Monday, January 21, 2008

4th Iteration of Email to Gov. Spitzer: Getting Close to Done

I am a native Long Islander with two sons--an 11 year old dually-diagnosed with PDD-NOS (autistic spectrum disorder) and anxiety, and an 8 year old dually- diagnosed with ADHD and an autoimmune disorder called Hyper IgE Syndrome. I also happen to be a straight-A graduate student at Long Island University's School of Education, four classes short of a degree in elementary and special education.

I began home schooling both children last year after my younger son (whose diagnoses, according to research appearing in peer-reviewed scientific journals, is prone to both bullying [ADHD] and long-bone breakage [Hyper IgE]) was physically attacked two days consecutively by another student. These attacks ultimately resulted in bruising around the neck and the small of the back.

While the school's nurse called me both days to report what had transpired, the elementary school's principal would not return my concerned phone calls until days after I had subsequently placed a phone call with the superintendant of the P-M School District. Even after I explained to the school secretary that I would not be sending my children back to school until I had a verbal guarantee on my child's physical safety, the principal initially continued to ignore my calls. When she ultimately deigned to call, the principal opened our conversation by stating that she "could not GUARANTEE that my child would always be safe."

I am not paraphrasing that last quote.

At this point, my crisis of confidence in the public system was enough to overcome any concerns I might have had about home schooling. I will add: since we've begun home schooling, my older son has made great strides toward overcoming his severe math anxiety and my younger son has graduated to reading chapter books independently. What is more, both children are learning how to overcome the executive-functioning deficits that accompany their respective disabilities--due in large part to the extra one-on-one attention they are receiving.

This year, as home schoolers, both of my children were receiving social skills classes in their respective public schools, in accordance with their IEPs. Now, however, this service is about to abruptly end, due to a new, extremely-narrow interpretation of the federal IDEA legislation from the Board of Regents and NYS Ed. Dept. This new interpretation states that IDEA funds can only be used on public and privately schooled students, not on home schooled students.

My feeling is that the public school system, as it now exists, is not capable of providing my children with the level of care, attention and pedagogical scrutiny they require.

I am not a zealot. I am a concerned parent, who at great personal and financial sacrifice, is trying to provide her two exceptional children with the tools needed to become life-long learners and independent, creative problem-solvers capable of living their lives to the fullest their capabilities allow. I am of the belief that the state simply cannot provide services to all of the children who, with the recent rise in accurate disability-diagnostics, deserve them--not without making sweeping changes to how it collects and spends its funds.

This act by the NYS Ed. Dept. (revoking services to home schooled IEP kids) feels like a slap in the face for families whose financial and emotional resources are already spread thin to breaking. I would like to see Mr. Spitzer introduce legislation to protect the rights of special- education home-schooled students here in New York.

With regards to special education services received by home schoolers, this could be done in two ways:

1. By revising the current interpretation of the 2004 IDEA legislation (IDEA does not STATE that New York CANNOT provide services to home schoolers, it simply does not address home schoolers in New York at all, because New York does not legally identify home schooled children as "privately schooled," as is the case in many other states, including California). This option would require no further legal action on the state's part.

2. Alternatively, Mr. Spitzer could introduce legislation (that, given the political clout of the teacher's union, may or may not pass, but would at least open a forum for discussion on the topic) legally identifying home schooled children in New York as "privately schooled."

Personally? I'm hoping for option number 2!

Thank you for your time.
Andrea Sz

Picture #1: Home schooled kids at a "Wagons West" presentation at Stony Brook's Long Island Museum that gave students a "first-hand," "hands-on" lesson on the rigors endured by 19th century American pioneers.

Picture #2: Drama class with other home schoolers--reinterpretation of the myth of "Perseus and Medusa."

Picture #3: "What Have I Read Lately?" class with other home schoolers.