Fourteen years ago, I began a lifestyle that I had intentionally set out to avoid. I suited up, so-to-speak, buckled in and merged into interstate traffic each morning. A preschooler with newly diagnosed autism rode in the back seat. Sometimes kicking and screaming. At 7:30 each morning, this mother committed to being an at-home mom drove bumper-to-bumper to Vanderbilt University’s Susan Gray School. Back then, at least, it was far from satisfactory education for my daughter. But, I chose it because the only other options for my child were elementary school locations in Donelson, Hermitage and regions far flung from my then western locale. The best, I was told, was in the projects. And, when I questioned the system about the drive-by shootings, they assured me that they had excellent lock-down procedures. This is not fiction. This was my reality. Rather, I accepted less than stellar educational programming (ironically beneath one of the country’s top special education schools) because I opted for safety. Not to mention the school had an unfenced play yard and like many children on the autism spectrum my kiddo had a penchant for running….
I wrote a proposal (that was accepted) to the school system in 1999 so that my daughter attend kindergarten at least in her cluster of schools, if not her zoned school. Thanks to some Mothers From Hell who have for two decades led the charge for school-of-zone, inclusive programming, young mothers will not have to drive by scores of elementary schools, like I did, to arrive at inadequate and safe programming for their special needs child. Here’s one of those mothers, a lawyer, a mother of a child with special needs–Erin Richardson–who has led the charge. In her blog, The Squeaky Wheel, she says it’s a “New Day”:
From www.beasqueakywheel.com August 10, 2011:
“The belief was that those children had to sacrifice the benefits of attending school with their siblings and friends in order to access “specialized” services–services that frankly could have been provided to them in their neighborhood schools (and, indeed, which the law says should be provided in the child’s neighborhood school). The consequence was that for many years, children with disabilities were isolated and cut off from their natural communities[…]”
Leisa: Not attending our school of zone was one of my greatest sorrows in our journey with the school system and our life with autism. I believe that because of this fact, despite numerous attempts at great time and money, my daughternever formed friendships in the neighborhood where she spent her first 16 years of her life.
Erin: “Tomorrow, all Metro kindergarteners will attend their neighborhood, or zoned, schools. That means that they can go to school with their brothers, sisters, and friends. That means that they won’t be bused to a school an hour away only to end up sitting in a self-contained* holding cell all day. On top of that, when they arrive at school tomorrow, most of them will be spending loads more time in the general education setting than they would have spent had they been starting school in years’ past. You see, in addition to ensuring that kids get to attend their schools of zone, a few hard-working people in the Special Education department at MNPS are endeavoring to do away with the so-called “special education classrooms,” that have proven so ineffective, and to move towards a more inclusive model of educating students.”
“A New Day.” And still, much work to be done….
(My daughter has always been connected to a *self-contained special education classroom [I do not refer to ours as ‘cells.’ My daughter has also always had general education classroom programming a significant portion of each day of her schooling….The vintage bicycle, above, is the header art from The Squeeky Wheel.)