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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The girl with muddy feet

She came to my class with mud up to her ankles, I looked at her and shook my head, I considered asking what had happened, but I decided not to, I had Individual education plans, behavior plans and lesson plans to write along with a class to teach and twenty other disabled children to attend to.

She took her seat and within a few moments her head went down to her desk, I considered asking her to sit up and participate in class, but experience had taught me this was probably not the best thing for everybody involved. She rarely does her work and most of her interactions are negative. I would love to save them all but the reality is I can’t, days like this I didn't feel like I could save any.

Later I saw a few colleagues in the lounge and I considered asking them how the muddy footed sleeping girl was doing in their classes, and this time for some reason I followed through. “How is little Suzy doing?” I asked.

I wasn’t surprised to hear she rarely came to their classes, though I thought to myself what am I doing wrong, because she is always in mine, nor was I surprised to hear she didn’t do any work for them either. I shook my head and said something that you will hear daily in schools across the county. “You know that girls not dumb, she’s just so immature.”

“What do you expect” another teacher replied, “She was in fifth grade two years ago, socially promoted to sixth grade last year, a few months later grade adjusted to eighth and then boom she’s in high school after one year in middle school, I feel sorry for her, really I do.”

Welcome to special education in Duval County.

I feel sorry for her, really I do, is a sentiment I share, sometimes when you look into her eyes you can see a fast fading spark of potential. There have been a few times when she was bright and engaging but sadly there are sandwiched around to many wasted days.

Despite the fact she is in an age appropriate class, she is clearly overwhelmed. But it’s as if the powers that be have decided the grade adjustment is the cure-all for children with disabilities, though I have to say this is better than their last plan which seemed to be to sprinkle fairy dust on their heads and then sit back and watch their disabilities fade away.

She is just one of a dozen kids grade adjusted to Ed White this year many of whom are doing poorly, though the problems in special education don’t just stop there.

Another ESE girl has sat in, in school suspension (ISSP) for weeks, because there was no where else for her to go. When you ask her teachers about her, they say she rarely comes but when she does she is incorrigible. She has been in a half dozen fights this year along with multiple other offences, last year she earned one credit and she is on a pace todo worse this year. She is the poster child for needing an incredibly restrictive environment, social work services and counseling, but instead of getting those things, here she sits in ISSP a danger to herself and others. Special education children can only be suspended over the course of the year for ten days, and I don’t think it has dawned on the powers that be, that perhaps the reason these particular children are suspended so often is because they are misplaced.

It is incredibly difficult to move the special ed. child, regardless of their needs or what is best for them. The students in my classes remind me of Goldilocks porridge options. I have students in the same class that with accommodations and modifications could be successful in regular classes, students who should be in functional classes lower than mine and then the ones that are just right. When I taught severely emotionally disturbed kids (normal intelligence severe behavior problems), I had mentally handicapped kids in my class. When I taught trainably mentally handicapped kids I had a young autistic man, when I taught autistic students there was a little girl in my class I believe there just so her family could receive a social security check and when I worked at the magnet high school for severely disabled children one of my students drove to school. The process to change misdiagnosed children placement is time consuming and complicated and supposed to be done by teachers that already have incredibly full plates.

Warehoused studentsthat aren’t gettign the attention and services they both need and deserve, new edicts, which force teachers to teach water downed academics to kids that will neverget it,instead of life and employability skills, increasingly complex individual education plans, which no one can decifer and fewer people care about, people never in the classroom passing down new rules during the middle of the school year which just serve to cover the counties ass, and not the children, it’s maddening, and it’s depressing and it’s defeating.

Don’t get me wrong there are so many caring teachers who despite all this roll up their sleeves and everyday do great things and countywide there are many success stories, but they take place within a system that is broken, run by a school board that is afraid of being sued and has lost sight of why they are here and that’s to help kids, not just warehouse them until the age out. Children can’t be done halfass which is what is happening herein Duval county.

A colleague once told me that years ago many of the students I teach would have been institutionalized years ago. The thing is, for a lot of these children as things stand now, they may have been better off.

I later learned the girl with the muddy feet was skipping her early classes so she and a few other students could go to the woods, most likely to do just what you are imagining. She would return and attend my class because it was later in the day and she needed to be able to catch the bus home. I considered doing something, taking up her cause, demanding she get the help and services she needs, like I said I considered it but then I thought why should she be the one lone exception that happens to, why should she be special. I can't save anybody. I can't even save me .

I then went home with my shoulders slumped and my head down and despite the fact the sun was still out and would be for quite some time, I went to bed.

I went to bed.

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