As the newest reporter to this publication, I’ve been covering local school board meetings. I enter those meetings as a mom foremost — kids are the center of my life — and as a former preschool teacher, I have to admit, I prefer a 5-year-old conversation over a 40-year-old one any day. Kids decorate their backpacks and giggle at anything too serious. Before they turn the corner into the ‘upper’ grades, they truly believe they can become ninjas or rainbows or lemurs. I feel it is our duty to represent all their individual needs, because – let’s face it – these kids will be running the show before we know it. And while we support the education of these bright hopefuls, an entire half or so of the children fall like bookmarks into the creases. Others move forward, but so many are stuck in a learning purgatory. I believe the teachers and support staff are doing their best, and I’m so grateful, I’m on my knees, but the politics and structure of the system is about to snap from lack of innovation.
Because more kids are injured than ever before. I don’t have enough room in this column for all the statistics, but every single neurological disorder has been on the rise since the 1980s.
Nowadays, the special education ‘room’ has expanded into an unscripted game of Duck, Duck, Goose. You will notice one to six children in every class are ‘pulled out’ of class at different times. There are five children at my son’s small elementary school who have epilepsy. And the latest statistics say 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with epilepsy each year. If you don’t have at least one child with a learning challenge, I bet you know someone who does. By 2025 one in two children will be autistic according a senior research scientist at MIT.
I know at schools, teachers and resource specialists are inundated. They constantly devote precious time trying to figure out how to improve the school day for each and every child.
But then again, I live on the Island of Misfit Toys as a parent of a child with special needs. I see the war zone firsthand. My youngest son started having seizures when he was six, three years ago, suffering brain damage with the biggest hit to his working memory, which placed me and so many parents out of the mainstream society into another place where the ADD, ADHD, Epilepsy, Autism, and all the other neurologically-challenged live. We are navigating within the constructs of a very streamlined public school system, making it up as we go, hoping our children can make it through the day without a medical emergency or a meltdown. Reaching AR goals and finishing homework are not concerns. I wish. In a typical day, my son is pulled out to see his resource specialist about three times. He sees a school speech therapist, occupational therapist, and has a full-time 1:1 aide to keep him safe and to help him with an alternate curriculum on seizure days.
So I go to the school board meetings, and listen in on what the Boards are working on implementing: bonds, programs and budgeting. I’m listening. I’m waiting. And I’m disappointed that the elephant in the room is not on the agenda.
Meanwhile, the majority of the school board meetings are, at best, about making school great for the ‘normal kids.’ And I won’t even mention some of the petty nonsense I’ve heard citizens and board members report as actual issues.
Why the school board meetings aren’t devoted to figuring out how to accommodate these children is beyond me. When will there be an item on the agenda that covers the topic of all the kids nowadays with learning challenges and serious illnesses? Why isn’t this the top of the list?
The leadership at every school should be brainstorming like an apocalypse is near. It’s not just a matter of budget, it’s a matter of survival and a priority as a conscious collective.