Back in March we held Mickey’s last IEP meeting. His entire team was in agreement that we don’t need the restrictive setting we have now. But, apparently getting out of the program he is in, is no small feat. Just a little history on the GNETS (GA Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support) program that he is currently in: First of all, the program has been great for Mickey. The small class size, low overall student body count, the amazing teachers who are equipped to deal with anything Mickey or his classmates throw at them (sometimes literally). The bad news is that the Department of Justice has declared the program a violation of the kids’ civil rights. The school does not offer many of the advantages offered in a more traditional school. They are separated from typical peers exclusively. The school offers no separate PE, Recess, Music or Art. My son has not been outside at school, other than to get on or off the bus in 18 months. His teacher does do some music lessons and art, but she is neither a music nor an art teacher. There are NO extracurricular activities – no fall festivals, no fun runs, no spirit nights, no band or chorus, no clubs and no after school program. They day is basic and adheres to strict schedules and routine. There are lots of scheduled breaks for the kids, but they don’t have class parties or special crafts, etc. His school houses less than 50 kids in a building that is a shuttered school that the county deemed too out of shape to keep using. Their lunches are shipped in from the local high school. No more than one student is allowed in the restroom at a time and there must be an adult posted right outside the door. He rides a bus with high school students and has had the same teacher for 3 grades now. When asked what grade he is in, he can’t remember because there is no distinction for him from on year to the next. His class houses 3 years of students (currently 4th, 5th, 6th graders). These kids aren’t criminals – most are on the spectrum somewhere, but have not done well in a traditional environment.
We moved there for what was supposed to be 6 weeks to accommodate an outpatient program we were doing. That was 18 months ago. My biggest issue with the program is there is no clear entrance or exit criteria. Mickey should have started the year somewhere else, since we determined two months before school was out last school year that he was ready to be moved. Yet, we are now three months into a new year and we are just now getting the meeting to determine placement. Realistically, he may not move until January, if at all this year.
The purpose of the meeting is to determine what path we want. Our county offers 3 paths – one for kids classified OHI (Other health Impairment), one for EBD (Emotional Behavior Disturbance) and one for Autism (called TRIAD). Mickey qualifies for all 3 paths. We started out with an OHI classification, but were erroneously moved to EBD, which is what his current placement is. I wish desperately that we could have been TRIAD from the beginning, as I think it would have made a huge difference for him, but we can’t go back. I want him to head down that path though. I think it is a good fit for him – small class settings in a traditional school, with the option to participate in areas such as math, art, music, PE, with his typical peers as he is able. He very much wants to join chorus, which he would have been eligible for this year, had he been in a different school. He really wants to do band, which he will be eligible for next year. So, we simply must get him moved so that he has the opportunities to do those things.
So, fingers crossed for a successful meeting on Thursday. I have read the psychological, I have talked to the school social worker and principal and we are excited for the options in front of us. Now we just have to make the right call and prepare Mickey for a transition that he wants to make, but is scared to make. He wants band and music and art, he wants spirit nights and all the things his sister has, but he is comfortable where he is. His teacher can read him like a book and diffuse most situations. He knows what is expected and what the consequences are. I personally like that they don’t suspend students, because when we have gone through a rough patch anywhere else, that is the first line of defense (which rewards Mickey, because he would rather be anywhere but school and punishes me because I have to rearrange my already pretty flexible work schedule to accommodate). I would love not to have his school be 30 minutes away and maybe even be able to volunteer in the class, as I do with Minnie.
I will update you after the meeting.