As you know, the school wants us to change Masha’s placement for first grade. They want us to agree to remove her from General Education and place her in a self-contained classroom in a different school in our district. They promise to let her spend half her day in a Gen Ed classroom over there, but so far they have been unable to put on paper what that might look like.
Today I visited the proposed classroom again. I have already seen it several times because this is her third year of school we are talking about, and every year that room comes up as an option.
There is a little boy with Down syndrome in our local community who is the same age as Masha. We first met him long before we ever had Masha. His older sister went to the same private school where our oldest son did his Kindergarten year. It was the Mc Donalds night fundraiser and Kimani had just come home from the hospital. We sat in the restaurant eating our happy burgers listening to the din of a full house and I spotted the little guy in a highchair at the next table over. He was so stinking cute. I, of course, went over and introduced myself and said that I too have a baby with Down syndrome. They were unimpressed, and I felt awkward.
Years have passed and since they do not participate in any of the local groups that I do, we hardly see each other. So, his mom and I have not developed anything like a friendship. The last time I saw her, it was at a meeting with the district’s head of special education and the chairperson, just us four, coming together to talk about creating a co-teach classroom. Her son is in the same grade as Masha. He went to an inclusion preschool and his parents paid for him to continue for one year in a private inclusion Kindergarten. At the time of our meeting last winter he was (and is) in the self-contained classroom called EDI where they want Masha to now go. The co-teach classroom idea never came to fruition (shocker) and kids like Masha and (let’s call him) Danny have no where else to go except EDI, or an even more contained classroom, or O.M.G. N.F.W. Gen Ed with supports.
Back to today’s story. It is hard to argue against what you aren’t sure about, so back to EDI we went to see it again. Because maybe this time, we would see how AWESOME it is, and how it makes SENSE for Masha to be there. And I admit, I was really open to visiting because in the back of my mind, I was wondering, “Why not put Kimani there?”
My mom, Autumn, and I were meeting my husband there. He was late because with all this back and forth about who is going where, he went to the other school where they are trying to convince us to send Kimani. Autumn pretty much takes over a room when she comes in it, so for a couple seconds most of the adults were distracted by her. The kids were all on the floor or in chairs in a big circle while the music teacher played a small guitar and sang about the poor little peanut on the railroad tracks.
Not a minute later the classroom teacher went flying into the circle and pulled Danny out by his arm telling him in a loud and fairly harsh voice, “THAT is not SAFE behavior.” She plunked him down at a table away from everyone and told him he was going to sit there for two minutes. I have no idea what he did wrong but there had been no screaming and crying or fanfare. And there was no telling him what a more safe behavior might be to replace what he had done. He sat there silent and forgotten about for the next ten (yes, I kept checking the clock) minutes as the music teacher wrapped up the year and gave out gifts from a bag to all the children in the circle. Eventually he put his head on the table and stayed that way until they switched over to math time.
For math he moved to a table with two other boys and a TA. The other boys were given math sheets and a basket of crayons. Autumn pulled up a chair and asked to color too, so they kindly gave her a paper to play with. Danny had two books put in front of him. Five Little Monkeys and a similar book. While we chatted Autumn drew bananas, visited the potty twice, visited another math group and counted her way into 3 mini M&Ms, but Danny sat there, almost despondent, doing nothing. In time the TA asked him which book he wanted her to read. By now I was hearing about how lunch is eaten in the classroom because there are too many kids with low tone who can’t sit on the cafeteria benches, and how only two kids get homework because she bases that on whether or not they are ready for it. I also got to hear about how the kiddos make lots of “sorry” cards, because when the bus aides tell that they have been bad on the bus, the kids have to fix it. “We focus a LOT on fixing things,” she said.
He seemed so different from that silly little guy I saw at the pool last year. He was laughing then, jumping off the bottom stair and under the water. I talked to him that day. He was cheerful, and more “with it” than the child I saw today. Maybe he was just having an off day. Maybe he is coming down with a cold or doesn’t feel good. Or maybe that kind of classroom is changing him.
Everything about the behavior in the room felt wrong to me. Those sweet little zombies, and their behavior-focused
keepers teachers made me so sad. I am really upset about Danny. I want to tell his mom that he doesn’t belong there, that he would be okay in Gen Ed with supports. I want to tell her that if she stayed strong with me, they would HAVE to create a co-teach classroom for our kids. And if someone saw Masha being treated that way, and so under-challenged, I would want to know about it. But… I also don’t want to just go sticking my nose into other people’s business. And I don’t know how hard it was for his parents to accept that room, or how they feel about it.
So for us, the answer is: no way is Masha going there. But as to the question of do I tell Danny’s mother what I saw, I just don’t know what to do.