T. and I were walking in our neighborhood with a good friend and her daughter when we ran into a teacher from the public school by our house, and her daughter. My friend introduced us and said T. would be joining the school in a couple of years. My response without thinking was something like, “I don’t know about that. We may want him in a private school.” I explained that given he was a special needs student we didn’t really feel comfortable with a public school setting even though I thought her school had a lot to offer. In my mind, I was thinking specifically because it was the most racially and ethnically school in the city. Different is good, right?
It was an awkward moment. I knew the teacher by reputation and her reputation was great. But, I was saying there was something wrong with her school. Our fears are just that – fears, plural. Kids that have everything going for them are likely to do well wherever they are but what about our kid? I asked if special needs children were in mainstream classes. The answer was a vague “some of the time”.
In my grade school, there was a boy named John. John looked different from us. John did almost everything differently then we did. I can picture John’s face more clearly than almost anyone in my class even now. John didn’t play with other kids on the playground as much as he hung out with the teacher. I don’t remember seeing John after 2nd grade.
I volunteered in the special needs classroom at church as teenager. It was about 5 kids who had different disabilities. One kid was a 20 year-old man mixed in with grade school aged children. The classroom was in the basement two floors away from everybody else. My mom didn’t know the room existed until I told her about it this summer. In high school, the special education kids were also housed in the basement. Do they think these kids are afraid of stairs?
The private pre-school T. goes to has half special needs students and half typical students. My husband asked why would someone send their child to the school knowing that. The answer was some parents think diversity is important.
The teacher turned to her daughter and asked, “Does anyone say anything mean to those kids?” The daughter said, “No.” And, I thought that’s not enough for me. The question is “are you friends with any of those kids?”
We have the same expectations all parents have. We want T.’s difference to be viewed as valuable.