Baltimore County Public Schools are Failing our Special Needs Children

by J

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S playing in the “beach pool”

When I first started to notice that S wasn’t developing as expected, it was pretty hard to get anyone to validate my concerns. I was brushed off by other parents, family members, daycare providers, doctors, and quite frankly- even myself.

But once the delays became so great, that people could not brush them off, I was surprised to find a great deal of help, support and intervention. Once my concerns were validated by S’s doctor, we were immediately referred to our county’s Infants & Toddler’s program. Within two months of my call to them, S started receiving in-home therapy, which quickly grew to include communication classes, at the local school, and a host of other early interventions. Baltimore County’s Infants & Toddlers program was absolutely fantastic. Our son was receiving weekly OT, speech, and special education in addition to spending another 4.5 hours inside of the classroom.  As parents, we are also provided with weekly parent meetings with a child psychologist and social worker. The program also introduced us to other programs, such as the ABC program as well as many research studies at Kennedy Krieger, where our son received a great deal of intervention.

As scary as it was to learn that our child has a life-long disorder, not to mention one that affects each person so differently, it was incredibly comforting to be greeted with so much help and support. It was a dark and scary time, and having such an incredible team of people to help our son and our family was absolutely astounding- and something for which I will forever be grateful.

What stuck out to me though, was all of the providers, teachers & special needs parents with older children, that I was in contact with, kept saying things to me like “keep fighting for your child”, “never back down; you have more power than you think” & “you know your son best, keep fighting for what he needs”.

At the time, I truly did not understand this. Every time our son showed a need, I asked for specific help, and it was received. After all, that is the law- every child is entitled to free and appropriate education. Many times I didn’t even see a need, but his providers would, and the appropriate help was immediately offered and provided to him.

And you know what? It worked. 

Our son responded amazingly to every intervention tossed his way. He progressed & closed gaps that left us absolutely in awe of his abilities. He went from a non-verbal child who was disappearing into himself at a rapid rate, to the happy, bubbly, talkative, playful little boy we have today. It was an incredible thing to witness and there are no words to express how grateful we are for the early intervention our child received, through Baltimore County.

Baltimore County Public Schools are Failing our Special Needs Children

 

But, like all good things, apparently, this must come to an end. Our son transitioned into the public school system at age 3, on an IEP. He had two years of special needs Pre-K, followed by a year of kindergarten in an ECLS-K program. The student to teacher ratio of this class was 3 children to 1 special educator and one supporting educator.

He thrived.

Half way through the year, the ECLS-K class merged with another typical kindergarten class, and he was then in a setting of 21 children to 1 special educator, one general educator and two supporting adults.

He struggled, but he did it.

But now that this year of kindergarten is over, our child is left hanging. According to the law, every child must be educated in the least restrictive environment. Baltimore County Public Schools no longer offers proper education, for children like my son. Either your child has significant challenges that puts them on track for a certificate (rather than a high school diploma) and they are in a very restrictive environment, like a FALS program, or they are simply tossed in with their typical peers to fend for themselves. There is no middle ground for people like my son.

Free? Yes. Appropriate? Not a fucking chance. 

Since our son has a July birthday (and therefore is chronologically younger than his peers) and is also socially behind his typical peers, we have decided to have him repeat kindergarten, in a typical classroom.

This means that our son will now need to be serviced in his homeschool, whether it is appropriate or not.

This means that our son will leave the school he has attended for the last 3 years- the one with familiar teachers, staff, bus route, peers, routines, smells, lunch room, and familiarity. It means that he will be trust into a new school, with new teachers and new peers. His home school has more than double the student population of his current school and it is anticipated that his class will have 29 TWENTY FUCKING NINE children to one teacher. 29:1. What?

We won’t get into the fact that the school is literally falling apart (think halls that smell like urine, falling ceiling tiles, broken water fountains and broken heat and air conditioning) or the fact that this school has pretty much zero parental support and a high rate of transient student population- meaning that S’s need for a “low distraction” learning environment simply will not be met. I also won’t mention that no less than 7 educators have come to me “off the record” and told me that I simply cannot allow our son to be routed to our home school. That while legally, the school “has” to service his IEP, that the truth is, they cannot.

And now I know why the parents before me kept warning “Keep fighting for your son”. Now I know.

Because now it is a fight.

I’ve spent countless hours, scouring over dozens of reports, streamlining information and compiling overwhelming data that shows that moving S from his home school will be at a detriment to him. But apparently all of those things, along with notes form his healthcare providers, don’t matter. Never mind his possible eating disorder. Never mind that moving him will force him into his SEVENTH school by the age of 6. Never mind that all the county needs to do (and his current principal for that matter) is sign a line and check a little box.

Baltimore County Public Schools are failing our special needs children. They do not care. At all. 

Our son is being forced to leave an environment where he is thriving to be sent to a school where he will no doubt struggle to make it. And it is so frustrating. He does not need anything special- he just needs to be able to continue in an environment that is serving him well.

BCPS, have you ever heard the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?

Our son has no memory of a time before school. Do you remember your first day of school? I know I do. But since our son started school at age 1, he has no memory of that day. He has had to learn to transition into 5 schools already, at 5 years old. Summer school will bring him his 6th school, and if forced to attend his homeschool, he will enter his 7th.

And so, BCPS, I want you to know that this momma is not backing down. I will not allow you to undo 5 solid years of struggle, therapy & progress.

This Italian, autism mom from Dundalk WILL fight for her son. Gloves on, BCPS, GLOVES ON. 

 

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