I attended Ben's school's PTA meeting this week. I am on the board as the Special Needs Liaison. I came up with that title last year, and I am still not sure what exactly my role is.
Last year, I spent most of my time learning how the group worked and seeing what the school needed. I know from experience that newcomers with ideas can easily be shot down if they do not know the customs of the group. I planned a fund raiser for the school, made posters advertising Box Top collection, wrote Ben's teacher's monthly newsletter and helped the physical education teacher with Water Day. I feel like I did my time.
So this year, I felt more comfortable asserting myself by planning an event for the students with special needs. Monkey Joe's is a place where kids go to play video games and run, jump and bounce through obstacle courses. Or if you are Ben - you go there to eat pizza and drink a slushy. Every third Wednesday night, for one hour, is free for children with special needs. I asked the PTA if we could advertise to our students about this event. I was given the go ahead.
At the meeting this week, however, I was told that this type of event may not be held again because the school system believes in inclusion. Holding an event just for one population may be seen as exclusive. Privacy issues were also thrown into the argument.
Hmmmm...I sat for the rest of the meeting frustrated and angry. Probably steam would have come from my ears if I had been a cartoon character.
But I waited until the end of the meeting. Oh, how I have grown and matured.
I spoke with the one individual in the meeting who made these statements and happens to have most of the power in the room. I explained that this event was not meant to be exclusive by any means. Any student could attend. It would be geared to and advertised specifically to the children with special needs. I asked if we could just see how it went and then make a determination if this is something we would like to continue. If it met a need, perhaps taking a look at this type of programming, would be beneficial to the school. On the off chance that some parent of a typical child felt excluded and made a stink about it was not a good enough reason to stop this type of programming.
I also explained how many of the students and their families did not come to the events offered at the school for lots of reasons - uncomfortable with the unknown, unsure of their child's role, and any other emotions associated with taking your child out who has special needs. I know tonight when PTA discussed Math & Science Night and Odyssey of the Mind where Ben would surely be welcomed, but would have a hard time participating, I wondered how these were considered inclusive.
Two years ago, Ben performed in a chorale concert. We were told to come, dress him in beach attire, bring props and that was it. We did not know what to expect. Ben was one of three children, of a class of nine who performed. Where were the other families and their students? If I was scared for Ben being up there, I am sure other families felt the same way. Would it feel like our child was on display? After this experience, I suggested to the music teacher to write a separate letter to the families with special needs children, letting them know what to expect. I also thought that perhaps a smaller venue could be used, plan the event earlier in the day or the special education classes could be paired with a regular education class.
Our children are different and sometimes that means that different programs, services and policies are needed. By lumping them in with everyone and calling it inclusion, valuable experiences are lost.
Having this event at Monkey Joe's was a way to offer a safe place for families to gather with their special child, hoping that some connections could be made. I am still looking for friends for Ben and meeting the parents and families helps to build those relationships.
I think I was understood after my discussion with her. I also think this person comes from a caring place. She has a big job and has to think of lawsuits and politics. In the end, she protects and respects all of her students.
Let's just hope someone shows up to this event.