If that was him…

My day yesterday was spent searching for as much information as I could glean about this case in Florida.

To quote the news article from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

Melissa Barton said she is considering legal action after her son’s kindergarten teacher led his classmates to vote him out of class.

After each classmate was allowed to say what they didn’t like about Barton’s 5-year-old son, Alex, his Morningside Elementary teacher Wendy Portillo said they were going to take a vote, Barton said.

By a 14 to 2 margin, the students voted Alex — who is in the process of being diagnosed with autism — out of the class.

The article continues:

… the boy had been sent to the principal’s office because of disciplinary issues. When he returned, Portillo made him go to the front of the room as a form of punishment, she said.

Barton said her son is in the process of being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a type of high-functioning autism. Alex began the testing process in February at the suggestion of Morningside Principal Marcia Cully.

Children diagnosed with Asperger’s often exhibit social isolation and eccentric behavior.

Alex has had disciplinary issues because of his disability, Barton said. After the family moved into the area and Alex and his sibling arrived at the school in January, Alex spent much of the time in the principal’s office, she said.

He also had problems at his last school, but he did not have issues during his two years of preschool, Barton said.

School and district officials have met with Barton and her son to create an individual education plan to address his difficulties, she said. Portillo attended these meetings, Barton said.

Barton said after the vote, Portillo asked Alex how he felt.

“He said, ‘I feel sad,’ ” Barton said.

Every news article I can find confirms what is currently out there. According to the article quoted above, the teacher confirmed to the parent what happened, and the school district does not deny it.

And all I can think is, What if that was Tad?

Tad’s not autistic. But his cognitive assessment (which does not test for intelligence, but tests for memory and social skills and the ability to follow directions) does show what is now being termed as a “mild developmental delay.” My best guess – which has not been confirmed in numbers by any professional; this is my own observation in play – is that Tad is anywhere from 4 to 6 months delayed in social development behind his peers. In speech, he’s even more delayed, but that we knew.

This kindergartener was in the process of having an IEP drawn up for him – an Individual Education Plan – that would hopefully guide the next few years of his academic career. His teacher was fully aware of this – she attended those meetings, according to the article.

A week from Friday, I have an appointment with the school district to set up Tad’s IEP.

This story is hitting me hard. In any other circumstance, I would feel terrible for the child, and feel that the teacher, if she isn’t fired, should be severely disciplined for her actions, which were reprehensible. No child should be subjected to that kind of ridicule by their peers and have it sanctioned by a teacher.

In my current circumstance, all I’m seeing is red. If that were MY child, I would be screaming from rooftops, demanding some justice and restitution.

This whole story just makes me realize how much I am going to have to be Tad’s strongest and best advocate when it comes to his education. Maybe he’ll work past his developmental delays in three years and be ready for kindergarten when he’s six. But what if he’s not? Will he forever be a “special ed” kid, or is this something his ever-churning brain will be able to conquer? Will his speech someday be equivalent to his peers, or will he be the silent child in the room – or the one acting up because he has no other outlet?

I know that this early intervention in special education preschool is his best chance to make up for the delays and prepare him to be mainstreamed into the regular education system. Quite literally, he has three years to do it, since our current plan is to keep him out of school until he is six (since his birthday is mid-August, it actually buys us another year to prepare him). But will that be enough time? How long will be long enough? Will there be an end to this process?

When I talked to the school district speech therapist, who called to set up his appointment, she mentioned creating an IEP for “age 3 to 21.”

Is that really what they think he needs? Are his delays now still going to be affecting him at 21? I can’t even imagine what he will be like at 21 – I can barely envisage what he will be like at 6, much less 21!

All I know is, I’m going to the mat for my boy. I love him too much to do any less.

2 Responses to “If that was him…”

  1. Leighton
    May 29th, 2008 10:19

    That story is absurd, and you are entitled to see red; in fact, I think if more people (whether mothers or not) AREN’T seeing red, then it’s an indication of a disconnect; an indication that people aren’t nearly as proactive about children’s education as phrases like “no child left behind” would suggest.

    I’ll avoid the political rant (though it’s nonpartisan), and just say that I think your reaction is less irrational/emotional mother as it is dead on target.

  2. Laurie
    May 29th, 2008 10:46

    With our school systems often teaching to the lowest common denominator, we all have to go to the mat for our children. Apparently children, in all their individual glorious wackiness, are better seen and not heard. They dare not be anything but “normal”. I realize now why I did so great in school–I actually wanted to please my teachers and was slightly above average smart–just the luck of the draw for me. Anything else, either direction, and you’re in trouble. Boy I sound cynical. I realize teachers have an incredibly difficult job, but I think the system has some major problems.