Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tilden School to stay open

Tilden exterior.JPG

Several weeks ago, I told you about Ben's school, Tilden Elementary, and how the school district wanted to close it next year and relocate the students and teachers to several other schools.

Apparently, having too many special needs students at a school violates Federal Disabilities Law. This seems so strange to me.

I understand that the law is intended to prevent students with disabilities from being hidden away and isolated from typical peers. That's a good thing.

But the students at Tilden are anything BUT hidden away. All kids at Tilden - whether they are general ed or special ed - are just that: students. There is a focus on difference rather than disability and that means that every child is seen as being on a continuum of learning needs. Whether he or she has an IEP or not.

Isn't this the ideal? Shouldn't this be the model?

Integration should not be measured in ratios of "how many of these and how many of those."

Integration is about culture. And while the school district should and must examine how to balance special ed and general ed in accordance with the Federal Laws, it's not right to destroy a real culture of integration in the process.

A culture that does exactly what that Fedral Law was designed to promote: maximize success for ALL students.

And this is what I had the opportunity to say at the Oakland Unified School Board meeting last night.

Dozens of us: parents, teachers, children and community members stood up for Tilden and asked the school board to postpone the closing and relocation of Tilden until the district could implement a better planning process that includes teachers and families.

It was inspiring to hear so many people spoke passionately about the wonderful culture of this school and hear what Tilden has meant to them.

The school board heard us. They voted unanimously to postpone the closing of Tilden for one year.

As I said in my previous post, since Ben's IEP recommends a full-inclusion program next year, we won't be staying at Tilden. This is only because Tilden does not have any classrooms that are technically inclusion classrooms, having almost exclusively general ed students.

However, I hope to continue to work with the parent organization to get the word out about Tilden, increase general education enrollments and hopefully show the school board that Tilden's model is viable.

It needs to be there for the families who come after us. For the shell-shocked, post-diagnosis, worried families who have just been told their three year old is autistic, that he will be in special education and oh, by the way, that he will ride on a bus. By himself.

Those families need a safe, welcoming place with loving teachers to know that it's going to be okay. More than okay. That it's going to be amazing. Because that's what Tilden is. Amazing.

tilden sign.JPG


Anonymous said...

You are one special young woman! What a spokesperson! What an advocate! Your passionate spirit is inspiring. Hugs, Julie

Kristin said...

HI Christa - It's funny to read your post but from a somewhat different perspective. Here in Chicgao we have Local School Councils made up of 6 parent reps, 2 teachers reps, 2 community reps and the principal. This group determines how funds certain funds are used and what priorities should be for the school. While I know the idea was well intentioned - it's dumb. I am no mreo qualified to do this than the average jerk off the street! However, because I do sit on the LSC I had the opportunity to hear a presentation on Special Education processes and school based problem solving. While in theory everything seems fine there is a concerted goal NOT to identify kids with disabilities as this is considered a mark against the school Yet my daugher has a hearing disability. Her situation could be easily addressed with an FM system yet the school does not want to identify her disability (which is a profound unilateral hearing loss). This is ridiculous - there are studies to support our belief that she would do better with and FM system but they don't want to make that determination until they have tried everything else. Why?

All I'm saying is the problem with difference is more in the stigma the system attaches then each student's peers - particulary in primary school.

I'm glad Ben has his school and the support he needs to be his best! You rock.