

…because I wanted to know when the Monster will get his login code for the site.  The Monster’s school, of course, had not been asked to participate, being a private school.  Never mind that there are a lot of city school students there, or that there are many, many students like him in private schools around the area.  The students in non-public placement were entirely forgotten about by the district, in putting together this portal.

And… I get it, because it’s easy to do, to forget that these children with special needs are really part of the school system, when they’re not part of the general education population.  The most he himself has to do with the school system are IEP meetings and the fact that the system provides bus transportation to and from school each day.  He’s a budget line to the school district a lot of the time, save when we do something to remind them that they have a responsibility to him.

Now, I don’t know that my bringing up (again) to the Family and Community Engagement office that they need to remember students like the Monster, the kids that fall through the cracks in terms of what treatment ‘other’ students get, will really stick for long.  But if we don’t keep reminding them that he’s there, that he is a student assigned to a school that they’ve assigned a number to, then he – and other children like him – will continue to fall through the cracks, save for that annual expenditure.

Our children are not numbers, not budget lines.

Let’s all work to close the cracks.

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