I am the proud parent of two children. One is a highly intelligent and academically driven young lady who looks like her mother. The other one is what some in the educational field might call “special.”
He looks like his mother as well.
Specifically, that child has Down Syndrome and is also on the autism spectrum and needs modifications in school that help him to learn optimally.
Some may say that I am the parent of a Special-Ed, DS – ASD child.
I rather think of being a parent of a child named Malcolm who happens to have Down Syndrome and autism and an IEP.
And both my kids are special to me.
I also teach high school coming into contact with as many different personalities and learning styles that can possibly be contained in overcrowded classrooms with overarching standards.
In my twenty-year-plus career, nothing has made me more attuned and more aware of the spectrum that exists in all classrooms for learning than being a parent of a child who happens to have special needs and requires modification in school.
- The need to keep engaging and reengaging students.
- The need to have individual tie with students to focus on individual work.
- The need to allow students to engage with each other collaboratively.
- The need to allow students to be exposed to various options for learning.
- The need to expose students to other students’ methods.
- The need for sufficient resources and space.
- The need to revisit parts of the curriculum to ensure mastery.
- The need for unstructured time spent in curious endeavors.
- The need to offer some choices in what is pursued as far as learning is concerned.
- The need for students to be exposed to all subject areas as each student is intelligent is multiple ways.
- The need for students to have self-guided learning.
- And the list goes on and on.
And in my career, not many things have given me insight to how much schools in North Carolina have been hampered by under-funding and ill-gotten policies in allotment for teachers as going through an IEP process.
Remember that an IEP is a legally binding document. As a parent, I want to do everything for my child to help ensure his chances at success. As a teacher, I would want to be able to offer anything that could help a student. I see both sides. In an IEP meeting for my son, I am a parent. But as a teacher, I can reflect on how teachers and schools look at IEP’s.
The last IEP meeting we had for Malcolm was a great example of simple collaboration. The teachers in the room wanted what was best for Malcolm. The specialists in the room wanted was was best for Malcolm. The parents felt like they were listened to.
The people made it work. But imagine if there were more resources and time at their disposal. And does this happen at all schools?
There is something available to parents like me and my wife for students like Malcolm. It’s called the Personal Education Savings Account. It allows for a maximum of $9,000 of taxpayer money to be used on educational services that parents or guardians deem necessary. From edchoice.org (https://www.edchoice.org/school-choice/programs/north-carolina-personal-education-savings-accounts/):
We would qualify. But we will not apply for it, and we would never criticize a family for using one. There truly are needs that require certain measures.
But there are a few reasons why we would not apply.
The first is that like many other endeavors in the reform minded views of lawmakers, the NC ESA is highly unregulated. It is crafted much like Arizona’s program and that one has been highly abused because it is not regulated. Instances of using funds for non-educational purchases were not uncommon.
Also, if you look at the requirements, using the ESA “releases the school district from all obligations to educate the student.” That can be interpreted in a few different ways, but ultimately it absolves the school system from being responsible for the services it would have already provided if the ESA was not used. An IEP would cover it, if that IEP was constructed so.
Furthermore, it would seem like taking money away from other students in a state where per-pupil expenditure still rates in the bottom rungs in the country.
If 10% of the state’s student population is eligible for an ESA, and each of those ESA’s can go up to $9,000 per student, it makes one wonder why the state would not consider simply going ahead and adding that amount of money to the very public school that the student with special needs already attends.
In fact, it would be great if we as a family could apply for the ESA and simply give it to Malcolm’s public school.
But Raleigh made sure that was not the way it worked.