I’ve taken this whole thing with pulling Finn from school much harder than I anticipated I would. I spent the better part of last week in a funk, feeling very much like I was grieving. This isn’t how it was supposed to turn out, and I am bitterly disappointed. More than any of my other kids, I really wanted school to work for Finn because I believed that the seeds of inclusion for life in the larger community would be planted at school. While my feelings about conventional school have changed greatly over the last few years, the fact remains that most kids spend their formative years in school, and the people Finn will be adults with are people who are children in school now.
One of the things that bothers me the most is that now that Finn is no longer in school, I think in many people’s minds he will just go down in the annals of “See? Inclusion Doesn’t Work. Kids With Special Needs Don’t Belong in Regular School With Regular Kids.” Even the handful of moms whose kids went to school with Finn whom I’ve reached out to, just to let them know that Finn won’t be at school anymore – I know I’m assuming a lot here, but I have little doubt that they probably are of the mind “Well, it’s unfortunate, but not surprising.” In other words, I think most people still don’t expect “special” kids to be in regular classrooms.
I wanted to blaze trails – or if not that, then at least make things easier for the next kid with an intellectual disability who comes along to this school in this district and who demands his or her rightful place in the general population. But now, Finn’s case will just be more useful for the district and the school to resist inclusion. They can continue to pat themselves on the back for having that really great program for the autistic kids – you know, “Project Success,” where they stick the kids with autism in a portable classroom out on the back forty – as far away from the hub of the school as you can get (true story, this).
Here’s what I want people to know: Finn’s inclusion didn’t work because the system failed him. Because the adults who run this racket failed him. The school district failed him, the school failed him, and yes, his teacher failed him. And I will go so far as to say with conviction that in the vast majority of cases of inclusion not working, it is the failure of the system, not the child.
I am resentful that from the start, when Finn transitioned to the school district at age 3, the school district did everything possible to throw up roadblocks and make it as miserable an experience as possible. I am angry over the thousands of dollars we spent on legal fees to get Finn’s basic legal rights honored by the school district, over the countless hours of meetings, of the volumes of letters and emails that went back and forth between us and the school district, of the fucking games the school district played including outright lying to us. I am sick over the fact that in two and a half school years in public school, less than half of that was a positive experience. TK sucked, mainly because the teacher didn’t know what to do with him and largely saw him as a problem. Kindergarten was a dream, because the teacher believed in Finn, believed in his value as a human being, and was committed to everything inclusion means. And first grade sucked, because again, Finn got a teacher who didn’t know what to do with him and largely saw him as a problem.
In one of the last communications I got from Finn’s teacher, she complained to me that “He has been playing with his long sleeve shirts a lot by pulling his arms out of his sleeves and lifting his shirt up.” This, of course, was not the only problematic behavior he exhibited at school, but seriously, why was this even worth mentioning? How many other first-grade boys are engaging in obnoxious or annoying behaviors like that? And do their parents get to hear about it? Was it hurting anyone? Perhaps it was a distraction to the other kids. I ask again: how many other first-graders are engaging in obnoxious or annoying or distracting behavior? But for Finn, everything was scrutinized and deemed a problem. This was a clear illustration of the teacher expecting Finn to accommodate everyone else rather than being afforded simple accommodations like overlooking odd behaviors that weren’t hurting anyone.
Please, spare me the sad song about how hard teachers have it. You know what’s hard? Being a kid with a disability in an ableist world. Being a kid with a disability in an ableist school, in a school that would rather see you safely stowed away in a segregated classroom where you won’t bother anyone. Being a kid with a disability in a classroom with a teacher who sees you as a problem to contend with. That’s what’s fucking hard.
We could have stuck it out. We could have kept fighting the good fight instead of giving up. But the thing was that all I saw ahead of us were years and years of this shit. Years and years of meetings and reports and paperwork and fighting with school districts and schools and teachers. And maybe having a good year sprinkled here and there, but mostly the constant struggle of trying to get his needs met, trying to make people get it. And meanwhile, his childhood is going by, and it’s time that will never be gotten back.
And I just couldn’t do it anymore.
And, yeah, I’m bitter.
But we pick ourselves up, and move forward. We adjust to a new plan.
For the time being, I’m keeping homeschooling very low-key with Finn. In truth, he still doesn’t understand that he’s not going back to school. He still asks about it. It was part of his routine, what he was used to. And with the upheaval of him getting so sick and being in the hospital the first week he was out of school, we’ve barely dipped our toes into anything schoolish. He has no IEP now, nor any ISP (Individual Service Plan, whereby homeschooled children with disabilities can still receive certain services, like speech therapy, etc., through the school district), which means we have no set educational goals, and he won’t receive any therapies. I am completely okay with that; this was our choice. I’ve never been big on therapies anyway, and I’m washing my hands of this school district (Joey will soon finish eighth grade and that will be that). I filed a PSA (Private School Affidavit) with the state this school year, so I’m homeschooling the kids completely independently and autonomously – exactly how I want it, thank you very much. We’ll figure it out. I want to focus on the basics with Finn for now – reading, printing, counting – and we’ll take it from there. Mostly, I want to build up his confidence and self-esteem, and undo the damage that school did to him this year.
Letter sent disenrolling Finn from school: