posted Friday August 21st, 2015
In the end, I did not bring food to the first team meeting of the school year. Or a lawyer.
Instead, I brought Sophie.
It was not a tough meeting; I hadn’t expected it would be, or I likely would not have brought her. Sophie’s formal IEP meeting takes place each spring, and because so much can change in a few months, a long time ago I asked that the IEP require that a meeting be held within the first month of school. It’s been a really valuable tool.
We tweaked a few testing modifications and talked about lunch time procedures. Sophie interrupted several times, despite sharp (but, I hoped, kindly maternal) glances from me, and finally the speech pathologist jumped in and stage-whispered very loudly, “Do you want me to make this one of her goals?”
I nodded, my face hot. No one else in the room seemed bothered by Sophie’s excited questions and comments; I guess they are all used to it, used to her. Maybe more than used to her.
Mainstreaming a kid like Sophie is such a new thing at this school, a school that already has so many challenges, left with the kids who don’t qualify for the fancy gifted academy next door, whose parents haven’t sought out high-browed charter school options. This school, which is obviously starved for resources, with shabby edges and the challenges every public school faces today, has embraced my eager but challenging kid and given her the tools she needs to thrive.
Except for one.
Math, science, reading, social studies — Sophie’s getting it all, plus choir and visual art. It’s pretty amazing. But she’s made it clear that it’s not enough. She wants what other kids are getting. She wants drama class.
And so at the end of the meeting, I shifted awkwardly in my chair and made a little announcement. I know this has nothing to do with anyone at the school, I began, but I don’t want anyone to be blindsided, then explained that I’ll be approaching district administrators with my request to get Sophie (and any other kid from her school who wants to be) placed in a drama class at the gifted academy next door.
When Sophie began middle school in sixth grade, she quickly realized that drama class was not among the elective options for students at her school. But it is for the kids at the gifted school. To complicate matters, the kids at the gifted school can take any elective offered at Sophie’s school; that is not reciprocal.
Sophie figured all this out before I did. She cornered the gifted school principal in the cafeteria at lunch and bugged him about this for months, to no avail. Ultimately I wrote a note to both principals and was told that no, this was not an option. You must qualify as gifted to take a class at the gifted school, even if it’s drama and not, say, pre-calculus. Sophie and I both tried to accept this, and took the options offered — including a not-great attempt at starting a drama club (which all but excluded Sophie) and the suggestion I sign her up for summer camp (that was a great week, but not enough).
I thought about it all summer, I told the team, and I have to say something. I haven’t done a formal analysis, but I’m willing to bet that the racial and economic breakdown at the gifted school looks a lot different from the racial and economic breakdown at Sophie’s school. Down syndrome aside, this is simply unfair. These gifted schools are segregating kids in dangerous ways that have flown under the radar — and someone needs to say something. Perhaps it’s easier for me, the parent of a kid whose entry into this school was never in question.
Plus, I don’t have a good explanation for Sophie as to why she can’t take drama. It doesn’t make sense to either of us.
And so, game on. Now the only thing to decide is what to bring along to that first meeting with the district administrators, assuming I get one. Food, the lawyer, Sophie? Maybe all three.