We are closing in on our third month of homeschooling Ben, and we have to say it’s been a rewarding experience. It’s not the path we intended to follow; but as parents, we feel it’s our responsibility to ensure that our children get the best education possible, and it’s simply not available in the public middle school for special needs students. We wanted to share a little bit of our experiences, so that any readers in our shoes may know what to anticipate. We will also put forth the disclaimer that we am not asserting all public middle schools in Florida are like this. We only have the one experience (so far).
We transferred Ben in with high expectations that the school would be similar to what we’ve experienced in Wisconsin. We did our research online: this is an “A” rated school. We talked with the special education specialist over the phone and in person prior to the start of the school year, and we were reassured that modifications would be made to accommodate Ben’s needs. So far, so good.
The IEP meeting was not held until after school started-red flag number one. How could they possibly know how to accommodate his needs if no IEP was in place? The IEP meeting went fairly well, but they seemed to disregard certain adaptations that were in place in Wisconsin, stating “we don’t do things that way here”. One example is no time limits on when homework may be turned in. Life with an autistic child is not predictable, and there were simply some nights that homework could not be completed. They consented to give him one extra day to complete homework; however, we did observe that when Ben needed more than one day to finish he was not penalized for it.
In the beginning they failed to include directions for homework, and because Ben was not able to tell us what the homework was, there were assignments missed. It seemed every week there was an instance of lack of communication between school and home. Sometimes Ben’s aide would write us detailed notes. Some days not. Towards the end of October Ben’s Science teacher stopped communicating with us over missing homework and ignored our emails. If Ben missed a Science lab or classwork, he would not be provided with the missing information. Ben was told by his special education teacher that he would have to go to a special school if he didn’t stop making bad choices; the “bad choice” being a meltdown that he had no control over due to his autism. It was believed that he was choosing to act out to avoid work, but that’s not our Ben.
In short, they failed to recognize what an awesome and talented young man he is, and instead focused on his challenges. He was not accommodated, he was bullied in the lunchroom, he was suspended a couple of times over petty circumstances, and in the end, school administration failed to abide by IDEA laws and then covered it up by saying “it wasn’t intentional”.
So, we made the decision to homeschool for the rest of the school year. We don’t know what his educational future holds; we may decide to enroll him in public school again, and we are considering virtual school for seventh grade, but we feel it is our responsibility to provide him with a safe, nurturing learning environment, and right now that place is home. A child simply cannot learn if he is afraid of doing and/or saying the wrong thing, afraid of being suspended, afraid of making the wrong choices. We feel this middle school is way too strict, and really not conducive to students with disabilities. It is definitely not his least restrictive environment, and administration is to blame for setting the tone of the school in such a way.
Hindsight is 20/20, but had we realized the extent of how the school year would be for him, we would have opted to stay in Wisconsin until Ben graduated high school. If you are satisfied with your child’s school, are planning a move to Florida, and have children with special needs, please consider staying in your state until your child graduates high school. There is a reason Florida has a high attendance rate in their virtual schools. We have friends all over the state, and dissatisfaction with the schools seem to be the norm.