The Politics of Special Education in Public Schools

My son, A, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in December 2008. Since November 2011, I have been advocating on my son’s behalf in getting extra support in the classroom to help him benefit as much as possible from his learning environment. I have major concerns regarding my son’s human rights as a child with unique needs for many reasons. I have experience numerous roadblocks and delays to access to Special Education/specific TDSB Autism Support.

We were moving to a new area and had to place A into a new school and JK program. We approached a TDSB school in SW district inquiring about their school, how they would accommodate a child with special needs and if there were any teachers with experience educating a child with Autism. Vice Principal E.S. stated that many teachers had experience working with Autistic children, and had luncheons with Surrey Place. In the same conversation, he stated that he would refer A to ASD Team immediately before he was enrolled. He took our names, phone numbers and said he would phone us within two weeks to see if we still wanted to register A at their school and that if we didn’t hear from him, to come back to the school or phone.

Three weeks later, we ended up phoning. E.S. informed that he lost our phone number and was happy that we made contact again. We registered A on November 3, 2011. I began having concerns that day when we witnessed E.S. “checking out” a Parent volunteer’s buttocks, completely ignoring me as I spoke about my child with special needs. Since then, it has been a nightmare for our family. E.S., Vice Principal began calling home and work numbers 2-3 times a week asking us to pick up A only one hour before school was over because “he was unable to supervise A” and “wasn’t able to manage his behaviour”. When we inquired about what A had been doing at school, we got multiple stories or incomplete stories. The school had not been using ABC Behavioural Logs as discussed prior to registration and during our first meeting (In School Team) with N.A., E.S., and D.F. (ABC logs tell parents and anyone who reads it what happened before inappropriate behaviour started, what child did/said, how long behaviour lasted and what teacher did immediately following behaviour).

We asked for a Communication book as well as ABC logs to be filled out daily. Some days, no one would write in the Communication Book but would complain about A’s behaviour. On one instance of picking up A from school after a phone call home, we arrived and noticed they made A play with Lego in the office. I questioned why A was playing with Lego and was told by E.S. that “there is not enough staff in the Office to supervise him” and “we have a lot of other things to do and other students to look after”. I mentioned that the school is rewarding his supposed negative behaviour by giving him Lego and E.S. repeated his reasons. We never received written letters to state why A was being sent home or accurate accounts of his behaviour. We were told that he spat once at E.S., kicked, pinched and on one instance, called his Lunchroom Supervisor smelly.

They continued this for three weeks while also pressuring us to take A home for lunch because they refused to provide extra support in the classroom. A’s pediatrician expressed concern with the school pressuring us to keep at home for lunch when the days he could come home would change every week therefore disrupting routines. We expressed this concern initially as well as expressed that we were both working parents and believe that A’s has the right to participate in school lunch programs. On many of the phone calls I asked when we would be having a School Support Team (SST) meeting. (SST meetings consist of parents, principal, involved teachers, TDSB appointed social worker, psychologists, speech therapists, pediatrician, etc,.) E.S. told me that we had an SST meeting for November 8th at A’s previous school according to the OSR. We never received letters indicating that meeting and because we didn’t go to that school anymore, we would have to wait again. E.S. assured us that we would meet with SST in December. We contacted E.S. asking when the SST meeting would occur and he informed us five days before the Holiday Break that we would not be meeting in December but in January. When I asked why, E.S. stated that other students had been waiting longer than A (even though we have been waiting in the TDSB system since A’s initial JK enrolment). E.S. also stated that it was important to see the Junior grade students first for SST meeting even though we were promised to have a spot for December.

I asked E.S. in the same conversation why the school could not apply for another Special Needs Assistant and he responded that he ‘heard through Administration that there is no point in doing so’. I felt that was a really negative response given A.F. and myself have been told numerous times since asking for support for A that there are only 1.5 Special Needs Assistants for 800 students. It is clear that the school would need more special needs support if they were truly servicing 800 students. The 1.5 SNAs for every 800 students was commonly used starting from our first IST meeting and at any instance in phone calls when I asked about support and progress in obtaining some. E.S. also stated that the school could not take away any of the SNAs from other students to support A, even for 20 minutes a day. An obvious exaggeration and attempt to guilt and avoid communicating with two parents honestly.

A’s school has continued to delay progress in gaining support. After writing a letter requesting an IPRC (Identification, Placement, and Review Committee) meeting, I got an immediate phone response from D.F. Principal the following day. He had avoiding returning my phone calls to speak with him directly until I cc’d the Area Superintendent C.I., Special Ed Co-ordinator for SW V.M and A’s pediatrician in my letter. He responded the next day informing of many things such as the fact that E.S. was responsible for making referal to Autism team but decided to wait until computerized version of application was available in December. The paper referal form was one sheet which when sent could have placed A into the queue sooner. He also stated that A’s OSR had not been sent from his former school (despite what E.S. said) so referral to Autism team could not be made. D.F. submitted the referal to ASD team on December 20th, 2011 via Internet. He insisted that I did not have to write my request although many resources state it is probably the best way of documenting especially if communication is not all there to begin with. D.F. mentioned that he already phoned his boss, C.I about my letter so I decided to send an e-mail version of my request. I received a three sentence response: Thanks C. The SST meeting is the appropriate channel to discuss concerns and strategies. I’m certain you will receive advance notice of the time you’re required to be at the meeting on the 31st so that a full discussion can take place.

Upon returning to school from the Holiday break, A received paperwork in his backpack Jan 11th and Jan 17th. Both documents were dated for December 23rd(last day of school before Holiday break) and Jan 10th not the date they were actually sent home. The two documents received on Jan 11th consisted of one letter stating the date of SST meeting ( dated 23rd) and the other, an Autism Services Referral form (dated 10th). Finally, we had a date for the SST meeting! While we were excited about that, we still felt frustrated because we were told that N.A., A’s teacher, was supposed to be working on his IEP since December 2011.

On January 18th, 2012, I attended the SST meeting. I presented A’s photo so that all those attending remembered who we were there to discuss. E.S. attended the meeting and sighed a few times while it was my turn to speak with the SST members. I ignored him as I wanted to present myself as reasonable and there for A’s needs only. The Pediatrician, Dr. S-Bell (new trial with TDSB) questioned A’s pediatrician making statements like, “Dr. # is not a Developmental Pediatrician”. After presenting numerous paperwork to show that since A’s birth, we have been involved with Parenting and Autism services in the community, Dr. S-Bell stated “I respect you a lot”. I left the meeting feeling like some progress was going to be made. Check out the meeting notes here

To my dismay, not much had happened even three weeks later. Despite stating to me (in front of witnesses) that Dr. S-Bell would leave consent forms for me to sign, there had been no forms sent home for 21 days. To date, none have been sent home. I contacted D.F on Jan 27th, 2012 to inquire as to where the documents were and how long A would have to wait for an appointment. D.F. promised he would get back to me by Friday, Jan 27th, 2012. He did not contact me by the deadline he gave and I had to go into the school the following week to inquire. He still had not had an answer when asked in person on Feb 1st, 2012. I ended up receiving a phone call from the TDSB clinic stating that I had to contact A’s Pediatrician to make a referral to the clinic. Very different from what is stated in the SST Meeting Notes and what I was told in front of witnesses.

Later that afternoon, I picked up A from school and he had three small scratches under his eye. The teacher asked me where it came from and I told her that A did not leave home with marks on his face. A later told me that a classmate scratched him yet no supervising adult seemed to notice and assumed it came from home. In a phone call received earlier that day, E.S. stated there would be paperwork from the New Safety Plan in A’s backpack. I checked his backpack after talking with N.A and found no paperwork. A and I walked to the Office to inquire why the paperwork wasn’t in the backpack as it was being sent in the IPRC package on Feb 2nd I wanted to sign the documents. E.S. said that they were just photocopying them now although it was 3:20pm, school had finished over 20 mins before and they were to be in A’s package by pick up. N.A. never mentioned they needed to be photocopied upon pickup.

As of Feb 1st, 2012, the school has not contacted our Behavioural Consultant from the Geneva Centre despite receiving her contact card at SST Meeting and having a signed consent form signed Jan 16th, 2012 that permitted contact between the Board and Geneva Centre. The school had also stated on SST Meeting Notes that they would ‘prepare Third Party documents to facilitate consultation with Behavioural Consultant. When I went to review and sign the Safety Plan that was to be sent home, I asked why Behavioural Consultant was not included under Community Agency in A’s Safety Plan or contacted. E.S. was rude, stated that Consultant never phoned school. When I persisted in stating that she had, he said she must have left a message on the General Office voicemail. I questioned that Receptionists usually check inbox daily. E.S. had stated at that point that he just wasn’t sure about what the Third Party policy is on having Community Agencies in the classroom. After this conversation, I simply had enough and decided I needed to document our families’ experience more thoroughly.

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