Nothing much has taken place since I visited the school for her IEP meeting back in the Spring. I never got a response to my email back in January about my concerns for accessibility issues at the school either. The email was addressed to the special ed coordinator, the human resources manager, Kerstin's former school's principal and the superintendent. Odd group of recipients to talk about school accessibility, I know, but I was originally called into a meeting with the coordinator and HR, about ME and not about Kerstin and definitely not about placement. I later emailed this group to address them calling me to a meeting with two people originally and I got blindsided and the meeting was with four, and my employment was the least talked about. Long story short, no one responded to my email from January 23, 2013 until September 12, 2013! Great communication, I know!
First day of school. I discover there is NO accessible parking at the new school, no signs saying that an accessible entrance is here, the bumpy, extremely broken sidewalk has not been fixed and this former "science lab" in which Kerstin has to travel through several times a day is still a cluttered, smelly mess!! The only progress, a cement ramp has been installed, just outside the cafeteria. Gee, thanks! I guess my dauhgter was really expected to stay in this "self-contained" classroom, secluded from her peers and the rest of the school?! No thanks! No one else notices this, no other parent has a problem with this? No school board big wigs will address my email from January? What's going to be done about this? The following letter sent to the editor of the local paper:
The Forgotten Student(s)
I am the proud parent of Kerstin, a determined eleven year old who loves attending school with the friends she has known since Head Start. Kerstin was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at six months of age. She has since been diagnosed with Scoliosis and Epilepsy. As her mother, I am steadfast in my belief that children with Special Needs should not be cast away like an eye sore or an embarrassment. In 2005, I quit my job as a Student Enrollment Specialist at the Montgomery Job Corps Center so that I could attend school with my daughter. Yes, since Kerstin was in Head Start, I have gone to school with her every day! We have had many trials along the way. We have encountered some very willing teachers and administrators and some very unwilling ones as well. Her classmates have proven to be the most helpful. I believe that the willingness and understanding exhibited by her classmates is the result of Kerstin being included in general education settings.
Kerstin’s transition to middle school is presenting a number of challenges, though. Kerstin is very observant and immediately noticed the differences in her environment at Hayneville Middle as compared to Jackson-Steele. Getting to the self-contained classroom where Kerstin receives one-on-one services is a concern. The classroom is not only in a basement-like area of the school, but also at the back of the building. Kerstin has to literally circle the building in order to gain access to the main floor of the school where she has a number of classes. The sidewalk is so bumpy and in need repair that it is difficult to navigate in her wheelchair. When she becomes discouraged, I try to make her smile by singing an old R&B song, “Bump, Bump, Bump”. I try to not become discouraged myself. If it rains, unlike her peers without a disability, Kerstin has no way to get to the main floor as the sidewalk is not covered. Her peers can take the stairs inside the school and Kerstin is literally left outside in the rain. Also, there are no wheelchair accessible parking spaces at Hayneville Middle School.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) includes two fundamental requirements for children with disabilities: the child will receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). For me, that means that Kerstin has a right to attend school in a setting with her peers who do not have disabilities. It is my opinion that a child with a disability should have social interactions with their peers regardless of ability. And as mandated by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), she should have wheelchair accessible parking and wheelchair accessible entrances to the building. According to Advocacy for Inclusion, Inc., an inclusive educational environment builds confidence and self-esteem for children with disabilities while giving the child with a disability a sense of belonging and achievement. Furthermore, inclusive education promotes social growth, awareness and acceptance for all members of the community. Children without disabilities become more aware and most of all, more respectful of the challenges that persons with disabilities face. Inclusiveness promotes the fact that people are people regardless of ability.
Our transition to middle school, while challenging, is also coincidentally occurring during a pivotal time in our country’s history—the 50th anniversary of many of the historic moments of the Civil Rights Movement. Fifty years ago, America witnessed some to the most crucial demonstrations in the fight for human dignity—the Birmingham Children’s Crusade, George Wallace’s Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, and the March on Washington to name a few. I have committed my life to fighting for my daughters human and civil rights even if it means that I have to fight a modern day George Wallace or Bull Connor who presents him/herself in the form of a teacher, administrator, or superintendent. I refuse to let anyone “stand in the schoolhouse door” and block her access to the education she so rightly deserves. I will ensure that my child “receives the best education possible” and that she becomes a “responsible citizen, effective communicator, life-long learner, and “fierce competitor on the economic world stage”? I WILL speak up! I am my child’s voice! She will NOT be The Forgotten Student!
Respectfully submitted by:
Parent of Kerstin Sanders
Lowndes County Public School student
Italicized taken from Lowndes County Public Schools Mission Statement
Did not think I would have to take these measures. I hope all parents of children with special needs will realize that there are other steps available for you. You have rights, Know them! You have a voice, Speak up! Needless to say, contacting the newspaper, has gotten the ball rolling on things that should have been done years ago, and NOT just for Kerstin. It should be done for all students and others with accessibility needs! I will never give up, I'm an advocate for life!
The newspaper articles are here and the first one here (scroll all the way to the bottom).
Some progress made, still so much to come!
After some work...
So, in the midst of preparing, mentally, for my daughter's surgery, I HAVE to be a voice, can't sit idly by and let this continue to go on! You know there's more to come...