Wednesday, February 23, 2005

I.E.P. (Individual Escape Plan)

I have yet to encounter a special education student attending their annual Individual Education Plan meeting that wanted to be in attendance. Most understand what words their parent(s) and teacher are expecting to hear. "I want to learn so I can graduate and get a good job or maybe go to college." It is said in many ways, but these are the words that are heard by the adults.

About the only time this mind-set is interrupted is when a special education student falls through the cracks and is treated as a "regular" student. Such was the case this morning.

"Do you know this student," the assistant principal said, handing me a computer printout of a class schedule.
I glanced at the name before saying, "I've seen him around. What's his problem?"
"His problem is now your problem. He's a special ed student from South Carolina, but his mother didn't mention it when she enrolled him two months ago."
"Well, I'll set him up for an evaluation."
"You might want to write a behavior plan also. He groped two girls on the school bus this morning."
"I'll see what I can do."
"He got three days out-of-school, then he got into an argument with his math teacher and called her a bitch. That got him five more days."

I quickly mentally assessed the severity of the punishment for each offense. One side of the scales contained the physical attack on two younger girls, (three days out-of-school). The other side of the scales was calling the teacher a bitch, (five additional days out-of-school). Before I could pass judgment, silently, the assistant principal continued, "When he comes back I want him in your class all day. Work with him. Connect with him." I understood the translation; If he is with you all day, then he won't be in my office. "Also, he is failing all of his classes. He's got to pass them or he will be counted against the school when the count is taken for No Child Left Behind."

I watched him walk away, leaving me to solve the problem of a sexual attacking, class failing, unknown special education student that has been suspended for the next eight school days. It was just the first period of the day and already the school target scores for No Child Left Behind were in jeopardy. Now was the time for Super Special Education Teacher to save the day. I continued on down the sidewalk to the main building where another assistant principal had one of my students waiting to be saved. He had been caught having sex in the boys restroom. The girl had denied they were having sex. "I was giving him oral sex. It wasn't like we were really having sex," she said. Thank you again President Clinton.

I called the mothers of each student to arrange a date and time for an I.E.P. meeting. Each mother told me how their child was being persecuted by the school and events beyond the student's control. "All he wants is to learn so he can graduate and get a job or maybe go to college," each one said.

"Yes ma'am, I'm sure the I.E.P., we develop as a team, will help."

Sunday, February 20, 2005

I Almost Missed The Point

This past Monday was Valentine's Day, 2005. Sitting in the double-wide mobile home that the school board lists as a portable classroom, my day was starting like many of the others. Before the students shuffled in with their sagging pants, baseball caps tilted to the side on their heads, and their arms not protruding through the sleeves of their coats, but hidden inside the garment, I assume caressing themselves, I was trudging through more paperwork. The paperwork had nothing to do with student learning. My sense is that it had everything to do with justifying someone's position in the central office and acquiring more funding from the government.

Halfway into completing another three-page census form accounting for the number of hours dedicated to completing forms in my job, the metal door, with the Plexiglas window slowly opened. I watched her enter. A young girl of Jordanian decent, short, heavy, and depressed. She had been in many troublesome situations during her four-year high school stay. She was now in her senior year, looking forward to "graduating" with a special education diploma, and trying hard to resist stealing anything else. She had been busted for stealing, twice-a-year, for the past three years. Her favorite target were small, personal, round CD players. I oftentimes joked to myself that she single-handedly kept Sony in the manufacturing business of these players. Another of her hobbies were repeated visits to the local hospital emergency room. I always wanted her to have something medically wrong. Not anything serious. Just enough to have her validated as a legitimate patient.

"Good morning," she said, dropping her unusually heavy book bag on the audio visual cart.
"Morning sweetie. How are you today?" She told me her recent medical history, how she felt last night, how little she slept, and why today might not be a good day.
"What did you do last evening?"
"My sister and mom and me went to the mall. I got a new CD player. Mom, wanted me to get pants, but I didn't.
"What kind of pants."
"Well, I hope you have a great day."
"I got a test today in drivers ed."
"You'll ace it sweetie." I had heard her digging through the book bag. While I continued trying to complete the three-page form something was shoved toward my right hand.
"Happy Valentine's Day."
I looked at the small, white, cup. It was decorated with yellow and red hearts. Inside was a square of cellophane wrapped around individual hard candies.
"For me, Sweetie?"
"Yeah. I got to go and see if my boyfriend came to school today."
Before I could thank her, she was gone. I listened to her plodding down the wooden ramp to the busy sidewalk. The loud chatter of the other two-thousand students quickly drowned out the sound of her foot-steps. The cup sat quietly reminding me of Valentine's Day and that I almost missed the point.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Zero Tolerance, No Tolerance

What happened to the days of old when a student criminal violating the law would be expelled from school and answered to the courts? I know what happen, the Zero Tolerance policy. Just another step in the transition of the school raising children in place of parental responsibility. If a child does well the parent is praised. The same child struts around a two-thousand student campus displaying a handgun and the scream of "What is the school doing to halt this behavior" rings across the land. Things such as bringing a knife or gun into a school is suppose to result in a one year placement in an alternative school. Of course, rules and policies are open to interpretation. That is, interpretation by assistant principals, principals, elected school boards, school superintendents, the third estate, and of course the student and the parent(s).

"Yeah, I want to schedule an intake meeting for a returning student," the alternative school counselor said.
"Whose coming back?"
"He's only been away from this high school for three months."
"We sent a letter to the superintendent asking him to waive the other nine months. We're just waiting for him to sign."
"So the boy has experienced a behavior reversal and is ready to return to regular school?"
"He's done very well."
"Does he get his gun back?"
"I got to go. Let me know the day and time that's good for you."

So, Michael was ready to return after three months. I assumed that bringing a loaded 9mm to school just to be cool is still cool. Of course, being placed in a very quiet, small, high school in classes with perhaps ten students cured him of the dangerous behavior. More likely he was not controllable by the principal, like many others, and was pronounced "healed".

The Zero Tolerance policy does nothing more then disguise the state of public education in America. The person, parent or administrator, that screams the loudest gets their way. Teachers don't teach, they police or mingle. The mingle portion is the most frightening. Many pretend to be friends with all students in the hope that a brawl does not breakout in the overcrowded classroom and perhaps someone produces a knife or gun, kills one or more of the students or the teacher will be slain attempting to quiet the fight.

Give me your tired, your poor, the armed masses waiting to end your life. However, we can not leave no child behind. They may be armed and attack you from the back.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Like A Bad Penny, They Keep Showing Up

The note read, "Can you come to my office pronto." It wasn't a question, but an order. So, easily within two hours of receiving the note, I entered the guidance office. I could be the poster child for passive-aggressive. The primary guidance offered in the small reception room, encircled by four offices, was how long until lunch and how much longer before retirement. I could answer both questions for them with ease; Forty-one minutes until lunch, and you retired about 5-years-ago.

"Why do they keep coming back," the counselor asked?
"Whose coming back?"
She handed me the re-enrollment form and I read the name. "It could be worse. I remember him as not having perfect behavior, but he seemed like a good kid," I said.
"Do you know how many I registered today?" I didn't know and could care less.
She continued, "Ten students returned here today. You'd think it's August not halfway through Febuary."

My mind had already moved on to my next task in a building far removed from here. What difference did it matter how many kids registered today? If ten returned then ten would leave. Cosmic balance always seemed to prevail and protect students from burned out counselors, teachers, and principals. The only ones it couldn't protect them from were themselves.

All the counselor wanted in the end was for someone to say the classes she typed in to the returning students schedule was okay. I did not care if I validated her efforts, but I did want to move on, "Looks okay to me." I turned, in the small, windowless office, reaching for the edge of the door.

"How was your weekend?"
"Uneventful," I said.
"Mine also. I didn't want to come in today."
I wondered what made her believe she was here. "It's okay. Could be worse by not having a job."
"Oh, wouldn't it be great to lounge around all day."
"Not much different than what you do now."

Before I could make it to the outside door I heard the receptionist tell the counselor, "You have a new student waiting."
"They are like bad pennies. They keep showing up."
I cringed for the student and his single, tired parent waiting for guidance.

And it goes on and on and on..............................

Monday, February 14, 2005

Tomorrow Is Monday, A New Battle Day

I can remember the time I looked forward to going to school. I was 10-years-old and the teacher's union still cared about students and teachers. Now the emphasis has shifted to money and politics. The more money an organization has, more power it believes it controls. More power only comes from playing the political games. Welcome to the arena of public education. The majority of special education funding comes from the federal government. The same as regular education funds. Of course, the federal government and the Department of Education educates no child. The bureaucrats probably believe they educate, but all they do is distribute funds and try to control state governments, school boards, and finally the students.

"Hey dude, is that funny little activity guy comin' today?"
"You know, the guy that plays games with us."
"Oh, no, he won't be coming anymore."
"Why not?"
"The department had to cut spending and his program was the first."
"That sucks, man."
"I know."

I've thought about that exchange over the past two weeks. Each time it is brought to mind when the fifth, different "liaison" comes through my door with their pasted on smiles. Not yet has one came in to discuss the welfare or education of a student. Always the dilemma revolves around some new paperwork that the central office can't function without.

The question that I silently pose to myself is, "How many liaisons do you hire before the department topples from the top down?" Monday morning I'll pass out Ramen Noodles to the SPED students. None of them have a two parent home and none have a parent that prepares them a breakfast. Most of the parents or guardians are gone to meager jobs before the kids get up. The rest don't even hear the kids leave. It's amazing so many kids continue to attend school on a regular basis. I've thought it is due to the notion they have no other stable force in their lives then their teacher. Besides, it is hard enough to learn on a full stomach and almost impossible to learn on an empty belly. School lunch programs continue to lose funds while the school makes money from fast food restaurants that have taken over every vacant room surrounding the cafeteria. Generally, the poorest students are special education students. The very ones that can't afford fast food on a daily basis. It's not the only reason the majority of them will not be going to college, but it is a pebble on their rocky life path.

Yes, tomorrow is Monday, a new battle day, but the same old war.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

And So It Goes.....

What goes around, comes around, and around and around and ...............................................................

"I want to fix cars, man. I ain't goin' to no damn college. School sucks!"

How many times has a special education teacher heard these words from a student? As often as they have heard from the school powers and government, "No child will be left behind! They must pass all our standard tests and go on to college." My sense is that the remedial teachers in college are cheering this mind set. After all they are employed to tend to those that are not ready for college.

Let us erase from the public school landscape all resource classes. It doesn't matter if that senior can't read, we'll assign him to an inclusion class where he can again become another faceless body floating on the sea of failure. College awaits him. Maybe he can play football? Wait a second, he can't spell football. In high school it doesn't matter. How many public schools have no special education students on the team? Maybe we can win a state championship before he turns 18-years-old and drops out? Won't dropouts count against our school when the government figures as well as the standard tests scores are released? He can't get a GED while in high school. GED graduates don't count toward our graduation numbers. Okay, we'll drop the GED program as an alternative in public schools. Yes, but we'll be state champions in football!

That's okay, we'll keep non-football playing special education students in high school until they are 22-years-old. That will keep the overall dropout rate statistics artificially low, for a few years. By then, maybe "No Child Left Behind" will morph into another government brainstorm.

And so it goes...................around and around and around and .....................