Emily finished school the week before Memorial Day. So our summer break is in full swing by now!
She has spent 3 years in preschool. In the past 3 years she has had the same teacher, Speech Therapist, Occupational Therapist and Vision Specialist. She had a different Physical Therapist last year, but this year, we went back to the one that she had her first year. One paraeducator has been with her since the first year and the other one has changed all 3 years, but the one she had this year used to work in the cafeteria at the school so she has known Emily the entire 3 years. Her preschool experience was not perfect, by any means, but there has been a certain comfort in knowing the people she would work with each year.
Her entire team has watched her grow in the last 3 years. We had a meeting the last week of school and it was so nice to hear how they have seen her grow in the past years. Of course, we also talked about areas where she struggles or falls behind her peers, but our main focus was on the positive. Everyone seemed genuinely sad to see her go. That makes a Mama feel good! As her last day approached I was a lot more emotional than I expected to be. It is hard to see my girl growing up and to know that she is leaving the comfort of our tiny little "home" school.
We started this year knowing it would be her last at this particular school. They do not have a classroom that is equipped to handle Emily's needs going forward. I am not convinced that her needs were fully met in her preschool classroom either, but that is another story. I was told that I would have a choice between two other schools in our county, school A and school B. School A is in the same city as her current school and there seemed to be a push toward that school. Both schools are more than double the size of Emily's current school. Yikes!
We visited school A in March. I liked what I saw in the classroom, but had some concerns about some of the things that were said during our visit. Emily will be in a classroom with other children with multiple disabilities at either school, but I want her to spend time with her typically developing peers as well. At school A, the children are with their typical peers during "specials" (art, music, etc.) and I was told that the Kindergarten students would probably spend more time in the special education classroom. That bothered me. I felt like the kids would be a bit too segregated and I am not comfortable with that at all. During our time there, I spent time talking with the special ed coordinator, rather than the teacher. She ran the program in the previous years, so she was very informative, but I could not help but wonder why I wasn't talking to the teacher herself.
It took us a while to set up a visit with school B, but when we did, we LOVED it! The school is newer and completely accessible (I got to tour the entire school). They have a lot of updated equipment, not only in the special ed class but in the "community" areas as well. I got to spend a lot of time talking with the teacher and learning about her philosophy of teaching. She really wants to help her kids to become as independent as possible. She wants them to be with their typical peers as much as possible. That was music to my ears!
As we were leaving, I was told that I was being pushed toward school A. So if I wanted Emily to go to school B, then I would have to "petition" for it to the board of education. We talked through some of my concerns about school A and agreed to schedule one more visit to that school. Emily and I went back for a visit and school tour. We met with the special education coordinator again, who was giving us a different answer about how much time Emily would spend with her typical peers. I felt like she was just telling me what I wanted to hear and wasn't sure that it was true. I found out on that visit that the teacher in the special ed classroom had just started teaching. She seemed like a really nice person and may be an amazing teacher, but that was a red flag for me.
I went home and made a list of pros and cons for each school. Once I saw it all in writing, I knew that I wanted Emily at school B. So I began the long process of writing a letter to the board. I say it was a long process because I wrote and re-wrote the letter more times than I care to count. I had been working with an advocate this year, but she was on vacation so I was on my own in this process. I was very stressed out about it! I got some books from Wrightslaw and they were extremely helpful. Not sure why I waited so long to get these resources! Anyway, I wrote my letter and hand delivered it to the board on a Wednesday morning (a tip I learned from the Wrightslaw book). I got a message on Thursday afternoon that the placement was approved. I was so excited!
That excitement lasted until I received the official letter in the mail. It said that her placement was approved, but that I would be responsible for transporting Emily to school. Emily absolutely loves the bus, so I would hate to take that away from her. Plus, I feel like it gives her a bit of independence, which is pretty hard to come by for a kid that has to depend on others for ALL of her basic care. When I talked to the contact at her current school, he told me that the letter was just a form letter and I should ignore that portion of the letter. He gave me the form to fill out for transportation and said he would take care of it. So I thought that was resolved.
Then last week, I received a phone call from the school nurse for our county. We talked through some paperwork that will be needed for next year and then started talking about transportation. She said she thought I was misinformed and that she would double check for me. She called back a while later and said that I would definitely have to transport Emily myself. She said that Emily could ride the bus if she went to school A, since that is where she is "districted" to go. So now I have to see what I can do about that. It is a bit harder to get straight answers since most people are out of the office over the summer. It is very frustrating, but I will not give up until I have tried everything that I can. I am my girl's voice, her advocate and I am going to do all that I can to get her what she needs.
Now that I have rambled on and on, I should share some pics. Here is my girl on her last day of preschool, May 2013: