I was on the phone the other day with a friend of mine I have had all of my life. He and his wife have a beautiful baby boy, let’s call him Brian. Brian was born with disabilities, specifically, he has WAGR syndrome. It is something that very few people ever need to find out more about, as so few people are born with the specific genetic traits. WAGR contributes such a small part to this story that I am not going to spend my time focusing on that aspect.
Brian is a happy, quickly developing little man, who is making progress every day. He is full of smiles, laughter, and love for those around him, and a true pleasure to be with. All of the things we look for in children of this age, he is doing well at. Eating on his own, learning to get more of his lunch in his mouth than on the walls or floor, getting around from place to place of his own free will, interacting with people, expressing himself, exploring and becoming more independent and just generally being a two year old kid.
There are a couple things that he has been working on developing, that with physical and occupational therapy as well as some support for his visual impairment, he is making great gains, and using his skills across his environments consistently well. He seems to like putting things in his mouth quite a bit, but at this age, everybody’s doing it!! My guess is that it is one more way for him to experience his world, with his vision limited a bit more than most his age.
He is a part of a beautiful family and is surrounded by uncles, aunts, grandmas, grandpas and family friends. He lives in a lovely neighborhood, where he has made friends with other little people his age, and spends his days as any two year old does, at school while mom and dad go to work, and busy at play dates and being a beautifully integral part of his family and community the rest of the time.
Sounds great, right? Well…that is where I need to get on my baby soapbox today.
You see, Brian’s family just had to move him to a new school. Recently they were called into the administrator’s office of their old school, and told without warning of any kind, that they had 30 days to find another placement for Brian. The explanation they gave was that he needed extra teacher attention, and it wasn’t the right school for him to be in. There were no conversations whatsoever leading up to this meeting where any issues were identified as needing to be addressed, and everything that had been communicated up to that point had been that Brian was a pleasure to have in class, and was developing well with very few differences from his peers.
The meeting in the administrator’s office wasn’t one where there was dialogue about what could be done, or trying something new or different. There was no conversation about what the teachers were experiencing from day to day (positive or negative), or what they had been trying to do to support Brian. There was no conversation about building the capacity of the teachers or the school to meet children’s needs…Brian’s or anyone else’s. There were no questions asked of the parents about their son, what they thought, how they felt, or what they would hope for him as next steps. The parents were just told they needed to find something else, and given 30 days to do it. That was it.
This school is one that is considered highly reputable. This family had done their research, and chose this school because it was one of the best institutions of its kind for children in the area. It is a learning environment that has very qualified staff, low teacher to student ratios, is play-based, research-driven, developmentally appropriate, and has all of the accreditations and certificates to show for it. On their website, they state that they “wish that all children could have the Name of the Institution’s experience”. They also proudly state that there is 100% family satisfaction with their program.
My friends called me immediately after leaving the administrator’s office that day, taking me up on an offer I had made when I had met Brian for the first time at their house. I told them as I left that day, if anything ever just feels “wrong” about a situation or an issue they face – to give me a call, and we would talk it through. I never imagined that call such as this would come so soon from them.
At the time that this happened, we talked through all of the options that existed. But, as working parents, they needed to find a solution in the very near future, limiting them in the end, to the only real option being finding a new school for Brian.
He has been at his new school for two months now, and is getting used to the new people, the new environment, and all of the changes. Additionally, his teachers and classmates are getting used to him, getting to know who he is as a learner and a person. The good news is he continues to thrive, continues to progress right alongside his peers, and that the teachers love being with him from day to day. No issues have been raised, and my friends have even been told by the teachers that they can’t believe that anyone would ever find having him in class less than a breeze.
When my friend called the other day to let me know how well things were going, our conversation eventually turned to “what now”. Now that the dust has settled, and Brian is in a good place with welcoming teachers, my friends have turned to being mad about what happened. Who can blame them?
What are the options for making sure the school they were asked to leave doesn’t do this to another family? How does a family let the school know that experience wasn’t at all OK, and shouldn’t have happened? What are the avenues to follow that would create change so this experience isn’t repeated in other schools like this one? Why is something like this still happening in our schools whatsoever and even more of a question is why is it happening at this age level?
This age range is the timing for early intervention, known to be effective in producing positive outcomes for children. Placing a child in a highly qualified place, with highly qualified people to love, care and teach them benefits all children, but even more so, we know from years of research that in particular kids with disabilities thrive and have measurable, lifelong positive outcomes when placed in those types of settings, with those types of teachers. Teachers of people of this age know that – and yet this occurred to this family.
Thankfully, I have the ability through my work and the necessary relationships built that I can ask these questions of people around the state who are in positions of influence, including those at the state department of education level. I can start the dialogue about what we can do, and ask about plans of action. I intend to share this story with them, ask these questions and get them involved with me.
Also, I want to get a conversation started here, hope it creates some momentum, and in the least can bring more awareness to the topic in hopes that parents and educators can have these conversations and figure out how to include children well. Perhaps educators will read this post and consider their actions and the impact they have. Are we supporting young families and young children well? Most schools have the words that describe a wonderful place for the education of children…but do the actions and decisions align with what is written?
This post will be shared with the school that asked my friends to leave. Let’s start a conversation here, in hopes that we can create change that matters.
Lastly, I want to mention something positive that I think has happened due to this scenario for this young family. The silver lining in all of this is that there are two more people fighting for the rights of their son, and advocating generally for people with disabilities and their families. I told them the other day that they are doing an incredible job, and they are great fighters. I welcomed them to the world of advocacy.
What can you do?? PLEASE stand with me, by leaving a comment here. I will bring this to the attention of people at the state level and hope to clearly show that kicking babies out of school in this day and age is a completely unacceptable solution!!
Now…who is with me??