Today I attended the kindergarten orientation for Bozarth Elementary school in Las Vegas. My husband and I came to the school supplies in hand excited to send our little boy off to his first day of school. Within moments my enthusiasm for a great start to my sons education drained from my soul as I listened to his privacy be violated. By the end – I left in tears.
My son attends special education for kindergarten. I am very open that my two oldest children have Autism, and due to this my younger child has a speech delay related to the modeling he received communicating with his older siblings. To other parents my son looks “normal” he is a sweet happy smiling little boy and this bump in the road would not have been labeled special education a generation ago.
Our kindergarten classrooms have too many students seeking their teacher’s attention at the same time. When I knew that the options would be to send my son to a class with 30+ students and no assigned aide, or to give him a little better chance by sending him to “special-k” which has a smaller class size plus an assistant full time I believed I was doing right by my son. I believed that by allowing the district to seek additional federal funding under his special education label I was doing the right thing as a citizen to fund our schools.
Yet being realistic about the hazing and bullying of the world I asked repeatedly during the IEP process and placement if his kindergarten would be labeled any differently, or would the general school population know of it only as another kindergarten class. I was always assured that to call the class anything different would be a violation of his privacy. See why privacy matters in Special Kindergarten.
The proof of such policy is contained here: Special Education Rights of Parents and Children. Look to page five that states confidential information includes:
A list of personal characteristics or other information that would make it possible to identify your child with reasonable certainty.
Announcing to the assembled body of parents that this is our “special-K” teacher or stating “the special ed kids” as an example for the audience draws out their identities because they attend the class of the labeled special-K teacher.
I was much more upset to see that the classroom was even labeled separately.
The information that these students who attend are in special education is not for public consumption.
This is equivalent to putting the rest of the parents on notice that something different is happening. Administrators get to answer over and over to other parents that their child is “normal” and there is something obviously defective with the kids in “special K.”
I am not one to sit on my hands.
Right after the Principal Rodney Saunders finished speaking and was listening to the kindergarten teachers speak I went up to him and stated that it was hurtful that he identifies Pre-K to the entire audience noting that parents were assured during the IEP process it would be a violation of our rights to disclose otherwise.
He stated that he has the right to say that there is a special K because there is one. He is not personally identifying students. His management style in this situation became very clear. He was going to be right, I was going to be wrong, and in his mind sit-down shut-up is what I needed to do. Absolutely ZERO acknowledgement of my feelings that this could be hurtful. ZERO acknowledgement of my son’s right to privacy.
Then I was able to chalk it up to that perhaps he is an administrator lacking either experience or tact in handling special education issues. I decided to sit down, did not disrupt the meeting, and thought I would give the classroom teacher whom I hear has taught special education for years the benefit of doubt. I had planned on telling her that I felt the meeting was hurtful and leave it at that to allow for my son to have a positive school year.
Yet then I walked down the hall to my son’s new classroom and found the sign above right next door to all of the other kindergarten classrooms. How many times do you think the parents of the “normal” students got re-assured that their kids were just a little better than the special K kids. Any students of history knows there is never truly a separate yet equal in our world.
I was nearly in tears when I walked into her class room and immediately announced I was not pleased with this labeling of the classroom. Yes, I was making sure that other parents understood that our rights had been violated. The teacher was upset I rained on her parade and called the too busy Principal down to the classroom to handle me.
It was then that Rodney Saunders threatened to call the CCSD police on me in my son’s kindergarten classroom. I was offered another behind doors meeting, but I told him that he just rung a bell that can’t be unrung. Turning a responsible parent into the enemy for his convenience will not stand.
As everyone knows and this blog demonstrates I am a huge supporter of public education. I am the first to say that our teachers have to do too much with too little.
I am also a special education parent. I know that this school receives additional funding that all of the students benefit from because they have the special education kindergarten. Students zoned for multiple schools across the district are bused to this school to consolidate services. If an administrator has not bothered to understand and express appropriate empathy for special education students and parents the district has no business placing this important program at his school.
I do not care that another parent spoke up and said she does not care. I care. That is enough. I am a person who stands up for what is right. I am speaking perhaps for the parents who are so busy making ends meet that they are just grateful for any program for their special needs child that checking their families privacy at the door seems an acceptable price to pay. Giving up privacy is not our obligation to receive the federally funded special education services our district administrates.
I get it for administrators it must be hard to have other parents asking you why other students continue to get buses and have a smaller teacher ratio. The answer is not to OUT all of our students as special education. Other institutions are able to do this with minimal impact to the budget as should this school.
I went to my neighborhood school and showed them the pictures of the special k sign outside of the door. Clearly experienced they understand this is not something you do.
I would be a hypocrite if I did not speak up on this issue. Many will ask why didn’t I sit down and shut up, satisfied with a behind closed doors pie-you-off meeting. I would be a hypocrite because I have spent so many hours working with parents of special needs children. I have held hands of mothers who would rather have their child go without an IEP than listen to the hateful remarks of other parents.
Have you ever been confronted by a parent asking “your kid looks normal – what are you trying to get away with?” or “must be nice to have free day care.” I have.
Now that we are in a district stretched so tight the sneers, the snotty comments, the impression that we are free-loaders is even worse. There exists the mistaken impression that our students take from the “normal” students and get more. No one stops to explain that our program is a separate federal fund.
If a principal is making announcements about the existence of a special kindergarten at his school to offset this hate of our students and families this is not acceptable. Again, no other family – than our own has any right to know about a special kindergarten program.
When parents live in fear of their community treating them worse for doing right by their child, sadly many will opt out of services. This will only in the end hurt the students, all of the students in a class because funds will not be budgeted for children who demand more help, the right to privacy protects our entire educational community and all I ask is that it be respected.
Thank goodness for my zoned school. I showed administrators the picture and immediately contacted early childhood services. Every special education advocate I have been on the phone and email to has showed their support and that my interpretation is correct. I had to do that I know I am not crazy gut check. What is crazy is that no one respected our right to privacy.
UPDATES: – Check out Why Privacy Matters in Special Education Kindergarten
Interesting emails and messages I have received. I appreciate the support from other people who have gone down this path. I also learned that by creating a hostile environment where parents feel pressured to release confidential medical information to others may also leave the district non-compliant to HIPAA regulations. How would any of us like to tell strangers who get in your face and demand to know that your child gets special services because they have a brain tumor? It happens and it is sad that the administrator in this case has obviously not known enough special education parents to understand these struggles.
I found Mr. Saunders blog and nothing in his education nor experience suggests he has the type of extensive training in special education that administration of an elementary school with children from all ends of the spectrum should require.
I reviewed the school district’s own policy manual for special education. It clearly does not go far enough in explaining how important the right to privacy is to families nor does it explicitly detail that you cannot hang a sign around a child’s neck saying they are special education even when common sense says you should not if you understand this section of the policy.
10.1.3. Some of the protections for student records relate to information which is personally identifiable to the student.
Information is personally identifiable if it includes:
a. the name of the student, the student’s parent, or other family
b. the student’s address;
c. a personal identifier, such as the student’s social security
number or student number; or
d. a list of the student’s personal characteristics or other information that
would make it possible to identify the student
with reasonable certainty.
If parents of children from “at-risk” populations know their child will be sent to school with the equivalent label of RETARD on their classroom you will not get these families to participate. You will not get the “normal looking” children who need need ADHD help, have learning delays to medication, or especially fetal alcohol syndrome to participate. Disclosure invites the question. Who would wants to tell strangers who inappropriately ask that their child is in special ed due to cancer, HIV, FAS, or traumatic sexual abuse? This lack of protection will only increase chaos within our school system.
I learned that an anti-bullying workshop was held to cover specifically protections for children in special education. This happened the Tuesday before school orientation. If Mr. Saunders made serving special education students a priority he would have had this training.
Answers to questions.
Why didn’t I name the teacher?
I believe that the fault of labeling the classroom in this way is an administrative act. My gut says that the teacher in her acting so quickly to call administrative support knew on a certain level this is not compliant to the special education act. I believe her acting to call so quickly this specific named administrator demonstrates that this was his policy directive.
What has been CCSD response?
I believe that several members of the CCSD community have read this post as it has been accessed from the CCSD servers. I posted over four hours ago my message on the CCSD facebook page. It is still up there. I tweeted. I have consulted with my attorney. (Here’s a hint my son in question is named after his attorney so litigation is not going to be a run up my expenses game.)
A member of the early special education department called and got my side of the story but suggested no specific action. She stated it would be referred to her director but offered no specific name of such director. In my conversation this individual acknowledged that the notification to all in the room and the introduction of the teacher as Special Kindergarten was not acceptable.
What happens Monday?
My son is staying home from school. Obviously the working relationship I could have enjoyed with the school had they shown appropriate respect for my son’s rights is gone.
I went to the Clark County Black Caucus event to kick off President Obama’s re-election campaign. The best part of my day was meeting Annie Yvette Wilson – elected member district 2 of the State Board of Education. She was not only gracious but also incredibly informed about our children’s privacy rights in special education. PLUS she has fought this identical fight before to correct another school. Parents I have posted her card below if you ever need to reach her about your child’s rights not being respected in education.
As parents we need to know which of our elected officials are willing to fight for ALL children.
I was also thrilled to meet the inspirational Dr. Linda Young. She spoke to us that it takes a village to raise children and that the attacks on teachers cannot stand. It is an honor to have her support as an special education specialist on this issue. She could tell I am a long time special education parent when I handed her an extra copy of my complaint form. I have absolute trust in that she will not allow this outward labeling to stand. Her distinguished career has demonstrated that she is on the side of all children to have a good education.
You may ask why did I speak to these two powerful women who while hold positions on two very influential boards do not represent the individual school in question. The reason for this is that you learn to talk to anyone who will listen. Calls get made. I have not yet reached my representatives yet. I have sent emails. All parents should know that even if your assigned representatives closes a door for you, dedicated public servants will still help you when you are on the right side of an issue. These issues affect students in their own districts and having cases upon which to set policy is our duty as citizens.
I left this meeting thrilled for the year ahead and excited that our community has two inspirational women who understand special education and will stand up for the rights of kindergarten students not to leave their privacy at the door as they enter one of the most important classrooms of their life.