For those of you who don’t know the public school terminology, let me give you a very brief tutorial. When a child is identified as having special needs, they qualify for an Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) meeting. During this meeting, all of the professionals who have evaluated your child are present along with the principal of the school, the special education teacher, a general education teacher, a compliance specialist, the parents of the child and any other district members who might want to participate in the meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to generate the child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This document is legally binding along with the minutes of the meeting. The overall goal is to develop an IEP that provides the child with a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
Are you bored yet? Well, I can assure you that I was bored and ready to poke my eyes out by the end of Gray’s 2-day twelve-hour ARD meeting last November. The layers of bureaucracy in a public school system are truly astounding and the rote processes that must be followed are mind-numbing. (ex: At the beginning of our ARD to discuss Hope, we had to open the discussion verifying that she was, in fact, a dog and not some other animal.) I felt like it was worth it, though, because Gray’s needs are quite extensive when it comes to the “A” in FAPE. At the end, the ARD committee agreed that Gray would need a one-on-one aide at all times to ensure his safety and to make sure that he is doing productive work during his school day. Of course, in true bureaucratic fashion, we couldn’t just start looking to hire an aide a month or two before his arrival, we had to wait until he was actually enrolled to even open the position to applicants. You see the irony here, right? This is a kid who cannot attend school without and aide, yet one cannot be hired until he begins school.
To remedy this situation, the district agreed to provide Gray with a “crisis aide” for his first 3 weeks of school to assess his need for a permanent aide and then begin the process of hiring someone permanently. This is why I decided to enroll Gray in school with only 2.5 weeks left in the school year. I wanted us to have the summer to run the traps of getting a permanent aide hired. Additionally, in our last ARD meeting discussing Hope, I agreed to come to school with Gray for the first two days to provide training for the teacher and aides regarding handling Hope. So, when I arrived at school last Tuesday for Gray’s first day, I was only a little surprised that the crisis aide was not in the classroom yet.
I spent Tuesday working with Gray’s teacher and classroom aide to show them how Hope would fit into the classroom routines. During my breaks, I left messages for the district’s compliance supervisor and spoke with the school principal. By 10:00am Wednesday, when there was still no aide on the horizon (except me), I started getting upset. After finally speaking with the compliance supervisor and then the principal, it became clear that they were both pointing fingers at each other to assign responsibility for finding the temporary aide. They were sending emails and calling human resources, but no one was actually pulling the trigger on naming a person and telling them to show up to the room. On Thursday morning, when Gray and I arrived, there was still no aide. The teacher told me that she had received a list of substitute aides the night before, but had not checked her emails until very late and had no time to call. She looked exasperated. I went down to the office and spoke with the principal. By this point, I could tell he was growing weary with me. Before I could even ask, he told me that he had not yet located an aide, the teacher could not call substitutes and his secretary was out leaving him with no one to make calls.
“Do you need me to make the calls?” I asked, half-serious.
“Sure. Let me print the list.” He replied and disappeared into his office.
A few minutes later, he returned with four pages of single-spaced names and phone numbers. I looked at the list incredulously. He told me that he didn’t know how current the list was, but that was all we had to work with. I left the building and went to sit in the parking lot to make some calls. Boy, was he right. Almost every number I dialed was either disconnected, a wrong number, or a person who said that they no longer worked as a substitute. After about 20 minutes, I decided to call the DISD attorney who had come to our ARD meeting. I explained the situation to her and she seemed equally baffled by the situation. She assured me that she would make some calls and get things resolved.
I returned to my post as the classroom aide and waited. I am certain that, before Gray enrolled, the teacher and her assistant were running that classroom with great efficiency. But, with Gray and Hope added to the mix, the days were mostly about keeping everyone safe and avoiding problems. There just weren’t enough adults to make the day go smoothly. Around 1pm, the principal showed up and asked to speak with me. He took the list of substitutes from me and told me that his boss was not too happy that I had been in possession of the list. He also informed me that he had located a substitute who would be in the classroom the next morning. It’s funny how things happen when lawyers get involved. It’s a sad statement on our society that people will only act under the threat of legal consequences.
Honestly, I do not know who dropped the ball in this situation or if they thought I might just go away (I can’t imagine that). I only know that, Friday morning, there was an aide in the classroom for Gray. When I picked him up at the end of the day, the teacher was beaming. She said that things had gone very smoothly with the new aide in the room. Gray had spent almost the whole day working on educational goals along with the rest of the class. For the first time, I think both the teacher and I felt like this is really going to work.
G-d bless teachers and their assistants. After spending 3 days among them, I have nothing but respect for the job they do. I was wrecked and desperate for adult conversation at the end of each day. I don’t know where they get the stamina for the job, but my teacher Christmas gifts are about to get a lot better.