Thursday, October 3, 2013

On the shameful state of my school district...

On the ugly state of my school district...The Shameful Warwick Valley School District in New York.

I have been in a state of shock and utter disbelief since the last week in August when I visited my child's new school. My district is having financial woes, as so many others are, and made the decision to close an elementary school and throw the 10 year old fifth graders into the middle school.
It was not the correct decision, no one was happy about this, but that's the way it is.
They also changed the bus timing so these middle schoolers would now be forced to ride the bus with the high schoolers. The Middle School has no playground. The kids have to "play on the blacktop" for recess. (Another part of that closure was that my 8 year old was not forced to go back to a different elementary school-his THIRD elementary school since kindergarten. Ridiculous, right?)

I went to the open house at the Middle School with an open mind-excited to see his classrooms and get a tour and feel of the new school. My son is a beautiful, happy child, but he was quite nervous and anxious over this enormous change. He is on the Autistic Spectrum and is the sweetest boy with a fascinating view of the world. He also knew in addition to now being in a school with 5th through 8th graders, he would also have all new teachers, therapists and schedules. We sat though the orientation speech and then were divided up into groups to tour the school. I saw his team classrooms which appeared to have about 25 desks-nothing unusual.  I then asked where his special education classroom was..I was pointed in that direction by the Principal and I almost fainted when I looked inside. My son said "it's too small" as soon as he walked through the doors. It appears to be a converted storage area or speech room. It is tiny.
Now a Special Education teacher and an Aide are in this room with up to 12 children. It is a tiny, dank room without any natural light or ventilation. There is clutter and the walls are almost totally covered to hide what is on the other sides of the walls. It is visually distracting and disgusting. There are no desks in the room because they will not fit. The children are set up on coffee table type desks, knee to knee, like preschoolers. When they take tests, they have to put up a cardboard "divider." No place for pencils, books or anything (although they have since hung a shoe bag rack on the file cabinet so they could put their pencils.) If you are one of the even unluckier kids who's back faces the whiteboard, you need to turn your head or chair around to see the lesson being taught.
I also was told that this Special Education teacher is SHARING the room with an AIS reading teacher. This room is approx 440 square feet. It is inappropriate. It is shameful.

Here are some adorable pictures of this "classroom" :

I could not sleep at all that night and the following day I went back to see if the classroom was really that bad-it was. I also had the misfortune of seeing the "sister" special education classroom for 5th graders-it was a regular sized classroom with all desks lined up. So some of the kids were in the "regular classroom" and some were stuck into the prison cell room. It was the luck of the draw and my son lost. Any child would find that room distracting and visually cluttered, but a child with differing needs would find it overwhelming and confining and stressful. The germs, the lack of any dignity or personal space is deplorable.

I left the school and a message for the Principal to call me. She was sweet, empathetic and told me there is nothing she can do. No where else to put them. I called the head of the Special Education Department and was told-nothing she could do-talk to the Principal. I called a local advocacy group. I spoke with other parents, advocates, attorneys, fire marshals and anyone else I could think of and all agreed that current state code is 770 square feet, but there really is nothing on the books for what is current code and what I am trying to fix. I get it that school are in budget crunches-but this is not negotiable. ALL children should have an appropriate classroom setting. After about a week, the Principal said she could move him to a new team and put him into the other 5th grade classroom-I asked what about the other kids? They would still need to stay in the cell. I asked my son if he wanted to move and he did not want to change all the teachers and teams again. He also was afraid that would get his teacher in trouble if he moved. The is the kind of child that I have.

I called the State Special Education department-they said there is nothing they can do and it was a Building Code issue. I called the State Building code department who said it was a Building Department and SPecial Education Issue. I called the Superintendent of our district (who did not even have the professionalism to return my call) and I followed up with him. He said the State came out to see the room (I was not allowed to be there during the inspection-so I am unsure what actually happened) and said the room "was fine." The room is not fine. The room is not appropriate for any child. Why are the Special Education Students in there? Why not the honor students?

I have spent the past month making phone calls, begging for help and I always get the same response-we know it is small and horrible, but there is not any other classroom space to put them in. And I am supposed to just "deal with it?" These children will never speak up for themselves. My son is happy, he is always happy and singing a song in his heart, but as a parent I know that this is wrong. This is unjust and it is discriminating. I am not asking for a red carpet to be rolled out when he gets off the bus and for confetti to fly in the air, I am asking for EQUAL TREATMENT. EQUAL CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENT that every other fifth grade child enjoys. I am told that he is not in there the full day so it is not that bad. I am told the kids "like the group desks." I am told that the small classroom is great because they "listen better." I am told that these kids actually have "more room" than the regular classrooms. Bullshit. They can spin it any way they want-it is a room appropriate for speech or extra help at best-not a room to learn grueling Common Core Math and ELA. Not a room for  experienced and wonderful teachers to have to share and be treated as not worthy enough for a real classroom. Every child and teacher in that room has been marginalized and disregarded.

I have lived in this town for 20 plus years. I pay about $11,000 in taxes to live here-point being-I would expect to have a certain level of instructional environment for my children. I would expect a classroom at least for my sons. The school district is disgusting. And embarrassing. I wonder if an administrator's child would ever be put into that wonderful classroom space? How about these teachers-we have excellent teachers-forced to work in these heinous conditions? Forced to jam this ludicrous Common Core on on these kids and do it well or risk your job? Teachers that cannot speak up for anything for fear of losing their jobs. That is tragic.

So harsh and so wrong on so many levels. So much empathy, but not one person will do anything about it. If you did not have enough room to house all of these children in this school, they should not have been moved there. This is their education. Their childhood. Constantly being moved around like pawns in a political and financial game. Makes me sick to my stomach. Makes me want to move and find a place where a school values its children and parents. A place where all children are given the opportunity to succeed-not some of them stuck in a storage closet.

Not sure how or if I will continue to pursue this, but I just wanted to let it be known the kind of pathetic crap that is going on around here and in many schools.

I wish you peace, happiness and for your children to have their own desks...

Enjoy the show:


agrocks said...

Looks like there is a public hearing coming up. Maybe you could submit a question and bring up these issues.

Elizabeth Haney said...

I had to write a reflection paper in one of my education classes dealing with this exact situation. Here's a link to the article we read.
It is mainly focused on multiculturalism, but the most important part is "Who Meets In The Basement". It sites other research that supports that this at its fundamental core is a clear violation of Brown v. Board of Education. Good luck! Please keep us updated!

Anonymous said...

As the grandmother of this sweet little boy I am horrified my daughter has to go through this. The school district should be ashamed of themselves and should have rectified this immediately. This is a clear-cut case of discrimination and misuse of the taxpayers funds. The administrators should have not put any child in this position. SHAME ON ALL OF THEM INVOLVED IN THIS HORRID DECISION.

Anonymous said...

Is there a way you can partner with the school and use your amazing creativity to "re-do" the space. Maybe some local contractors can donate their time/resources to help. I took a deplorable old classroom (granted it was at my church) and turned it into an amazingly warm and wonderful space for Sunday Schoolers along with the financial help of people willing to donate. As the mother who has a child with Aspergers (young adult...he is almost 20 ;)... I completely empathize. Praying for you and your son.

Anonymous said...

I am Canadian, and I am shocked to heard about and see your son's classroom situation. I hope you are able to find a way to fix this, I am hoping to get a job in special education for children and I hope that I will never have to deal with this sort of situation.I love all of your craft ideas especially for the kids I teach and wish you good Luck with everything