Each child has unique needs, talents, and goals. By extension, a one-size-fits-all education will not succeed.
Families across New Hampshire are sharing their stories with us about what educational opportunities mean to them. We are honored to share them as part of our Family Profile series. This story comes from a veteran and divorced mom of a child with special needs. She explains how their local district school was unable to help her child and why they believe expanded educational opportunities benefit children with learning differences.
A lot of people ask me why I support SB193. The answer is complicated. I am the mother of a child with multiple learning challenges. My child has autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and dysgraphia. My child originally attended our local public school, but really wasn’t succeeding or thriving. The school urged me to “give it time.” First, they assured me that things would improve. Then they told me that my child was simply not that bright. But something seemed off. My child would talk about the collapse of the economy as easily as talking about Pokémon cards. I had my kid tested and diagnosed, but the school argued with the doctors and refused to acknowledge some of the diagnoses. In the interim, my child was floundering–not outright failing, but not succeeding either. We hung in a limbo of “Needs Improvement.” Every parent-teacher conference centered on “What Is Wrong with Your Kid,” but no solutions on making my child successful. And even after getting a diagnosis and recommendations from an experienced developmental pediatrician, the school took three years to write an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) with inadequate supports because they refused to acknowledge all of my child’s challenges.
My kid has some amazing gifts — a love of science and math. Both are areas where my child excels (STEM anyone?) and with the push for STEM-related jobs, my child could have a very viable future. The problem is, once a child has an IEP, the level of education required for that child falls to a very low standard. Rather than being required to meet the same standards as other students, the standard to a bare minimum level of progress. This meant that the teachers were no longer invested in having my child succeed because the standards were now lower. I tried everything I could to improve this situation and future opportunities, but to no avail. In frustration, I withdrew my child from the public school to put him in another school.
The public school was no longer the place for my child. It is a large school, which added to his anxiety. Access to gifted classes was denied without consideration. In fact, there was a pervasive attitude that any level of challenge would be too difficult, too trying, and unfair to other students. This was despite the fact that my child had already completed geometry in grade 7 in a private math program. My child was instead tasked with learning to read a ruler which was boring and inappropriate for a kid who regularly reads science textbooks “for fun.”
After elementary school, all supports in a mainstreamed classroom became inaccessible. My kid was placed in a resource room with other kids with IEPs and a huge variation in learning abilities. It is critical that students with autism be around neurotypical peers to understand behavior and that opportunity was not there. The public school wanted a schedule of a few classes which would limit the opportunity to get a high school diploma and destroy and chance of college and a career in science. In an effort to consolidate costs, the school created a separate and unequal education for the children with disabilities. Putting my child in another school enabled mainstreaming and more classes — a chance at a future and a job. After all, kids don’t remain kids forever. They need the tools to support themselves. Naysayers will argue that putting my child in another school means losing out on the IEP, however, when the IEP is not working, there is no reasonable recourse. And frankly, if it’s not working, there is no reason to retain it if the public school is not invested and has no impetus to see my child succeed.
Each school district has approximately 20% of their entire student population with a disability. If we aren’t giving them the tools to support themselves, we will have large portions of our newly minted labor force unable to equally participate in the workforce. By opening up school choice, we are opening up educational opportunities that lead to jobs and independent living. We need as many people as possible in the workforce, both to provide our kids with the ability to be a part of the community, increasing their self-esteem and feelings of self-worth, as well as providing them opportunities for social mobility and advanced education.
By Moira Ryan
Read more about Education Savings Accounts here. If you wish to contact the House Finance Committee about the impact the ESA bill, SB 193, will have on your family, their email is HouseFinanceCommittee@leg.state.nh.us. The committee has a public hearing on SB 193 scheduled for Tuesday, January 16th at 1:30pm in room 201 of the Legislative Office Building (LOB).