It began with “he doesn’t need Special Ed.”
After that, it included numerous suspensions, hours in locked rooms, delayed meals, restraint and, later, handcuffs. It included endless meetings for his Individualized Education Plan (IEP), numerous phone calls at work, tears, family medical leave, medications that did not work and the loss of TWO jobs in only three years. It included endless research, assumptions about my parenting skills, retaliation, and ignored requests. It also required labels such as EBD, SEBD, and others. But it never included P.E., art or music, field trips, making friends with kids at school or learning challenging materials.
It meant thousands of dollars for private school, an independent evaluation paid for by a different county system, more phone calls and emails to the Georgia State Department of Education. It took eight years for my local school system to believe what I knew was true about my child all along: That he is bright, hard working, and could handle being in class with typical kids.
Finally, in the 7th grade, my son is happy and healing. He is now in a gifted math class which is co-taught, and in other classes with typical children. This is the same child who was handcuffed the year before for disruption of class in a setting which was not appropriate for him.
My son has Aspergers syndrome, a form of autism. A person with Aspergers is usually extremely sensitivity to light, sound, touch and is very aware of personal space. They usually have difficulty with social skills and show intense interests.
Because people with Aspergers have fairly advanced verbal skills, it is more difficult to notice their disability. In my son’s case, the school system had incorrectly evaluated him, so he was forced into a class for Emotional Behavior Disordered (EBD) children.
People with Aspergers or “Aspies”, as their culture calls it, are logical, practical and intelligent but can experience sensory overload in certain classroom situations. This neurological difference is not a mental illness, yet school officials placed him with children who have mental illnesses and behavior problems. Because of this decision, he was bored, frustrated and had become increasingly depressed.
On this downward spiral, he was soon labeled Seriously Emotional Behavior Disordered (SEBD). Once forced into this category, he was made to attend the Georgia Network for Education and Therapeutic Services, or (GNETS). At one point, he was restrained and locked in a room. Although officials now regulate this kind of restrain and seclusion, the curriculum is still below standards. They had no accountability then, and they have none now. My child had learning differences and felt like he did not fit in anywhere.
If it were not for my education, my Lord, my family and a great middle school principal, my son would have been in court or in an institution by now. I learned how to advocate, and how to speak up for the rights of my child, and now I help others.
If you know a child with an IEP, go read more about it. Help them and their families advocate. They might not have an IEP, but they might have a 504 Plan allowing preferential seating, extra time on tests, etc. If so, they have a disability. Find out if they are experiencing discrimination or bullying. Ask them if they need an advocate. They may need a meeting, a Behavior Intervention Plan, better curriculum, or smarter goals. They may need to file a complaint. Their parents may be undereducated and may have trouble understanding their rights.
Often parents are handed a four-page flyer to inform them of their rights, typed in a tiny font, filled with legal jargon. Most parents do not have the resources they need to keep kids out of the School to Prison Pipeline. The more you know, the more you can help them avoid the Pipeline.