Back in 1973, under section 504 of the Individuals with Disabilities Act, a new world was formed for students with all types of disabilities. It is specifically defined as, “Under Section 504, FAPE is defined as “the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet individual needs of handicapped persons as well as the needs of non-handicapped persons are met and based on adherence to procedural safeguards outlined in the law.” [source] FAPE is an acronym that stands for a free and appropriate public education.
While any education system is fraught with challenges and difficulties of all types, I personally believe that nothing has caused more confusion than the introduction of special education students into the classroom. Please don’t misunderstand me! I am in no way, shape, or form suggesting that children with special needs should not be included in the general education classroom. In fact, the opportunity for disabled children to be educated alongside their non-disabled peers is one of the best things that has happened for many students with disabilities.
When I was in elementary school back in the 1970s, I went to a private, Catholic school. Students were grouped according to their abilities, allowing each group to be educated at a pace and level that was attuned to their educational needs. I despise the term gifted and talented, because I believe that all children have gifts and talents, but those with an easier ability to learn complex material also at a quicker pace, were placed into a separate group. In contrast, children who had struggles with certain subjects and needed additional assistance and teaching at a slower pace, were placed into another group. This system worked well, although there was still the usual bullying of those who were in the classrooms designed for children in need of additional assistance.
This concept is still being used today in the public school system, but it is organized somewhat differently. My daughter, who was 13 and is in the seventh grade, struggles in many of her subjects due to her autism with which the main issue is executive functioning. For those who are not familiar with the term, its definition and connection with autism is explained here. The source that I’ve referenced from the National Institutes of Health is complex but thorough. What I experience with my daughter is directly related to the deficits in her executive functioning.
She has an IEP and has since she was in preschool. Over the years it has changed, and I have had to fight every step of the way to get her the diagnosis and services she’s received. The public school that my daughter attends is extremely overcrowded. Just getting around the school is exhausting, and I do not know how she concentrates and focuses in such a scattered environment. There are plenty of people who will tell me about scholarships and grants to private school, however, they don’t understand that private schools are not required to provide the same level of services that are mandated at the public school level. It’s a catch 22 to be honest. If she stays in the overcrowded, confusing public school, she has access to the services. If she goes to a smaller, private school, she can work in a less confusing and overcrowded environment where she will not have access to the services. This is the dilemma for the parents of the special needs child seeking a better educational opportunity.
If my daughter’s success in education were not such a serious matter, I would roll my eyes at the above graphic. Yes, I believe that the FAPE has the best of intentions when it comes to educating children from all walks of life. The reality is far different at least in my daughter’s case. She has ended two of her school years with failing grades. Instead of repeating, she has been moved on to the next grade without the necessary skills to progress. As is common knowledge, each year becomes progressively difficult. For example, you can’t really master multiplication and division if you haven’t learned addition and subtraction properly. You can’t write essays if you haven’t learned how to create a paragraph.
This coming Tuesday, I have a meeting with the IEP team. I am always disappointed at these meetings that take place at the very end of the school year. They wind up open ended and not complete in my opinion. With summer looming, some issues are often relegated to a “let’s see how things go in the Fall” way of thinking. I am fortunate that my daughter does have a caring and responsible team, although I do not feel that she is receiving the FAPE she is entitled to and is ending up with failing grades again.
So once again, I am at a crossroads. My frustrations will be listened to and taken into consideration during the meeting. However, there is no guarantee whatsoever that anything will be done to improve my daughter’s education. I feel as though she is slipping through the cracks. For children who do not have difficulties with their education, it can be hard for other parents to understand the struggles for the parent(s) of a special needs child. While raising any child is difficult and fraught with challenges, there are times when I feel like giving up, but I don’t, ever. I’m all that my kids have and I have to work hard to fight for everything and I will never stop doing that.
This would probably be a great place to put a quote about perseverance and strength…