Friday, March 28, 2008

More Than A Fishing Lesson


Today's blog entry comes from a guest blogger! Amy, who began her school career as Ashley's one-on-one sign language assistant, has been promoted to a classroom instructional assistant. She is assigned to what my school district reprehensibly refers to as the 'severe and profound' classroom. In today's guest blog, Amy shares a story about discrimination for students with disabilities. Go Amy!!

Fishing lessons in P.E.? Our school teaches a long series to the seventh and eighth grade students on how to assemble your gear, cast, and reel. At the end of this lesson each class goes to a local park to practice their learned skills by fishing in the pond.

This year, all three of the special education classes were invited to go on the trip. I’ll be honest. At first I thought this was a joke. I didn’t have a clue how my students would handle a 45 minute trip to the park to fish. They were not taught anything about fishing, so how would they know what to do? Closer to the trip date, I realized that both of the classes with students who had less severe disabilities were given the permission slips to take home, however, my “severe and profound” class had been left out of that process. Of course I felt as if my students were being left out because to their disabilities. Rather quickly after I began to ask questions about my students not receiving the permission slips, they were in my hand.

I was so excited that we were doing this trip with all students included and working together. The excitement wouldn’t last long as I started to think about the little details that no one had probably thought about. Was their a handicap accessible bus going on the trip? Would the hourly instructional assistants come in early that day to accompany their students on the trip? Yet again I had to ask these questions and receive all of the puzzled looks as a response as if I were speaking a foreign language.

Later that day I had solved the bus situation for them. It was all pretty simple to me. The student that has a wheelchair would not be at school that day, and the student that is required to wear a safety harness (a special type of seat belt) could have the strap taken off of the accessible bus and hooked into a seat on the general education bus.

I thought all issues were solved and we explained to the students where we were going and what we would be doing the next day. I received a call the night before the trip from the instructional assistant to the student that wears the harness. She had been told as she was walking out the door the day before the trip that her student would no longer be permitted to go on the trip. Transportation seemed to have no clue how to make the accommodations needed for this student. This student’s instructional assistant is very dedicated to her student and very interested in allowing him every opportunity to learn, so understandably she was extremely upset by this news. I told her to not worry and to still plan to go on the trip.

Before I signed in the next morning, I began to ask questions to the administration. I knew that what they were doing would be breaking the law. The student had been asked to go, given permission from his parents and then denied the right to go based on his disability. D-I-S-C-R-I-M-I-N-A-T-I-O-N!!! I made sure to explain the details and remain calm. I spoke in detail to administration about equal opportunities. While still working on administration, I had one of the hourly aides take a strap off of the handicap bus, still hoping to make the school realize that if they denied the trip for this student, they were breaking the law. I know a great lawyer that works for the states protection and advocacy office.

Finally, I had convinced everyone that the student had the right to go. I had not only saved the school from a law suit, but opened the eyes of many people. I fought for this student’s rights; I felt that I had done my job. I made difference for many people in the future, at least at this school.

2 comments:

Casdok said...

Great post! We certainly could do with some more people like Amy!

Marla said...

Wonderful! I could have used you at my daughter's school many times Amy. Your story is an important one. I think staff gets kinda lazy sometimes and think it is easier to not have a student do something.