My heart is heavy. I feel disappointed in our efforts to include individuals with disabilities in the decisions we make as a community. We are all doing the best we can, navigating a novel situation as a planet; and I cannot come to terms with how far we are from being an inclusive society. We have not yet learned how to consider and integrate the needs, barriers, and resources of those who experience disabilities in their lives daily.
What is your school doing to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities? How are their Individualized Education Plans (IEP) being met? How are their sensory, visual, auditory, intellectual, social, and emotional challenges being considered with remote learning and COVID regulations.
I do not have the answers. There are efforts made everyday to protect, support, and advocate for students with disabilities. There are educators, administrators, providers, and parents making their needs a priority. I still question if our best is good enough for them?
Last week I attended an IEP meeting for a child. Prior to raising a child with a hearing impairment, the mother did not have any experience in the disability community. She does not have any specialized training or education on disability rights or special education laws. Like many parents, she is learning as she goes and trusting the experts to make her child's needs a priority.
The meeting was to discuss the plan for transitioning back to in-person learning. It was an opportunity to review the IEP and determine as a team how the accommodations and services would be provided; while focusing on the social and emotional health of an eight year old child. It is our role as adults to protect children from feeling anything other than a sense of belonging, acceptance, and appreciation for their uniqueness. It is our responsibility to never have any child see their differences through a negative lens, feel a burden to others, or be singled out in front of their peers. It is our duty as a society to ensure the solutions we come up with do not create additional barriers for others.
Throughout the meeting it was clear we had many unanswered questions and tentative plans to "figure it out as we go". In most situations that would be acceptable because we are all experiencing a new learning curve. The issue is when our learning curve impacts a child's ability to start school on time with their peers. When a parent does not feel comfortable sending their child to school without knowing if the FM system they use for hearing the teacher works with the face masks worn and partitions placed throughout the classroom. When a child is expected to wait until the first day of school to "figure it out" with their teacher.
The first day of school can be difficult for students. Many experience anxiety over leaving their parents and entering a new grade, with a new teacher, and new classmates. It is unacceptable to ask a child to attend their first day of school wondering if they will be able to hear their teacher or miss out on the fun with their peers as they are left behind to troubleshoot which mask works best with their FM system.
I am proud of this mother and father for deciding to keep their child home for remote learning. I am concerned they didn't feel they had another choice. I am sad for the eight year old who will miss out on attending school in person with their friends. I am optimistic the family and school can successfully work together to determine how to meet the child's needs with as little impact to their social and emotional health. I am confident this experience with the IEP team will protect another child from missing out on their first day of school because we as the adults are learning.
Thank you to every parent, educator, and administrator for doing the best you can. Thank you to every student for your patience and trust in us adults as we learn to navigate the challenging moments. We learn from you everyday in the resilience you share with the world! Keep on shining and teaching us all how to face the scary moments with an open heart and mind. I will continue to advocate for your rights as a child; to experience the learning environment which will be most optimal for you.