Saturday, January 09, 2010

Zakh Price: Sleepless Nights

There are stories out there that keep me up at night, wallowing in thought. The story of Zakh Price is one of them.

For those of you not aware of this ongoing epic, Zakh Price is eleven years old and just started at a new school in Arkansas this past fall. Unfortunately for Zakh, the school's ignorance about special education practice, law, and purpose now has this disabled child facing felony charges and institutionalization. Needless to say, his grandmother, who is his guardian, is beside herself- and out of money. Lawyers ain't cheap, and going head-to-head with a school like this requires lawyers.

If that's not enough to make for sleepless nights, get this: one of the school personnel involved in the escalation of the situation and pressing charges against this child is the school principal.

I am currently working to start the transition process for my son. Our district has gotten on the trendy bandwagon of separating elementary grades into upper and lower elementary. Now, I know there are lots of really good reasons for doing this, particularly with regular-ed kids. After all, there is a huge difference between a kindergardener and a fifth grader. On the other hand, it makes for a pain in the butt for special-ed kids. We lose consistency in staff and philosophy. You just start getting the kinks out of IEP implementation, and you have to basically start from scratch with a whole new set of people who don't know you, don't know your kid, and may have a completely different idea of what educating your kid even means.

I have emailed the school principal three times. Only two of those emails have apparently gotten through to his office. One, I was told he would call, and he never did. The next was only acknowledged after I pointed out this issue to the director of student services, was again told I would be called, and... never have been. This man clearly doesn't understand why I am concerned and want to get this ball rolling now. I have been told balls started rolling among the school personnel, but the relationship with me? Not batting 1000, that's for sure. I find that frightening, especially in light of stories like that of Zakh Price. If the principal is not on board, not trained, not educated, then it clearly is not a priority to that principal- and how can we expect the teachers and staff to be appropriately trained, if such training and understanding are not considered a priority by the principal of the school?

Fortunately- and unfortunately- I have seen some of the special ed staff at this school in action. I have seen excellent teachers. I have seen fair-to-mediocre administrators. I have seen representatives of the school inappropriately railroad a parent in a public forum, and steer a public forum inappropriately to a specific case instead of considering the broader issues involved in that case. Overall, I'm really not comfortable with sending Joey to this new school based on my current observations and conversations with parents in that school. The best teacher on the planet can be railroaded by a mediocre administrator- I've seen it happen first-hand. I know for a fact they have not yet hired the personnel they will need to appropriately understand my son and appropriately support him in regular-ed classrooms. We are not looking forward to the step back we are likely to see if that doesn't change in the next few months.

Yes, the story of Zakh Price keeps me up at night. I fervently believe that we will not have such a dramatic and ugly experience as the Price family is experiencing, but it doesn't need to be so dramatic to still be disastrous.

1 comment:

Stimey said...

The story about that poor fifth grader is horrifying. And I agree with you 100% that the principal sets the tone for the school. That is one of the reasons I feel so lucky with my situation. Our principal is so supportive of special ed kids in general and Jack in particular. I'm so grateful.