Summer school and still planning for first grade

Well, as I mentioned in my last post, Patrick has started the extended school year program. Extended school year is a funny thing in our neck of the woods. I don’t know if it works like this everywhere, but Utah has such large families and our school district is one of the most established and biggest in the state so they are very efficient in what they do.. that, well, here you don’t get extended school year in your IEP unless you have a really darn good reason for it. I’ve tried in years past and was told that it really is reserved for children whose disabilities are so severe that they wouldn’t make much progress elsewhere.

I didn’t even imagine what that meant until this last week when I dropped Patrick off in his class. Patrick was placed in the amazing medical school in our district for the summer because he is still so newly post-transplant. Unlike the school that he’s been attending which serves children with medical needs but also the local community, Hartvigsen is a dedicated medical school for the district’s most severely disabled students. What an undertaking!

There are at least a dozen buses that bring students to this school. Their teachers and aides meet them and bring them to class. There may be fewer than a dozen crazy parents like me dropping their children off at school. (I prefer to do this anyway, but really had no choice if transplant medications were going to be given exactly as ordered and on time.) I was instructed to walk Patrick into his classroom. His teacher was excitedly waiting.

It’s possible he was the only student added to that class for the summer. He was also the only student who was verbal and not in a wheelchair.

I took a deep breath, a leap of faith, and kissed him goodbye.

Meanwhile, I headed over to the office for a meeting I’d scheduled with the district representative to talk about my concerns for his placement in 1st grade. The buses were late, so my meeting was late. And I got to sit and watch the students and teachers some into the school. And I saw Patrick come meet the office staff. He was very happy.

Now, about the meeting.. I know in my heart that he’s too behind right now to be comfortable just starting in a 1st grade class. But I also have just felt unsettled about the class they proposed putting him into.

So – we talked about it. She was amazing to listen to my concerns and express solutions. I told her that I am incredibly worried about him not being challenged if he’s only taught the goals that we come up with for an IEP. That he often surprises us by mastering things beyond the skills we think he’s stuck on. Sure, he’s struggling writing his name, for example, but I discovered that he can write about 60% of the rest of the alphabet with reasonable approximation.

I’m also very worried about him socially. I know that he behaves best, learns best, participates best and is happiest when he has friends. And so I’m worried that placing him in a class where he doesn’t have typical peers to socialize with.

And as I expressed these concerns, the woman I was meeting with mentioned that she wondered if he’d do better in a different self-contained classroom. They’d suggested that he be placed in a lower functioning classroom because of low IQ test scores. However, she said, there was another class where the students were closer to normal functioning, the class followed more of a typical class schedule, etc. She tried to describe the difference to me, and then offered to take me to tour the schools and classrooms (albeit without teachers or students) in a couple of days.

Tuesday, I had a much delayed appointment with the oral surgeon who helps keep me from grinding my teeth to bits and causing crippling migraines. So Wednesday was the next day I could. Meanwhile, Tuesday I happened into a couple of conversations that proved good reconnaissance on this issue.

For one thing, Patrick’s home hospital teacher, who he has clicked so well with and learned so well from, called to check in. When I mentioned the choice of classrooms, she didn’t falter. She said that hands down, the first placement we had been offered was too low-functioning for Patrick’s abilities. She offered to call around to some of her contacts in the district and then get back to me. And she did.. giving me some names and some specific behavioral strategies that she thought I should have put into Patrick’s IEP to help him. She hinted that she thought he should get into a typical classroom as quickly as possible, too, which made me falter a bit in my thinking.

Then, that evening, I had the chance to talk to a friend of mine whose son with autism is just finishing his 6th grade year in the higher of the two programs we had talked about. She only had good things to say about his experience at the school and we had a really good conversation about transitions and self-contained classrooms. It helped a ton.

I went into Wednesday morning pretty confident about what I wanted. We toured the lower classrooms first. The school was beautiful. I loved the layout of the classrooms. It’s only 5 minutes from home. And as we stood there, I told her that I was hearing from the teacher who has had the best results with Patrick that she didn’t think he belonged there.

Then we drove out to the other school. The one that sounded like the best fit. It was a long drive and kind of hidden in the middle of a windy-road subdivision. I didn’t love the classroom. At the second school, the self-contained classrooms are in portable classrooms, a.k.a. relocatables. The room seemed run down and bare. I could imagine Patrick cowering at the sound of rain on the roof. The classroom had steep aluminum steps and the nearest bathroom is inside the school building and I could just imagine Patrick having to go up and down them in the snow to go to the bathroom every couple of hours. The custodian was very helpful, answering questions about where the kids line up, where the buses arrive, and even the morning routine. He pointed out that they have a breakfast program where all the kids eat a district-provided lunch at their desks. Most parents would be thrilled. With food allergies and oral aversion and new transplant, I’ve been worried sick about lunch. Two meals at school, and one in the classroom, really bothered me.

I’d mention concerns, and my guide would do her best to offer accommodations they could offer to make things work. And I found myself saying, well, we’ll have to do this or that and make it work.

Still as we were leaving, my district representative asked me if I wanted to just start planning for Patrick to attend the more advanced classroom in the second school.. and I told her I needed to talk to my husband and Patrick’s therapist and get back to her.

I think I know that Patrick needs a higher functioning classroom.  But I so wish that I could have him closer to home in a beautiful classroom in a school that used to be the medical hub so they are wonderful at medical inclusion. And I don’t know for sure what to do about these worries. Or if I can really do anything in the middle of summer.

They tell me we can move him if we pick one school and it doesn’t work. I hate the idea of him being continually bounced around.

Meanwhile, after a week in his extended school year classroom at Hartvigsen, the principal called my helpful district representative and asked me if I’d consider moving him into a higher functioning classroom. And when I picked Patrick up Wednesday, they brought me all of his school medical supplies again. He’ll be moving to a new classroom at the school immediately next door to Hartvigsen called Plymouth Elementary. They have one class there. It has 7 students of all grades. But I’ve seen them. (They were waiting for a late bus while I was waiting for my meeting Monday) and he will fit in better there. And learn better there. He keeps asking me if his new friends will have wheelchairs. And he’ll still get to swim on Wednesdays.

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