My name is Maggie C, I have 2 daughters who attend elementary school in San Mateo. I’m here today because I wanted to share my back to school experience with you in particular with my daughter Rosie who has special needs.

We ended last year with a teacher we loved, a therapy team that knew my daughter, and several ideas on how my daughter could be better integrated into the school. Instead, This is what I walked into. The classroom was dusty, dirty, and hadn’t been touched in 8 weeks. There was a substitute who could only tell us that he was going to be there for that one day, and there was no one administratively to tell us what was going on and where our teacher was.

Maggie C. read this statement to the San Mateo Foster City School District Board Meeting on 23 August 2018.

The irony is, we’ve been here before. Last year, we also started the year without a teacher. The year prior, we went 6 months without a teacher and had an even larger assortment of short and long term substitutes, some who weren’t even able to physically keep up with the demands of the classroom. Each year for the last 3 years, my daughter has had an incomplete education. She didn’t get to go on field trips, because why would a substitute plan a field trip when they don’t know how long they will be there. She doesn’t participate in art programs, because with new teachers each year, how will they even know what to ask for when they start mid-year. She doesn’t get to be part of a school community, because she’ll only ever be at a school for 2 years maximum. For these students who need the consistency the most, you are giving them the least. And they suffer for it.

I am not unaware of the challenges that this district is facing. Our local economy makes it extremely difficult to hire and retain staff, and especially in the special ed department, but there are things you can now.

  1. Do the things that you can do well, communicate what is happening often and transparently. I don’t accept that there was no way to tell the parents what happened prior to the first day of school. I received emails, phone calls, and facebook posts all reminding me about the first day of school. There is no excuse for not sending out at minimum an automated phone call to 10 parents to prepare them and their children for the first day of school. At best, I would expect a district representative to tell parents and apologize for the situation.
  2. Help up engage in our school communities and classrooms. Parents of special need students are so special. We advocate for our children every day and every time they are unable to do so for themselves. And we yearn for them to be indistinguishable at school. You are missing out so much and you have no idea on how you under-utilized this determined bunch of parents are. We juggle therapies, insurance companies, medical appointments at multiple facilities, we know how to research and what to research. And many of us work in addition to that. Trust me when I say, we are the parents you want on campus, teaching art to general ed classrooms, helping out on field days, fundraising, being active members of the PTA. We know how to get things done and without even thinking about it, we work around the idea of inclusion because that’s what we ultimately want for our children and all children.
  3. Do a better job of including our kids in the school. In particular, students in our Special Day Classes are so excluded. They sit alone at their own table during lunchtime, they do music alone in their class. They are separate and not a part of the school community. And that saddens me every year and at every new school I attend. When you think about your  broader goals for this school district, should it not be about acceptance and understanding for all students, regardless of race, background, AND disability? In the first week of school, someone brought up a concern where a student in the class got pushed accidentally on the playground, in return, he decided to push the other students back because he didn’t understand why someone would push him. It became a safety issue. The quick fix, our kids play alone on the playground now before everyone else so that doesn’t happen. But while this may solve our immediate problem, it creates broader one, it’s not inclusive, and basically does nothing but isolate this classroom even more. What we should be doing is teaching our gen ed kids skills to embrace these classrooms that are just different and teach them how to make an effort to care for them and befriend them. And if we give them these skills, it would blossom to all students not just special education students. While this is a small % of students in your district, their opportunity to positively impact all students is great because of our differences.

Thank you for your time.

*Since the school board meeting, the classroom has been placed with a permanent teacher.

What was your special needs back to school experience?

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