After my blog post, my dear friend Gary in the Ds Community graciously offered her time and expertise in drafting a letter that would be both be read and taken seriously by the Chief Operating Officer of said preschool. Honey vs. vinegar! Appeal to their mission statement! You can read the letter at the very bottom of this post.
I emailed and snail mailed my complaint to B, the COO. Within a few days, I received the following email:
I want you to know that I received your letter late yesterday. I am moving today and tomorrow and need some time to cover your concerns with my supervisor. I will respond to you on Monday at the latest. Please know that your concerns are important and I want to have uninterrupted time to review all the information.
Upon further discussion with Gary, we determined that B's "supervisor" was most likely a lawyer seeing as the COO probably doesn't have a supervisor. Her excuse for "moving" = buying time.
I also received an email from the director/manager J of the location we wanted to send to Ellie to. I chuckled because they were trying to cover their patooties. J's email looked like this:
How are things going? I hope that you're having a great week, and enjoying this beautiful spring weather! B let me know that you contacted her with a request to reconsider Ellie's enrollment with us. I want to be sure that I pass on all of the pertinent information to her. I was hoping to get another copy of Ellie's IEP, as the one that you brought me did not have any notes or evaluations - it only contained her goals. I'm wondering if perhaps you have a completed one as well?
Thank you so much,
I had a few choice words, but held back. I decided to sleep on it and consult Gary for advice on how to proceed. You see, I do NOT want my daughter at this preschool. Honestly, who would want to send their kid to a place that is so narrow-minded? Not me! I drafted a letter this past Monday, but before I could send it, I got a phone call from J requesting Ellie's IEP again. I essentially read J the email that I had planned on sending her.
Letter/ Phone Conversation with J with regards to reviewing her case for enrollment and IEP:
I fully appreciate the willingness of you and B to re-evaluate Ellie's application to X, however that was not the intention behind my letter. The letter I wrote to B was more of a complaint about the evaluation process, her observation, and ultimately the decision to require an 1:1 aide when other children with Ds at your L location do not have aides.
It was also to bring attention about the violation for the ADA and possibly discrimination towards my daughter on the basis of her disability. As such, my husband and I no longer feel that X is a good fit for my daughter. While I think that X has lots of potential to be a an excellent daycare, it is my hope that my letter will bring about further education and change and thus prevent future families from going through what my daughter went through.
Therefore, I will not be submitting a copy of Ellie's IEP. For future reference, Ellie's IEP is a private document is does not need to be disclosed to a daycare. Furthermore, it is a 60 page document with a lot of legalese and private medication information. Her goals are the most relevant as they demonstrate where she needs the most help. There are no notations nor an evaluation. In the RRISD, evaluations are performed every 3 years. This means that Ellie's evaluation is 2.5 years old and clearly irrelevant at this point in time. Her IEP is also a 7.5 months old and somewhat irrelevant as she has accomplished a great deal in the past school year. I tell you this because it may be helpful for future families.
Now Wednesday evening I have not heard back from B. I have full intention to send documentation of my phone conversation with the AM location director J since it is clear further education is needed.
Did my letter to the COO change anything? I do not know. Honestly, I hope it changes how they evaluate children with special needs. I hope that they further educate all staff--directors and teachers on the ADA. Perhaps, my letter serves as a wake-up call and perhaps future families will be spared what I went through.
You will notice, however, that not once did they offer to overturn their decision. They just offered to review her case. . . as though submitting tons of documents, clearance from a doctor, IEP goals, and an hour-long observation were not enough!
More than anything, though, I am grateful that Ellie is too young to realize that she was being "tested" and that she "failed" their test. Summer is quickly approaching and while I know that there must be other places out there that I could look into, I am shelving the summer preschool battle for a later time. I am a fighter. I will never stop fighting for my daughter. Yet, I have bigger battles to face right now.
To really understand the decision on fighting and how hard to fight and how we fight, please read Tiffany's blog post Easier than Discrimination--exactly what I have been feeling and thinking.
Original Letter and 1st Official Communication with COO of X preschool/daycare:
April 2, 2014
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for all you and X are doing to ensure all our young children have the tools they need to create caring relationships as well as educational opportunities to develop the social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills that will positively shape the adults they will become. As the mother of a four year-old just entering the preschool phase of her life these values are so important to her success as well as her peers’.
I am particularly impressed with your educational philosophy of social responsibility and found the following on your website:
“X intentionally guides children in building social responsibility. Children learn strategies to appropriately express their feelings, develop self-control, show empathy to others and interact successfully with peers and adults. Our children will become critical thinkers, conservators of the environment and successful, confident learners.”
I am not sure if you saw the latest information about the prevalence of autism in our children, but the most recent data shows an increase of 30% or one in 68 children is currently diagnosed with autism. More over almost one in ten children in our educational system in Texas are currently receiving special education services. This so clearly speaks to me of the role of social responsibility and how even our youngest children can learn from each other if true diversity is practiced in the classroom. Your mission to recognize the importance of giving every child the opportunity to discover their world, by partnering with families to create a caring educational community that enriches the childhood journey speaks to this acceptance of recognizing our children and families for who they are, not what they have.
My four year-old daughter Ellie is funny, bright, active and loving. And yes just like many other children her age she sometimes needs to be redirected, but when she understands her schedule she is right on top of it. Ellie teaches us all about awareness and acceptance, and would be an asset to any school she attends. We were quite excited to apply to X for your summer program.
You can imagine, based on what I had read and heard from friends from your L location, that I was quite surprised to learn Ellie was turned down at the AM location (unless we paid for 1:1 support) due to some poor documentation as well as incorrect information. I certainly hope it was not due to the fact that she has Down syndrome. You will note I have enclosed a recap of the series of events that lead to being told Ellie was not welcome and would not be included at X this summer unless she has the 1:1 aide.
I request you revisit this decision, for a number of reasons, but primarily an awareness that inclusive education is here and will continue to be the philosophy of our educational institutions forever. The sooner all students learn to work, study and play together, the sooner we can create classrooms of social responsibility, diversity and true learning. Why should the students in AM location not have this opportunity?
I appreciate your commitment to all children and our family looks forward to becoming part of the X family.
Enclosed: Series of Events Attachment
Series of events – March 19, 2014 to March 27, 2014 – AM location of X
For summer program: M,Th,F 8am-12noon
March 19, 2014 – Ellie visits under the observation of me and J, the director of your AM location, which I felt went very well.
March 27, 2014 - I contacted J as I had not heard back if Ellie was “cleared” to attend your center. I was shocked to learn Ellie could only attend your center if my husband and I provided her with a 1:1 aide at my expense. I understand that this decision was made by corporate using the observation notes made by J as well as my parent intake form and doctor’s notes. Ellie’s doctor made no notations for special accommodations and I made a notation under toileting and feeding.
I do not know what was written on Ellie’s observation form by director J, but I do know what I wrote on the form and what I observed.
The three reasons, as per your regional director for the Austin area, are as follows:
- Pull-ups. On the parent intake form, I disclosed that the areas where she needs help is with opening yogurt containers (a moot point since you do not allow outside food) and that she requires a pull-up, but rarely pees in the morning. I was told that this was a HUGE deal as you do not have the support staff for this. While I do understand that the teacher cannot leave the children unattended, it is illegal as per the ADA to refuse a child on the basis of not being toilet trained if the facility has diaper changing areas anywhere within the building. Additionally, J and I had a conversation about how Ellie wears underwear to her PPCD class at the elementary school and that she typically does not urinate in the mornings which is when she would have been attending X.
- Trouble with transitions. Transitions can be difficult for my daughter and by that, I mean to she may need reminders to do things. She does not have full out tantrums or anything to that extreme, but sometimes she needs told twice—sometimes down on her level, face-to-face. This is something that is common with all children. Especially young children. During Ellie’s observation, she entered the classroom during circle time. She entered a large room full of new toys and was expected to attend to circle time without knowing the routine. She went to the back of the room and pulled out a bin of plastic dinosaurs. I approached her and told her to clean up and sit in circle time. She then cleaned up and sat in circle time. After circle time was center play. Ellie sat at a table with two little girls and played with the kitchen food. At clean up time, Ellie tried to comply but needed a little help knowing where things go—please understand that she has never been to this classroom before. She needed ONE reminder to clean up and another direction to tell her where the play mop belonged. It was her observation day in the class—an unfamiliar classroom willed with new toys, strange children, and an unfamiliar teacher. She had no knowledge of the rules or routine.
- Opening the gate. This one actually makes logical sense to me. When we first arrived, the class was outside. What we didn’t know is that they were lining up to return to the classroom. J allowed Ellie time to play on the equipment while we discussed the parent intake form. This also allowed J to see that my daughter has no gross motor delays and would not require assistance to navigate the playground equipment. There are two playgrounds connected by a chain link gate. This gate was not locked and the handle is at the perfect height for a child. My daughter opened the gate. I understand that this is a safety concern. That being said, she has never been there before. She was not aware that she was not allowed to go through the gate.
When I spoke with J on March 27th, she was very polite and did put me in touch with A, your regional director, so that I could learn how this decision for an aide was reached. She was very polite and asked me to describe Ellie’s observation and provide clarification on various notations that she saw on Ellie’s forms. She requested Ellie’s IEP which at this point is 7 months old and promised to resubmit our packet for review.
On a different note - your daycare/preschool facility came highly recommended by several clients at your L location. Some of the clients have children with Down syndrome. Some of these clients indeed have potty training accidents and developmental delays. Yet, none of them were required to have an aide. These clients love the director at your L location and love their experience there. It saddens me that we did not receive such an experience. Perhaps it would be beneficial to educate the staff at other locations? That just because a child has a disability doesn’t mean they required a 1:1 aide.