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I called my mother early yesterday morning to report that I’d solved the problem of where to send Sophie for junior high.

“OK, here’s what we have to do. Get Chuck Coughlin’s wife pregnant. She’s older — maybe she’ll have a baby with Down syndrome. Then he’ll solve the problem.”

If you’re lucky enough to live outside Arizona, you need to know that Coughlin is a long time political consultant here, or as I like to (not very kindly) call him,”the fixer.” Yes, it appears that a woman named Jan Brewer is the governor of Arizona, but inevitably, when it comes to her biggest of decisions (SB 1070, the anti-immigrant law; or Medicaid expansion) this man takes over. And let’s just say that if he believes his motives are altruistic, others (me! me!) beg to differ.

In any case, he gets the job done.

I’ve long believed that if someone could just convince Chuck Coughlin that it was in his best interest to do away with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio — poof! That creep would be gone. Alas, Coughlin probably thinks Arpaio is swell. Or that his friends are, anyway.

It’s a gross state, and so it should come as no surprise that the education system here is not ready for Sophie’s junior high years. And short of a surprise DS baby, I don’t see Chuck Coughlin coming to my rescue. I’m on my own.

Literally. Last week I asked the Facebook gods for help. Want a good handyman in the East Valley? Places to eat on the Big Island? Ideas for a Halloween costume? Facebook’s never let me down. But when I asked, “Say you have a child with Down syndrome. Where would you send her for sixth grade in metro Phoenix?”


I knew before I asked. Because here’s how the system works.

You can send your kid to the public school in your neighborhood, accepting whatever services (or lack thereof), philosophy and physical conditions it offers. Or, pretty much, you can eat dirt.

We had an okay junior high down the street from our house. It closed a couple years ago due to declining enrollment, opening back up again this year — with an International Baccalaureate program. So that’s out. The now-designated feeder junior high school for Sophie’s elementary school is trying to improve its crappy reputation — with a new gifted program. So that’s out, too.

At least, it’s probably out. I’ll have to consider the feeder junior high because it’s really our only viable option. And in the end, it might work out fine. But that makes me mad, because with Annabelle, when it came to junior high I had more options than I could consider. Why isn’t there the same for Sophie?

I know why: money.

Open enrollment at public schools? Yes, for Annabelle. For Sophie? Not so much. Each school can cap the number of kids with IEPs it takes, because a kid with an IEP is more expensive to educate. So if I want to get Sophie into a school in, say, Scottsdale, I have to find one with a spot. And if it’s a decent school, the chances, I’m told, are pretty low.

In all of metro Phoenix, I’ve (so far) found just one charter school that might take Sophie. Yes, legally, charters are public and “must” take any kid (lotteries aside). But that’s not how it works in real life. In real life, charter schools get fewer resources for special education than public schools (don’t ask me how this works — I’m still trying to figure it out).

And even if you had unlimited personal resources for a private school, there isn’t a good one for a high functioning kid with Down syndrome. Or if there is, it’s tucked away pretty tight, because I’ve been looking for two years.

We should probably just move to New Jersey.

My mom was not particularly amused with my Chuck Coughlin solution. I admit it’s not the kindest thought I’ve ever had. Plus, she added,  “I thought you’d really figured it out.”

I will. Eventually. I just hope Sophie’s not in college by then.

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Tags: Filed under: Down syndrome by Amysilverman

6 Responses to “Wanted: Junior High Options for High Functioning Kid with Down syndrome. Now.”

  1. So, open enrollment is not the same as school of choice? Here we have some school of choice options. When the school elects to be school of choice for a given year (done when enrollment is low, luckily not always low because it’s a low-performing school) the enrollment works like a charter school…which is to say they cannot discriminate against those with an IEP. We did get selected for a charter school and like you said, we could have sent our kid, but the services would be much less because the resources/money is not always in place despite charter schools supposedly getting the same money from the state. Anyway, just sending virtual sympathy. We had a very crappy situation with our neighborhood school (after the end of a great year with amazing staff, the SpecEd administration decided not to fund support, but to shift to a contained program in a low performing school). Luckily we have an amazing school for both kids this year via school of choice. Of course we have to transport them 35+ minutes each way. Totally worth it, but still…not viable for most people and speaks volumes about our local district. Best wishes for a great option to magically appear for you guys. On the days when I feel like it shouldn’t be so effing hard, I really wonder at how awfully crap all this likely was for the previous generation of parents and kids.

  2. Have you heard of KIPP charter schools? We have them in Greenville but they aren’t listed on the KIPP.ORG website- regardless a friend who was getting middle school flac from the school district mentioned that when they lived in Philly they used them and the philosophy was such that their child with Ds was welcomed in the regular class so when she moved here she looked for one and is doing the same here. I didn’t see AZ listed on the website- but I’m wondering if that exists there….

  3. thank you karly! ack, it’s not easy for anyone, i fear….

  4. Did you have any luck? I am in the same boat now as you. In my search, there is Piecefulsolutions in chandler which is a 20 min drive for me, not sure how to do that being we are a two income household.
    In looking at the local middle schools, one Special Education teacher straight out told me, “I do not modify curriculum due to Common Core”. I am a teacher for gifted students and if I said that to a parent, I would probably be fired as it is my job to do so. This I believe is Against the Idea law, so is it worth the fight? Or is it time to sign up with ESA funds?
    Please let me know if you have had any luck.

  5. Hi Amy. Please give me a call at your convenience. I would love to talk further with you about your experience looking for the best school “fit” for Sophie in Arizona and learn more about the outcome of your decision. If I could assist you in your search I’d be happy to.

    Meanwhile, Arizona’s open enrollment policy is one of the most flexible in the country, essentially offering a school option for every child when considering all public district, public charter parochial and private/independent schools. And, AZ education funding opportunities continue to expand. Have you checked into the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program through the ADE? Arizona Tax Credit program? Perhaps these could be helpful, as well.

  6. Elle, I will absolutely be in touch!

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