March 03, 2004

kindergarten is complicated

Is this interesting to anyone besides me? Not that itíll affect what I write here Ė I need to record this absurd process Ė- but Iím curious.

So. The new chapter in the school search saga. Yesterday morning I got up ridiculously early to trek across town for a school tour. It took even longer than Iíd feared. Forty five minutes on clear roads. God knows what it would be like in heavy traffic with stops to let kids off the bus. Damian would get home after dark. No thanks.

Still, I mused as I drove on curvy roads through winter-watered green hills, itís so peaceful up here. Like a different world. We could move up here. Not to a house, we couldnít afford a one room bungalow in that part of town, but maybe a condo. It might be a pleasant change of pace. Sure is pretty up here.

Then I went on the tour. Well. The school looks fairly good. Pleasant grounds, attentive kids, colorful classrooms, though I had some hesitations. For reasons I canít articulate, it doesnít feel like the best fit. But the people on the tour, including the woman giving the tour Ė well, they were all very much of that part of town. The parent giving the tour was gaunt, her skin stretched taut across her skull. Her hair perfectly coiffed, sprayed and airbrushed, her clothes ultrafashionable. She was sleek like a ferret. Super nice and friendly in that California way. Pleasant enough, yes, but a school filled with parents like that? Arranging play dates with their children? The only person on the tour I related to turned out to be the only other one from outside the local area. Tells you something, doesnít it?

An interesting tidbit: the kindergarten classes there are crowded with local kids. They attend the school for a year and then switch to private school Ė and repeat the same grade. Their parents plan it this way ahead of time. Why not just stay in preschool an extra year? Is it just so their kids can shine academically in the private school after having gotten an actual kindergarten experience ahead of time? So they can seem gifted, ahead of the curve? Is this a form of stacking the deck?

Iím glad I went, though. I picked up an application. We need to choose one of the five charter schools in this particular area. They have a compact. One of the five is also in an upscale area, but itís closer to home and also closer to where we want to move. They accept roughly half the out-of-area applicants. Iíll check the place out, probably apply. The head of Damianís current school says itís a good place. I have still have some hesitation. The woman on the phone assumed I was in the local district. Which means most kids who go there are. Which means Damian will be an outsider. Which is not good. Maybe we should be looking at townhouses and condos there? I like the neighborhood. The people seem a little less tightly wound than the other place.

Or maybe itíd be fine for him to commute. Itís probably half an hour from here. Weíd have to see if he gets in. If we decide to send him. If itís the best choice. If if if.

Thereís another issue, a big one. This may be a concern in every school around here, I donít yet know. But I donít like it. In fact, it infuriates me. Iíve heard before that some (a lot of?) schools try to block children with special needs from enrolling. Now I know how. The charter school application I picked up yesterday asked for a bunch of relevant information: does your child have a sibling in the school, how old is your child, how can we contact you? That sort of thing. It also asked something else. Now, remember, this application will be tossed into a box and pulled out in a completely random lottery. If your slip of paper is pulled, you then fill out an enrollment form with more useful information.

So then why did this half-sized piece of paper have a section in it asking if your child has been assessed for and qualifies for any of the following special services and instructing you in that case to attach said childís IEP? The acronyms that followed included things like OHI (Other Health Impaired) and SED (Severe Emotional Disturbance). These are not services, these are diagnoses. Interestingly, it left off ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and AUT (Autism). Also interestingly, I have decided not to fill out that portion of the form. I have no problems saying this in my public blog. I have a huge problem with the question on the form. If they need it before the lottery, that means they use it before the lottery and the only way this would happen is if they remove certain applications from the pool.

This is discrimination, pure and simple. Itís also a clear violation of my sonís right to a free and appropriate education. He has the same right to attend a charter school as any other child in this district. I refuse to fill out a form that could abrogate this right. If they accept him and then say he canít come because I didnít fill out the form correctly, I am willing to take them to court. These are not independent charters like the one that may not have enough money for services for Damian. These are fully funded district schools with a charter component. They already have services in place. Speech and OT. Shadow aides in most of the classrooms at the one I saw yesterday. They have to have all this for the local kids. They just donít want non-local kids with the same issues. Screw that.

Anyway, thereís no AUT checkbox. What was I supposed to do?

Two more charter schools to check out. At least four local schools I can consider for open enrollment. If, that is, they will consider my child. Iíve been told by one parent at the highest-rated of these schools that if you have a child with an IEP, you have to volunteer at the school starting right now, make yourself indispensable. Offset your childís negative with your own positive, in other words. Other kids, ones without IEPs? They get in no problem. No volunteering needed. Iím not that interested in this particular school for other reasons; I donít think itís the best choice for Damian. But is that what I have to do to get Damian into a decent public school? Prove that heís worthy by licking their boots? It disgusts me. Heís worthy because heís a cool kid. Look beyond the diagnosis, people.

I hate this.

Posted by Tamar at March 3, 2004 05:46 PM

I wish I had some insight for you, but since we're utterly unattached to public schools, I'm bereft of worthy assistance. But I did have to compliment you on the phrase "sleek like a ferret." I'm going to have to go to great lengths to avoid plagiarizing you on that one!

Posted by: Dreama at March 3, 2004 07:48 PM

Up near the top, you said, "They have a compact." Um, huh? I didn't parse that, but it may just be me.

On topic, I'm glad you're not filling it out. They cannot possibly need to know that information for a true "lottery" and if they do try to use it against Damian, you'd have a stellar case. Also, they didn't list it and there's no law that says you have to volunteer things just to be "helpful" to their ability to discriminate. You rock.

Posted by: toni at March 3, 2004 08:39 PM

Dreama, just cite me when you use it. ;)

Toni, compact isn't quite the word, I guess. They call it a consortium. The schools group themselves together in some way I don't quite understand. But you can only apply to one of the five, that much I do know.

And thanks for the thumbs up. I do hope I don't have to fight them on this. (Like maybe my first choice school will come through... or some other school will turn out to be more welcoming. Or maybe the school I'm applying to in this consortium will turn out to not mind my act of rebellion.)

Posted by: Tamar at March 3, 2004 08:58 PM

I read this and rather immediately wanted to call a reporter. This kind of discimination pronanly isn't technically illegal -- but it comes close, and violates the spirit of basically all the education reforms of the past (20?) years. Maybe you want to write an op-ed piece? or pass it off to an education writet to pick at a little? I'm guessing you don't want to hurt his chances that way -- but maybe after Damian is better settled, you'll take a few minutes to blow the expose this even further to air?

Sorry; testament to your writing. You got me mad!

Posted by: Chris at March 4, 2004 03:43 AM

First, heck yeah, I'm interested.

Second, I'm dying to know where the uptight folks live.

Third, as soon as this kindergarten thing is done I want you to march right back to that school and ask them exactly that question about the form to fill out. Outrage. That it simply an outrage. And you have a right to not only question, but make a huge old stink about it. I hope you do.

Posted by: Tiny Coconut at March 4, 2004 04:09 PM