Updated: Jun 23
By Michelle Tetschner
This article was originally published in the book Fully Included – Stories to Inspire Inclusion by Michelle Tetschner & Stacy Tetschner.
Our vision for inclusion started when my son was just little. When our son was young, we searched out older children and youth with Down syndrome around the country. We looked for self-advocates that were good speakers, those who were truly advocating for themselves and the Down syndrome community. We asked questions, and the main commonality we found? They were fully included in school!
This became our goal!
We had to learn early on, to be strong in our commitment to that vision.
We had almost completed kindergarten and were at our spring Individualized Education Program (IEP) Meeting. The team suggested that we look at a co-taught program at another school. While we were not excited about moving our son, we were open to the idea. We trusted their recommendations and went to tour the new school. The teacher seemed amazing, and the idea of co-teaching was very intriguing. We agreed to try the program in the fall. When fall came, the teacher we had met in the spring seemed very different. She was not outgoing and happy but appeared overwhelmed and frustrated. I didn’t know what to do or think. I was able to observe that first week and was very disappointed with what I was seeing. Nothing was glaringly obvious, but the staff and children seemed very unhappy, out of sorts, and no one seemed to know what was next or who was in charge of what. I tried to remain optimistic.
I went back the following week and was only planning to stay for a short time, but I stayed for 1.5 hours. I didn’t want to leave my son there. When I asked questions about the “co-teaching” program that we had signed up for, I was told that this plan had changed. There were now too many kids in the special education portion of the class and now they would only do a co-teaching program 2-3 times a week for social studies only, for only thirty minutes, and he would be in the self-contained room the rest of the time. This is not what we had signed up for. I left in tears, taking my son out early for the day, knowing I couldn’t send him back there again.
I called for an IEP meeting the next day.
Keeping the story short, we had the IEP meeting. It went badly. In my memory, I can still clearly see the older male school psychologist stand up and angrily say, “How dare you question my expertise!” and “I know what is best for your child! I have been doing this for over 50 years.” and “No, I have not met your son, but I have read his file.”
I got up and left the meeting after that statement. Sobbing. I could barely drive home. I was so angry and so sad. I was so upset and so very disappointed in our school system. How could they honestly think they know my son better than me? And how could they possibly think they know what is best for my child? When they hadn’t even met him?
After lengthy discussions with the school district, we were able to go back to our old school, back to the principal who adored my son, and we repeated kindergarten again. With the principal smoothing the way, we were able to get back on track. Our teacher that year was open to the idea of having my son in her class and she quickly fell in love with my son, the same as she did with all her other students. By repeating kindergarten, my son was able to keep up many times during that second year. Because he was repeating, he knew the routine and knew the expectations. He was more confident, was able to be a line leader and was able to navigate the school grounds. He was able to feel successful and grew more confident each day. My son, like many kids with Down syndrome, loves routine. He loves to know what is next and what is coming later. Repeating kindergarten allowed many of those fears and worries to be alleviated because he knew what was coming, he had done it before! Academically, he did awesome. He had already been through this once! Now these numbers and letters that he was learning were repeat material for him and in that second year his growth matched many of the lower students in his class.