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posted Wednesday January 15th, 2014

I met with the principal at Sophie’s school yesterday. It had nothing to do with what’s going on at school — not this school. It was time, finally, to pull the trigger. To figure out the next step toward junior high.

I won’t bury the lede. At this point, if I had to make a decision, I’d send Sophie to the feeder school, the standard-issue junior high in our district.

The last option on my list.

That sounds shitty, like a slap, and it shouldn’t, because the truth is that I haven’t even visited that school. That’s why I was in the principal’s office; he had promised to set up a tour when I was ready, to find the right contact person, to make things okay. (Or as close as he can.)

He’s such a great guy. He’s the one who wore fuzzy purple pajamas to Sophie’s birthday party last year (they share a birthday, as she reminds him whenever she sees him). He’s the one with the inspirational messages on the walls of his office; I’ve written about them before.

Yesterday I fixated on one on the back of the door, just above his head, in all red:


And it has, for Sophie, at this school — to a very large extent, maybe the largest possible. True, I had to fight to get her in and the principal at the time was not my favorite. We’ve had our ups and downs at this little K-5, but looking back, it’s been nothing short of remarkable. Sophie is truly a part of a community — she knows everyone, they know her. I’m quite sure she’s overstayed her welcome with both adults and kids, in a few cases, but she’s also made true friends. She has learned so much. And I like to think Sophie’s taught the folks here a thing or two, as well.

A friend of mine — the  mom of another kid with special needs at the school — calls the place Camelot. With caveats, for sure, she remarked recently after a school choir concert as we struggled to chat over the din in the gym, but Camelot.

And next year? We stared at each other, neither sure what to do with our daughters, even after months of research. So we wrapped our winter scarves tight around our necks, gathered our families, and went home.

I’ll just say it: The future is grim. Oh, I know, Sophie will be awesome wherever she goes, she’ll win hearts and minds and all that crap. Before I know it, I’ll be writing about that. But before that, I’m going to write about the fact at for all practical purposes, once Sophie leaves fifth grade, inclusion will end. For junior high, anyway.

I’ve ventured out — toured schools; talked to parents, teachers, lawyers; hired a consultant; googled and read, everything short of praying (though that’s been recommended). From time to time, I’ve turned to the Church of Facebook, kneeling at that altar to ask for advice. Last week a Facebook acquaintance — I’ll call her that since we’ve never actually met — commented:

Arizona has a tremendous amount of school choice available….You’d have to search pretty hard to find another state with the amount of options that we have in AZ. I’m sincerely sorry that this quest has proven to be so difficult for you and your family.

I’m sorry, too. And sorry for all the whining I’ve done. But when it comes to Sophie — and probably most kids with special needs — it’s simply not true. And pretending that it is is not only insulting but dangerous.

Maybe that perfect school is out there and I simply haven’t found it. But as much as I’m quick to doubt myself in other realms, at this point I’m pretty sure I’ve rattled all the cages in town.

Bottom line: I decided to take full advantage of the school choice thing when finding a school for Sophie. We looked hard and found the right place for Annabelle. There had to be just the right niche for Sophie, right?

As I told the principal yesterday, here’s what I’ve learned. Please, tell me if I’ve left a stone unturned:

*There is likely not a charter school for Sophie. We put in for lotteries at two schools; both would be good choices (with caveats) but her chances could be as crappy as 1 in 100. I’m not holding my breath. Most of the charters I researched and talked to (including Annabelle’s) made it clear that they don’t have appropriate special ed services for Sophie. I could force her way in; that wouldn’t be good for any of us, most of all Sophie.

*There’s not a public school outside of our district, Tempe. Yes, technically, you can open enroll a kid out of district in Arizona. Even a kid with special needs. A kid with an IEP? Not so easy — and almost certainly impossible, particularly at the super-popular schools I’d like to send Sophie to. (Her lawyer confirmed this for me.)

So much of this skirts the law — yes, legally all public schools (and that means charters) are supposed to provide appropriate services. And the choice to open enroll should be as open to Sophie as to other kids. But in reality, it is not.

*There’s not a private school. There are some terrific schools — for high achievers. The private school I found for special needs kids isn’t quite right for Sophie. And we are not interested in a religious school.

*No, I’m not home schooling. And if you know me at all, you are applauding right now. Plus, Sophie needs to be around her peers.

*There are no other viable public school choices in Tempe. Then I turned back to Tempe. A friend urged me — rightly — to figure out a way to keep Sophie with her peers, her classmates, the kids she’s known, in some cases, since pre-school. Her best friend. A very good point, and the bright side of not being able to find a perfect boutique school. But that is sticky, too, and not only because some of those kids will go out of the district or to charter schools. It’s because Tempe has shut Sophie out of that choice.

A few years ago, the junior high across the street from Sophie’s elementary school closed, due to declining enrollment. Blame the charter schools. I did — even as I was guiltily pulling Annabelle out of public school to send her to one. The school stood empty and lots of options were discussed — a charter school collaboration with ASU or maybe Sophie’s school could be a K-8.

In the end, the district decided to go head to head with the boutiques — creating an “international academy” that will someday (they hope) house a prestigious IB program.

Mediocre students need not apply.

Well, technically, we could have petitioned, brought in the lawyer, demanded fair treatment — but my understanding is that this school has no special education services in place (not the kind Sophie needs, anyway) and all I’d be doing is making a point. And enemies.

I heard a rumor that more than half of the fifth grade has been accepted to the international academy. Many more will go to charters or out of the district. That will leave a few to go to the feeder school. It has a gifted program, so most likely any of the higher achievers left in the pot will leave for that.

I’m guessing Sophie will be at that school with dozen or so kids. Mostly “resource” kids.

“So what’s she bitching about?” you might be asking yourself. Sounds like that’s where Sophie belongs. And maybe it is. But so much for inclusion. And so much for school choice.


I stared at the words over the principal’s head and I didn’t cry, even when he offered to come with me on the tour of the big, scary junior high. Even when he offered to bring Sophie over himself. She’s excited about it — weeks ago, apparently, her special ed teacher told her he spoke with the resource teachers at the junior high and they can’t wait to meet her.

For her special ed teacher, it was a foregone conclusion. Maybe it should have been for me, all along, too. I’ll probably always be on the lookout for the right junior high for Sophie, the way I keep an eye out for Holiday Tic Tacs at Walgreens all year.

Maybe this junior high will be Sophie’s dream school. As a friend observed not long ago, the school’s color is purple. They have a cheer squad. Maybe she’ll love it, flourish, learn. Maybe I’ll be just as sad to leave there in three years as we are to leave elementary school. Maybe.

I googled Camelot to make sure I was using the reference correctly, and the following scholarly quote popped up:

“Camelot, located no where in particular, can be anywhere.”

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Tags: Filed under: charter school by Amysilverman

8 Responses to “Camelot”

  1. Dear Amy,
    I have a friend in Belgium, and their daughter (with Down Syndrome) is now an adult. When I visited them a few years ago I learned how different the situation is there from what parents face here. There truly is a social safety net. Parents are active, but the government policies provide far more alternatives. Their daughter now lives in a small group home that she totally loves. She’s proud and independent and has her own life. She comes home for dinner on Sundays, but otherwise, she is launched into her own adult life. At no point in raising her did they have that clutch feeling that parents in the U.S. feel. Each time there’s a transition to another school or, god forbid, the end of schooling, parents face the need to search, once again, for options that never feel adequate to the child’s needs. When I asked my friend Willy how the government could afford to provide group homes like this, he said, “That’s why we pay taxes. Our taxes are over 40 % but I don’t resent it because our daughter is so well looked after.” He is now retirement age, and they are comforted that they have found excellent care for their well loved child. They don’t have to have the worry that they are getting old and that they can’t personally do what they once were able to do. They can relax their parents’ eternal vigilance because they know others have already stepped in to provide their daughter a loving home.

  2. The cherry and green apple Tic Tacs? I just bought those on clearance and they were amazing.

    The situation is different but after looking at a few different high schools for Brennan, we went with the neighborhood school (colors also purple). When things progressed (bad word) to IEP levels for Brennan the school started to suck and then the school psychologist left and things became wonderful. All the staff works to help without the judgement that was making things difficult (you know he was faking it all, right?). Now in a school with about 1700 students (I cried harder first day freshman year than I did at elementary school), the administrators to the teachers make me feel like Brennan is their #1 priority (really!).

    Don’t know what it will be like for Sophie, but the purple thing seems good.

  3. Good Luck with this, Amy. I wish there were more options. Still, bloom where you’re planted, right? Right???!!!

    The neighborhood high school my son would feed into (in twelve years) is very proud of having gone from failing to above average. I foresee dilemmas.

  4. Amy,

    I have the utmost faith that Sophie will do very well no matter where she lands for middle school. Think about all she has accomplished already. She is bossy, she is sassy, she is confident, she has a healthy ego and a big personality that everyone falls in love with. She may have some challenges in her new school but I strongly feel that she is ready for the challenge. You may be quite surprised.


  5. Marylee — thank you so much for sharing this. Now I want to move to Belgium! Plus — the chocolate.

  6. KBF — Oh no, the cinnamon/peppermint combo. I’ll give you some next time I see you. And — thank you.

  7. Sigh. It’s the thing that really sets having a child with special needs apart. We’ve been debating moving for over 3 years now. Just to the town where I work which is lovely and has tons more to do then the town we are in. And the thing that keeps us where we are even though life would be better for 4/5 of us…is the fact that for one of us it wouldn’t be. Daycare/school…you’re right- school choice doesn’t apply in our situation.

  8. Wow… my son Is about to enter first grade and I feel I just went on a journey with you, o he has down syndrome. we are trying to pick to right school, charter being one……………….Please keep us posted I want to hear all about Junior high school.
    Thanks for your post

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