Mickey, Dept of Justice, School and the Internet

I mentioned before that Mickey is in a rather restrictive program for school.  It is part of the public school system, but is as separate as can be.  In fact, the Department of Justice, this summer, served our state with notifications that the program is a violation of our children’s civil rights and not ADA compliant.  I met with the DOJ at the end of July, and everything in their report is true, though in some cases our county is one of the better versions of this program.  I will summarize the issues and why we are trying to get out of the program, but I also want to hit on some of the finer points to the program, of which there are several.

The DOJ’s concerns:

  • The children in this program are completely kept separate from their typical peers. In some counties this is by a fence in a “regular” elementary school, in our county it is housed in a closed school – one the county opted to close and replace because the maintenance and repairs were too great to justify keeping it open, but it is suitable for special needs kids – which makes no sense at all
  • The children do not have access to any music, art, PE or even recess
  • The children cannot even visit the restroom without someone standing outside the door and are never afforded even the basic privacy that my typical daughter takes for granted
  • There are no extra-curricular activities – no chorus, band, dances, spirit nights, or even a mascot. Also no after school program options, as is standard in every elementary school in the county
  • No hands on science – most science is done via computer
  • No foreign language/home ec./graphic arts/technology or even keyboarding.
  • The school houses kindergarten through 12th grade, and the students are bussed together from all over the county
  • There is no clear entrance or exit criteria – any child can be referred to this program and then can’t get back out – it has been likened to prison for special needs kids – most of whom have an autism diagnosis, but mainly they are there because they were too much trouble in a traditional setting. To be clear, this is not where the children with legal issues or just general delinquencies go, this program is exclusively for special needs kids.

The department of justice is correct with all of these findings. These kids are stuck in a program that could be improved.  Some of them can’t be in a general education setting because of sensory issues or behavioral concerns, but the findings are that this isn’t even separate but equal, it is separate and wildly unequal. At this point the solutions are still being worked out, but obviously changes will need to come to bring this program compliant with the ADA requirements.

Now the good:

  • The teachers are amazing. No seriously, the best communication, collaboration with parents, etc.
  • Mickey feels safe and not overwhelmed – he misses the things he used to do (mainly music and recess). He is very well aware of what he is missing out on as we attend countless activites at his sister’s school
  • They take the time to see signs of trouble and diffuse before escalation (this is huge for Mickey)
  • They are firm and consistent and the environment is somewhat therapeutic, with tons of social skills and dealing with behaviors

The good is why I tolerate the bad.  We moved there for a short 6 week period and we stayed another full year because it was working for him.  But, it isn’t anymore.  We agreed in March that he doesn’t need to be there anymore.  He needs more time with typical peers and with those activities that spark his interests.  He will still need a small setting for much of the day, but our county has a very good Autism program that would be ideal and provide that while still allowing him math (his best subject), music and art with typical peers. Unfortunately, we are stuck in the “can’t get out” portion of the program.  The school, his team, the social worker, Mickey and myself all believe he is ready to go, but we can’t get him re-tracked to the other program.

With all that, today’s adventure included an email from his teacher informing me that Mickey and his classmates (K-4th grade) were on inappropriate websites on the computers at school.  All were hauled into the principal’s office, and threatened with in school suspension if it happened again. Now, generally when I get these types of notes, I start figuring out how I will discuss the issue with Mickey and try to form a consequence that makes sense.  Today’s note threw me though.  Mickey will be 10 in a month, but he skews young.  While he has a “girlfriend”, he told me even kissing her is years off because he isn’t ready.  He can certainly appreciate a pretty girl, but has not ever even commented on a female’s (or male’s for that matter) anatomy or figure.  He has asked nothing about sex.  You may think this isn’t unusual, but Mickey has no filter, at all.  If he wonders about it, he asks about it.  He also has NO unsupervised internet access at home or daycare (our home computers are locked and so is my phone and tablet – he is only allowed to get on when I am with him and doing it with him).  So, even if he wanted to, he wouldn’t know where to go (though he could certainly use a search engine).

I festered on this note for an hour.  I reached out to a support group of Aspie moms and they helped me formulate my concerns so I sent an email back.  I asked some questions.  1. Is his school’s internet not filtered like every other school in the county? 2. Is Mickey really capable of determining appropriate content? 3. where was the supervision (the kid can’t even attend the restroom without an escort, but was allowed to look up inappropriate websites in a class with 5 kids and 2 teachers in a group of 3 boys. 4. The Code of Conduct specified that the county would block all content that was deemed inappropriate and that all children would be taught appropriate computer safety as part of their curriculum. 5. How is he to be threatened with in school suspension when they aren’t supervising nor appropriately blocking sites they deem inappropriate.

I am generally pretty easy going and his teacher knows it, but with all the DOJ scrutiny, I think my note freaked them out because the director of the program was on my phone within about 15 minutes.  The inappropriate content was TMZ (and yes, that is inappropriate for K-4th graders, in my opinion), but it wasn’t porn as was implied.  I was told that the site had been sent to the county to block, but again my concern is that they are asking him to determine what is appropriate.  They were looking at a cartoon as well – one with language but no sex or nudity.  While neither is ok, neither was as bad as I had feared.  I was reassured repeatedly by the director that this wasn’t major, just an area of concern.  I reiterated my point, Mickey is not responsible for filtering the internet, nor determining it’s appropriateness, nor should he be punished for what is a hole in their filters.  Most of us monitor our kids’ access – the cartoon was a teddy bear and looked totally innocent, except for the language.  How would Mickey even judge that?

I am very rarely the “my precious snowflake” mom.  I very much expect them to hold my son to the behavior standards that we would see anywhere.  He is allowed to get angry and lose his cool, but he is not allowed to do so in an inappropriate manner, he must use coping skills, he must follow directions, etc. But in this case I feel the expectation wasn’t reasonable and threatening him with consequences when he didn’t do anything wrong (another kid was doing the searching, Mickey was sitting with them and they were showing him stuff) is counter productive.  He struggles enough trying to figure out what is the right thing to do, so we don’t need this other stuff clouding the field for him. We talked and I told him that if something was questionable, he should get an adult, but that is where his responsibility in the matter ends.

Never a dull moment.  The school agreed that they would be more vigilant while the children were accessing the internet and that he would not be suspended for any accidental inappropriate content he viewed. The special education system in our state needs serious help, but I am grateful that it is a very rare occurrence that I have to fight too hard for Mickey on stuff like this – we have been lucky to have mostly very open and reasonable teachers that will communicate an issue and work on a solution, rather than just threatening suspensions – today was certainly out of character and felt rather knee-jerk as a reaction to TMZ.

He keeps my life interesting, that is for sure.

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