I say interesting because I'm not quite sure what to think of how things went, and I don't want to get too pessimistic before we've met any of the team we'll be working with. Basically we sat down with a coordinator, outlined the things that we wanted to do, set up an meeting for an evaluation, and then signed a piece of paper that said we'd been warm bodies in a room.
The coordinator was very, very nice, but I still came out of the meeting with a sinking feeling. We've outlined two very specific items that we want to walk out of Connor's IEP with and absolutely will not take no for an answer. We've thought about these items for quite some time. We've discussed them with his therapists, special education teacher, and doctor and they all agree with us that we are not asking for unreasonable things and have very, very good reasons for wanting them. They are:
1) Connor needs to be in a Deaf and Hard of Hearing classroom. Ideally we'd like to split his time-- two days a week in the Deaf and HOH classroom, and two days out of the week in the Developmental classroom, but if we have to choose one, we'll choose the Deaf and HoH. Connor has to continue to acquire language, and he needs to do it in an environment where his peers all sign, even if they are learning things a little bit out of his range. We can supplement with physical and speech therapy outside the classroom if necessary, but he can't spend four days out of the week in a classroom where he doesn't understand what everyone is saying.
2) Connor needs to be assigned an aide. We'd ideally like this aide, preferably a nurse aide, to go to SEE classes and learn how to sign. Since he uses a wheelchair that he cannot direct himself, needs help going to the restroom, cannot feed himself, is visually impaired, will have a g-tube, and is at risk for seizures in which he stops breathing, heart failure, and stroke, we feel that someone who is there to help Connor is not too much to ask.
Once we had outlined what we wanted for Connor, the coordinator, who as I said was very nice, began speaking gently to us about "least restrictive environment." She said that having an aide would be the highest level of restrictive environment, and they need to start with the fewest restrictions and work up from there.
After having said this, she then told me that there were only two schools who had an RN and LPN on staff, and the Deaf and HoH preschool was not one of them. Because of Connor's potentially life-threatening issues she believed it would be best for him to go to the one that was only five minutes away from the hospital.
So essentially what she was telling me is that in her opinion, it would be best if Connor went just to the Developmental preschool without an aide.
Now, I have a few problems with this. Okay, I have a lot of problems with this, but I'll just outline the ones that center around the logic she was using to justify this opinion. In my understanding, the concept of least restrictive environment centers around the idea that a child be as included as possible with other children who do not have special needs. Now while the Deaf and HoH classroom does contain mostly children who are Deaf or HoH, it also contains children who are CODAs (Children of Deaf Adults) or have siblings who are Deaf. If Connor can participate in a classroom with typical children provided he has an aide, I would think that this would be a less restrictive environment than putting him in a classroom of only special needs children without an aid and, I might add, without any form of communication.
I would be able to understand the logic behind him needing to be at the school only five minutes away from the hospital if I didn't already know that the Deaf and HoH preschool is only seven minutes away from the exact same hospital.
I didn't go into any of my reasons why I was not happy with the initially expressed opinion at this meeting. I know that the coordinator doesn't actually have any say in what happens to my child at this stage in the game, though she might later as she is also a child psychologist and could potentially be on the evaluation team. I didn't want to get angry and start things off on the wrong foot right from the beginning-- I'd much rather have a great, mutually respectful partnership with the school, so I won't dig my heels in until we get to the meeting where it matters. They might be completely in agreement with me and immediately give us everything we are asking for. That being said, I absolutely will not take no for an answer on these two requests, and I can be very, very stubborn when I need to be.
We'll just have to see. It's just that this seems to me like a warning we may have a fight on our hands.