Flooding Tears

I recently visited a local high school with a friend. Her son who has Down syndrome will be a student at this school next year. The transition to high school is a big one. She and her family have been working on this transition for years, fighting the status quo in our state, which is to keep kids with significant disabilities in special classes away from their non disabled peers.

Special classes for kids with disabilities are called self-contained classes. Self-contained as opposed to mingling about and switching teachers, classrooms, and subjects throughout the day. Typically these self-contained students stay in one classroom all day long and receive their instruction from one teacher with the help of several aides. Sometimes the students in these classes are allowed to go to elective classes or lunch with other kids. But for the most part, they are kept hidden away in private classrooms without any interaction with non disabled students.

My friend and I and several other friends of ours have been fighting against this status quo for years. We believe that our children should be educated right alongside peers who do not have disabilities. We believe that the positive peer pressure from being with these students and the friendships with these other students are life-giving and important. We believe that even if our children can’t demonstrate that they are learning everything the other students are learning, they deserve to be exposed to everything the other students are learning. The difference is literally as plain as our children still learning about the calendar and the weather and counting to 30 in high school instead of learning about the Periodic Table or the Cell Cycle. (Disclaimer: perhaps that is a simplified example, but it is true to what I have witnessed and heard about in Texas high schools)

So the other day while visiting this local high school, my friend and I stood talking in the entryway to the school, right outside of the front office. We stood in an active, busy thoroughfare of the main hallway of the school. We watched groups of students filing to lunch and to the library; then we watched students filing from lunch and on to class. The students, of course, came in waves as the passing periods came and went in the middle of the day. I love teenagers so I enjoyed watching them come and go, laughing or joking or cutting up as they went.

But then, surprisingly, when the hallway was quiet since it was not a main passing period, a group of about 8 or 10 students came parading by. A couple of them were holding hands with teachers and being led down the hall. It became clear that this was the special education class. The self-contained class. The kids with disabilities. The hall was empty except for these few students. They didn’t even pass paths with their typical peers during passing periods. They didn’t even see other kids on their way back from lunch. It was just them in the empty hallway.

My friend and I watched silently.

“Oh my gosh,” I finally whispered. It was as though I had been punched in the gut. I could not breathe as I watched them walk by.

And then the tears came. And they came hard.

Now, I am not a crier. I don’t cry. But here, in the entryway of this high school, I started crying. And I couldn’t stop. I think I mostly controlled my heaving breaths that were trying to escape my lungs as I tried to control my tears, but the tears certainly came.

It broke my heart. It made me angry. It made me sad.

And the emotions flooded.

This. This is why we fight. This is why we work so hard to get inclusion for our kids. This is why we help families. This is why we spread the word that inclusive education is important.

I was overwhelmed with the injustice of it all — the injustice that somehow these students were deemed unworthy to be learning with the other students. The realization that without loud, vocal, fighting mamas– this is exactly where our kids would be, separated from the rest of the world, parading down the hall with these students all the way to their private classroom, away from the other students and away from the rich learning taking place in those other classrooms.

And I realized that all the nights I complain about helping Chloe with her difficult homework from her 9th grade biology class or her Algebra I class, I should have been so thankful that she had the opportunity to learn biology and algebra instead of being ushered down the hall away from those subjects. All of those nights of hours of homework with her are worth it!

That hard World Geography semester review that had frustrated me the night before? I was suddenly so very thankful that Chloe and I were able to struggle through it. Because the alternative is no homework, no world geography, and no inclusion.

That parade of students showed me, reminded me, that everything we do and everything we’ve done has a purpose and it’s all worthwhile. All the fighting, all the work, all the rocking of the boat and questioning the norm has a purpose. We are fighting so that our children won’t be a part of that parade that passes by after all the other kids are in class. We are fighting so that our children can learn everything that the other kids are learning. We are fighting so that when a friend mentions their 3-D cell project or the Periodic Table, our children will know what the heck they’re talking about.

Yes, the tears came. And, yes, it was awkward and embarrassing. But the tears and the emotion were strong enough to remind me of the importance of our fight. The emotion reminded me why we speak up. And the emotion reminded me what we’re fighting for and what we’re fighting against.

I believe that my kids have the right to be educated right alongside the other kids. And I believe that ALL KIDS have the right to be educated right alongside the other kids.

I only wish I could help more students. I only wish I could convince more families to fight. I only wish I could stop that private and sad parade going down the hall while the rest of the world is off learning together.

Oh, how I want to change the world. Oh, how I want to change the status quo.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Suzanne Byers on January 21, 2018 at 3:41 PM

    I have given this topic some thought lately, too. My son is fixing to start kindergarten and we have been unsure as to whether or not he is ready and whether or not he would be put in the contained classroom or the regular ed class. After talking to his teachers and therapists, they feel like he will be in the regular class, but have an aid either with him or pulling him from the class throughout the day for the extra help he needs. I’m glad if this. I know he is smart and I want him to be challenged, even if he doesn’t get it all.
    On the other end, I work with adults with I/DD and the big push from the state and the government right now is to have them included fully – holding down jobs and living independently as possible. For some folks, this can work. For others, it never will. But I feel like if we are pushing them to live in “our world” then it only makes sense for us to be in theirs, meaning that if people with disabilities are expected to have jobs, they need to attend regular classes. And those of us in regular classes and jobs need to be trained in recognizing this group as part of our society, and even learn how to help them navigate our able-bodied world. The pay rate and turn over for direct support providers, home health aids, and teacher aids is tremendous. It’s as if the people who care for individuals with disabilities are thought of as minimum wage after thoughts. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our high schools could train people with disabilities in how to function in an able-bodied world, while also training the able-bodied on how to help those with disabilities?
    I love that you are passionate about this and willing to be an advocate for those in need. ❤️

    Reply

    • Oh my gosh yes! I so agree! And if we did a better job of appreciating and training those who work w people w disabilities then those adult that you say can’t work and live in the community have a way better chance of success with the right support!! Definitely a soap box for me.

      And your comment reminds me of a favorite quote by my friend Charlene Comstock-Galagan: “We must educate kids in learning environments which look like the ones we hope they will live in as adults, because as adults they are likely to live in environments which look like the ones in which they were educated.“

      Reply

  2. Hi there, I identify with the frustration you face within the public school system. I have cerebral palsy and growing up, there was a massive ongoing battle between my mother and I and the public school system for inclusion. I am happy to say that although The battle was long and arduous, I was fully included and College was a much better experience for me than compulsory education.

    Here are some of my reflections, challenges and successes throughout my schooling years. Hope this may provide some help.

    https://thewrongsimustwrite.wordpress.com/2017/12/03/im-not-your-poster-child/

    Reply

  3. You go Momma! I love that you fight for what is right!! Your inspiring an inspiring Momma!

    Reply

  4. Posted by Angel D Pittman on February 5, 2018 at 9:48 AM

    Such important work you are doing Kelly, not just for your great kids but for all of us. Much love to you as you fight on!

    Reply

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