Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Bad News

Last Friday, I shared good news with, we delve into the bad news...

Those of you who are regular followers of this blog know that last September, during the first week of school, I filed a complaint with my state's Department of Education against my school district. Ashley ONLY communicates via ASL (sign language). She is deaf and blind. When school started, I was told the school district had been unable to hire an instructional assistant with sign language skills. And, Ashley’s teacher does not sign.

The complaint worked its way through the bureaucracy, and finally my school district was found in non-compliance, and had to devise a plan to deliver compensatory services to Ashley.

One of their ideas, and on the surface it seems to be a good idea, the school district administrators suggested involving Ashley in some extracurricular activities. They assured me she would be provided the appropriate supports for the activities.

The first of the scheduled compensatory activities was for Ashley to join the school cheerleaders at a student-teacher basketball game. Ashley, I was told, would be a cheerleader and would have the support of an interpreter. The school district was very pleased with their idea, and said they were making all the plans. Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite as I was told they would. The morning after the game, I composed and sent the following letter to the two administrators who had devised the plan. Identifying information has been changed to protect the innocent (or guilty, as the case may be…). I do not yet have a response.

Dear school administrators,

As you know, last night was the scheduled student/teacher basketball game at which Ashley was scheduled to join the cheerleaders and participate in the cheering. This activity was designed to satisfy some of the compensatory services discussed as a result of my complaint to the Department of Education. I wish to share my observations of how last night went, and I would then like to hear your opinions.

1. I dropped Ashley off at the front of the high school where the game was being held and left her with our friend, Miss Amy while I parked my vehicle. After parking, and as I approached the front of the school, I saw a woman I did not know come up to Ashley and say, “Hi squirrely girl.” That same woman then turned, approached me, stuck out her hand and said, “Hi, (and said her name).” I said , “It’s nice to meet you”, and she turned and walked away.
(**That person was the recently hired instructional assistant assigned to my daughter. She is supposed to know sign language, but I think Ashley knows more.**)

I have some problems with these exchanges. First, in my community of friends and acquaintances the term “squirrely” is not used as a term of endearment and does not have a positive connotation. Secondly, Ms. (instructional assistant) never signed to Ashley or to me. Deaf etiquette demands that if a person is around someone who is deaf, and if that person signs,like I have been told Ms. Instructional assistant does, all conversations should be signed. Any other behavior is rude and exclusionary.

2. I met the interpreter also at the front of the school. Again, that person did not sign to me or to Ashley. We walked into the school and into the gym and located the student cheerleaders. Just as we arrived, the National Anthem was beginning. I helped Ashley understand that she needed to place her right hand over her heart, and I then expected the interpreter to sign the Anthem. She did not, but after a few moments, Amy did sign the Anthem to completion.

3. After the Anthem, I signed to Ashley that I was leaving and that she would be cheering. I moved to the other side of the gym. Ashley did not have a problem with that separation.

4. I continued to observe Ashley with the interpreter as the teacher athletes were announced, and the interpreter still signed nothing to Ashley. She sat on the bleacher and pulled Ashley to sit beside her.

5. After the teachers were announced, the student athlete names were called. At this time, all the cheerleaders except Ashley had moved to the center of the floor to form a line through which the students ran. Ashley remained sitting on the bleacher with the interpreter who was still signing nothing. At this point, I went back to Ashley and the interpreter and said that I believed Ashley was to be on the floor with the rest of the cheerleaders. The interpreter said, “Oh, I didn’t know that.” Still she was not signing.

6. I tried to locate the pom poms that the cheerleaders were using since no one had gotten any for Ashley. I finally found them, but by that time the cheerleaders had returned to the side of the gym floor.

7. I stood back to observe the interaction between the regular ed cheerleaders and the exceptional ed cheerleaders, and there was none.

8. At that point, I caught Amy’s eye across the gym and signed to her that things were not working and that we were going to leave. Amy came over, talked for a few moments with (one of the school administrators). Although Mr. (administrator) and two other adult staff from Ashley’s school were standing less than 5 feet away from Ashley, and I believe witnessed both the lack of interaction and the issues with the interpreter, none of them intervened and attempted to improve the situation. I did see Mr. administrator talking notes, so perhaps he will be able to provide his interpretation of the events to you.

9. After being in the gym for approximately 30 minutes with Ashley’s only communication coming from Amy on two short occasions and from me, Ashley was becoming frustrated and asked to leave. I tried convincing her to stay but she signed, “Why? I want to go home.”

10. Mr. administrator had to move from in front of the exit door for us. He said nothing as we left, but one of the other adult staff said, “Have a good evening.” The interpreter followed us out of the building, and I believe, left to go home also. She did not sign anything at that time to Ashley.

I believe you both know me well enough to understand that I am not at all pleased with the way things happened last night. As we discussed at our IEP meeting on this subject, the game and cheering activity appeared to provide a great opportunity to satisfy some compensatory services while also helping integrate Ashley into the community more, and provide unique opportunities for growth in communication.

I don’t believe my expectations for the evening were unreasonable. I wanted Ashley to be included with her regular ed peers in a fun activity. I wanted adequate communication provided so she could be a fully participating part of the activity, and I wanted her to receive the same respect that her peers received. Unfortunately, none of the expectations were met. I believe the environment was exclusionary and that improper supports were provided. To me, the entire activity felt like tokenism rather than inclusion.

I am not comfortable proceeding with plans for (the next event which we have discussed) until we work through these issues, and I can be assured the next event will be structured with the proper preparation and supports. In addition, I am requesting that Ms. Instructional assistant apologize to Ashley for the behavior I mentioned in item #1 above and that you both witness and verify that apology.

I am anxious to hear your comments,


Amazing_Grace said...

I am so sorry that Ashley had to go through that ordeal as well as you. It seems the school just doesn't get it as usual. I fought tooth and nail for my son to receive certain services and when we finally got them, they were sorely lacking. UGH.

I wish you could have filmed the event. It would have proved how inappropriate it was.

Casdok said...

I hope you get a response and soon.

So frustrating for you and Ashley. Why do we have to keep on at people for just the simplist things?

Dalya said...

did you not ask the interpreter why she wasn't signing to Ashley? It may just be how i would have handled things, but I would have tried asking her to sign to ashley like she is supposed to do as an interpreter and seen if she could have joined in the 2nd cheer group before leaving, please understand i dont mean this to be mean im just curious, i think you are a wonderfully brave woman who stands up for the rights being denied your daughter by her school. The lack of the interpreters initiative is disgusting, as well as the lack of support from the school. Keep up the good fight!!!!


Ashley's Mom said...

Dalya, yes I did ask the interpreter why she wasn't signing and she said she wasn't sure what she was supposed to do. (say what??)

My daughter is deaf and significantly visually impaired. She has no vision in her left eye, and can only see about 2 inches from her right eye. She prefers that signing be done directly in front of that good eye (as opposed to in her hand). I don't think the interpreter understood that. The school district should have provided adequate training for the interpreter or used an interpreter that was familiar with deafblind communication strategies.

One thing to keep in mind is that the purpose of this exercise was to instill some independence in Ashley while in the community. The school district administrator was adamant that she did not want me to stay with Ashley. In fact, she wanted me to leave the premises.

Of course, I wasn't going to do that else Ashley would have been miserable the entire time. Ashley made the decision that she wanted to leave because she didn't feel comfortable and no one was working to make her comfortable. I don't blame her and I supported her decision to leave.

Dalya said...

how useless those people seem!!! You definitely did the right thing by supporting your daughter in what she felt comfortable doing. you'd think that if the school really wanted this to succeed they would have worked harder to wards a clear communication goal they should be highly embarrassed at this failure! My love and prayers to you and yours, keep fighting the good fight. if only we could establish schools and programs that really aimed at helping these children thrive with people not working just for money. ahsley proves everyday by communicating and making what she wants clear (like leaving)that she is a strong brave young woman with a wonderfully supportive mother who listens and really considereds whats best for her. While my mother was in hospital my step mom was in charge of my education and she let me read lips and spilt the money that would have been spent on an interpreter with my principal. it was fixed when my mother was better, but it made school very hard for a few years, ashley is lucky to have you fighting for her!!!