Professional Issues: Special Education
I have been teaching for five years. During my third year of teaching, I had a particularly challenging class at the public charter school in which I worked. I had a number of new students amongst my class of twenty-eight fourth-graders. The trend over the past couple years had been that many students whom had been expelled from the nearby public schools for behavioral problems were now headed our way. As I guided my students through an ice-breaker activity to get to know each other and learn about their backgrounds, something immediately stuck out to me about one student, whom I will call Jay. Though I cannot remember exactly what students were saying when they stood up to introduce themselves, I know for certain that telling the class when their birthday is was a part of the activity. Jay was not only unsure of when his birthday was, but was also eagerly adamant that his birthday was January 1, New Year’s Day, and the same day as another student. I thought it was strange that I would have two New Year’s babies in the class, so I later looked up his exact birthday, and found that Jay was definitely wrong.
As the weeks went by, it was evident that Jay has having a hard time in my class. He struggled with day-to-day activities in the classroom, especially ones that required working or communicating with others. It didn’t help that I had two other students who were particularly challenging in their behavior, and who would often provoke Jay. During the third week of school, after students had taken their beginning of the year NWAIS test, we discovered that Jay was also very low academically. He was placed in both the “low” math and reading groups. We would begin switching classes for the reading and math blocks that week. As students were standing in line outside their reading class, Jay’s anxiety rose, and he punched another student. It was clear to me, and few of my colleagues who were paying attention, that something was wrong. Jay continued to struggle in class, especially during transitions, when he became agitated that other students were looking at him. In October, my students were in Technology class. As I was sitting at my desk during this planning period, two of my students came back to class to report to me that Jay was being sent back to class because he was being disruptive. As they were telling me what happened in Technology class, Jay walked into the classroom and got very angry that we were talking about him. He picked up several chairs, threw them at the wall, and knocked over a few desks. I immediately ushered my other two students out of the room, sent one of them to get the Principal, and held my door shut so Jay could not exit the classroom. Shockingly, even after furniture was thrown in the room, my Principal and Assistant Principal did not believe that something was wrong. As I continued trying to teach my students with such challenging behavior problems in the room, I sat my students down and discussed an “Exit Plan” that would be used if Jay began to have another violent outburst.
Finally, in November, Jay was sent down to the office and spent a few hours in the Assistant Principal’s office. It was in there that he had another violent outburst—this time, it was videotaped. They finally realized that something was wrong and needed to be done. Jay was sent home multiple times during the school day, which was particularly hard for his mom, who had Lupus, and his dad, who was working two jobs (a day shift and a graveyard shift). After weeks of trying to contact his previous school, we finally got his records. Jay had been previously placed on an IEP—one that required a self-contained classroom—with needs that we could not meet. Additionally, it was discovered that Jay’s parents did not believe that he really needed the IEP services, and had left his previous elementary school in an attempt to “get him off the plan.” It did not occur to me that parents could even do this, but Jay’s parents had found a way. In December, right before Winter Break, we finally expelled Jay, and sent him back to his home district, which would be able to provide for him the Special Education services that he so desperately needed.
Reflecting back, I realize that this is one of those stories that I will always remember. I will always wonder about Jay, where he is and how he is doing, but most importantly, I worry that someone is not advocating for him. We have Special Education services for a reason, and it was very saddening to see parents who did not want to give their child the best possible education. Half of his fourth-grade year was gone, and Jay had spent that time struggling with inner difficulties that he probably couldn’t even process or understand at his young age. As teachers, we work hard to give students the best opportunities to succeed. But what do we do when it’s the parents who refuse to advocate for and help their own child?