Wednesday, May 20, 2009
When the Teacher is the Bully
Now, I'm really mad.
The federal General Accounting Office (GAO), released a report yesterday on the widespread abuse of tactics used to discipline or restrain special needs students. One of the cases they will discuss will be that of a boy named Cedric Napolean from Texas who was killed in school while teachers were restraining him. Despite his pleas that he couldn't breathe, teachers ignored his protests. Soon Cedric was dead. A dozen of his classmates watched what happened.
Are our special needs children inmates or students? With discipline tactics like that, I don't know what to say except that what is happening in these schools is a great American shame. I am in tears.
I am mad at so many people. I am mad at the teachers for using these tactics on our kids but I'm even more mad at the school system for placing these students in such an inappropriate environment that the child's safety was at risk. Obviously, these teachers couldn't handle these children. I would hope that if it was me, I'd rather quit my job then go to work where I was so over-the-edge that I could actually inflict harm on a child. Really, one must question the difference between this type of teacher and a teacher who molests his student. Both are abusive and damage the child's ability to trust others as well as trust themselves.
This is why we must all advocate for the most appropriate educational setting for our children and then make sure that these people are educating and treating our child appropriately. Having to be restrained (until death) as a means of disciplining a child or being locked in a time-out space for hours means that the school and their staff are not equipped to teach nor care for such a child.
I remember I used to get calls almost everyday from Logan's first nursery school and then his second nursery school started doing the same thing. Finally, after a few months, the school reduced the number of hours he could stay in class. Soon after this decision was made, he bit a child really hard and then I took him out and never brought him back. It was clear to me that this school stressed him out. It was also around this time I sought an evaluation and found out he was very challenged and delayed.
Soon after that, when we sent him to a special ed school in a small self-contained class, everything changed. He was happy to go to school and it took a while but I was no longer afraid of my phone ringing. At a meeting where I was just going to ask the special ed school system for an increase in occupational therapy sessions, I had a new administrator and she said that he should be in an integrated class where half of the kids were typical. I was surprised but elated. My baby was getting better, I thought.
At first, when he went to the new school he started to improve but a few months later, his teacher told me that his behavior had regressed. He even chewed on playground mat rubber and dried up leaves at playground time. I could tell that things weren't going right but I had no idea that there would be better schools for him. Wouldn't someone from the school tell me if there were? Aren't they the experts? I thought that since he was in a good school, that they could help him to the extent that he could possibly be helped. WRONG! I was so clueless.
Within, special education, there are subspecialties too, as I finally learned. That school botched things up and never told me that they were thinking of asking him to leave. They finally told me that Logan had to go when it was the middle of the summer when all other special education placements in schools were filled. If they had told me earlier, I would have had a chance to visit other schools and possibly reserve a seat. But thanks to them, this was impossible. I always thought special ed schools would be understanding of special needs children and their families but I was wrong. They make mistakes too.
Even they told me very late, I am grateful that they finally came to the conclusion that they couldn't help him. Luckily, despite the poor timing, I found a seat for him in a good school that was suddenly was vacated by a child who moved. He has flourished in this school. His gifts are able to come out and he has really qualified people to help him work on the skills he lacks. This is what happens when children are placed in the right setting.
Sadly however, this new school was Logan's FIFTH preschool and he was only four years old at the time he started. The last three schools were special education placements. This means that he was "in the system" for only 1.3 years and already had been to three special ed pre-schools with none of the changes being initiated by me, the parent. This begs the question. Does anyone know what the hell they are doing? With Logan, I think the answer was NO.
The fact remains; a child is dead. It's time to wake up and start the shouting. I just went on Google News and the GAO report only caught the eye of just 17 media outlets. And only one of the top five newspaper outlets covered this story. Thank you USA Today and The Washington Post. The story of the swine flu causing two deaths, (tragic as it is) and hundreds of children sick in New York City created over 2,500 media placements, and perhaps did so daily. These don't include the worldwide swine flu stories which today made more than 4,700 placements. Believe me, it's not easy to talk about these things especially when schools are closing left and right in my city. But after hearing of this report, all I can ask myself is how many more of our children have to die before we get more than 17 journalists who care? Or more productively, how can we convince people that the problems of our children impact everyone's lives, special needs or not? Here's a quick and easy example: if ADHDers are prone to car accidents, wouldn't you want to somehow cure or prevent ADHD? After all, car accidents caused by ADHD drivers have the potential to kill people who don't have ADHD.
While I don't believe my child is at risk for death at school, we have to make sure that they aren't even taunted or treated unfairly by the teacher as described in the articles linked to this post. I am sure this could happen with some our Asperger's and ADHD kids who are in general education classrooms where they may not necessarily be restrained but they could be treated unfairly by the teacher who doesn't understand special needs children. Can you imagine if the one person that your child is supposed to trust in school is mean to him and even taunts him? Hmmmm, I wonder who the school bullies would pick as the ideal victim?
Photo: Logan on a school bus at a school trip with preschool #2. Because of his behavior, he was not allowed to go unless I came with him. At this school, there were many days when he was forced to work isolated from the other students. Most of the teachers were caring and tried their best with him but the school's high turnover brought in a teacher that was not so understanding. I could see the disdain in her face when she looked at Logan. The same week she began teaching there, he started biting other children when he had never done that before. Coincidence? I think not. Photo 2: Logan playing with a friend during a dance/music activity at his last preschool about 6-7 months before he was asked to leave.
P.S. If you are curious about your state's procedures, visit page 6 on the full report.