Monday, October 01, 2007

Educating Joseph

I’ve decided to write the story of my nephew’s adventures in Portland Public Schools Special Education. As I told another writer this morning, the general public seems to be under the impression that because a child or adult with a disability is receiving supports in the community, they MUST be doing ok. I believe it’s the JOB of those of us who know the real skinny to educate folks on the reality of life in a dysfunctional system. This is a long story that I’m going to break up into smaller segments. Sort of like a sitcom, which is what this experience was like any way. This first part will be called:

Jefferson High

My sister died at the age of 44, leaving behind a 16 year old Autistic son. Prior to her death there was much family discussion as to what would be best for him once she was gone. It was decided that he’d move to Oregon from California to live with my wife and I. After all, I’d been working with folks having disabilities for the previous 13 years, and had a good idea how to best assist him in making the transition from boyhood to manhood. That’s the promise I made my sis as she lay on her death bed.

This happened back in December of 1999. He flew into Sea-Tac Airport with a friend of his mom’s on December 23rd. I remember the first look we had of him. He was sitting on the floor with a blue blanket, rocking and looking totally freaked out. I turned to Suzanne and whispered; “we have our work cut out for us.”

I’d already done most of the up front work of getting him enrolled in school before he arrived. I’d met with school officials to discuss his individualized needs, and they decided it would be best to place him in a Life Skills Special Education classroom. I figured that they were the experts and went along with their recommendation. He started at Jefferson High right after the Winter break.

It took a bit of time to get all his paperwork from the Cali. School, but by March we received his Individualized Education Plan. As we looked it over, we were amazed at the difference between what he’d been doing at Alameda High and what he was doing at Jeff. He’d been doing pre Algebra (he has a real knack with numbers), was being taught to read, was manning a nacho cart with assistance, and was doing some courier work around the school on his own. Here he was counting plastic pennies, identifying signs (like “Stop” and “Men’s Room”), was participating in what seemed like weekly cupcake parties, and had 30 minutes of Speech and Language therapy weekly. This was what was decided as "appropriate" for a student whose bigest barrier was communication We shared this document with his teacher, but she didn’t seem overly concerned.

We decided that if we were going to get this kid educated we’d need to be more proactive and insistent. We began meeting with the Special Ed. Folks on a fairly regular basis. We set him up with a communication log that went back and forth between home and school each day. They’d write in it what he did that day, and we’d provide input, ask questions, or comment on his progress (or lack thereof). We figured a paper trail might come in handy some day. It wasn’t going well.

By the end of the school year we were on the cusp of disgust. He continued being entertained but not educated, and our frustration with the school was no secret. Following assurances that the next school year would be better, he started back in September following Summer school. Of course, very little was different, and our pleas to have them work off his old IEP fell on deaf ears. By November we’d had it. We met with Administrators and had him transferred over to Grant High.

To Be Continued...

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