Let’s open this one by issuing a few caveats cause I know you’re a bit ornery about having to go back to work after a four-day break.
First, I am the proud father of a special needs child. And while I’m eternally grateful he isn’t violent, absolutely nothing about his education has been easy. From having to sit on his ass – even now in college – to dealing with the Geneva School District who clearly believed an IEP plan was a mere suggestion, it’s been a fascinating proposition.
So, I don’t want to hear any of y’all say I don’t know what it’s like, because I do. For those who don’t know, an IEP or “Individualized Education Plan” is a legal contract between the school district and the parents of a special needs child.
Second, I tend not to tackle topics unless I’m convinced the coverage has a reasonable potential to better the situation. If not, I’ll attempt to bring balance to the force quietly.
But leave it to the Chicago Tribune, and particularly the rank amateurs at Pro Publica, to insist upon making matters much worse, as they just did with their coverage of Illinois school districts’ “quiet rooms.”
“Quiet rooms,” to be blunt, are the educational equivalent of solitary confinement for prisoners. Originally intended to be utilized only when student safety became an issue, many districts banished children without supervision simply for being incorrigible. We’re talking about things like swearing, failing to finish classwork, disrupting class, or talking back.
While I agree it’s not a perfect solution, what are our schools supposed to do? Let the inmates run the asylum? Corporal punishment is correctly out, and when teachers or administrators correctly call parents to criticize their destructive little darlings, all bleepin’ hell breaks loose.
In an effort to keep tabs on an errant Kane County family court judge, I regularly sit in the back of his courtroom, and most of the parents who appear before him shouldn’t be allowed to raise a hamster, much less a flippin’ child.
So, now teachers are being forced to raise our children which brings us all down to that least common denominator. When I was a database consultant, I regularly advised clients like Wrigley and Philips Electronics that they could not let one percent of the possibilities turn into 33 percent of the programming. The same logic applies here.
And that’s just the challenge with “normal” children. Illinois’ unfunded mandate to “mainstream” violent, impossible-to-control, and well-out-on-the-spectrum students has become an utter and unmitigated disaster.
How are teachers, aides, and administrators supposed to contend with these difficult children while doing their damndest to be sure the rest of the students get a good education?
Though the story went national, those of us who live in Kane County, Illinois, just saw exactly what can go wrong in the form of the Burlington bus aide story.
No school bus driver should EVER have to go to work with the expectation of being regularly assaulted. No aide, who has absolutely no training in this regard, should have to deal with a child who can’t begin to handle boarding a school bus, and resorts to biting them as a result.
Again, I give those parents vast credit for enrolling their son in two special needs schools first, but having been asked to leave both, how the heck are the public schools supposed to contend with him?
If I was the D301 superintendent, I’d explain, in no uncertain terms that, until the child can handle being on a school bus, the parents will be driving him to school, and if they threatened to sue me, I’d respond, “Bring it on!”
So now, due to the Tribune’s and Pro Publica’s “fine work,” school districts are simply sending these children home when they get out of hand, despite the fact that solution puts single parents’ jobs in jeopardy. Sorry! But with no realistic option left, that’s exactly what every principal should start doing.
Meanwhile, Governor Pritzker, never the brightest bulb in the pack, instructed the State Board of Education to change their rules such that quiet rooms must be manned by an adult, the door is to remain unlocked, and they can only be used for therapeutic reasons, not as a punitive measure.
And I’m sure he’s gonna dip into his vast personal fortune to provide the funding to add the personnel required to meet this state-issued imperative.
I’m not saying these children should be abandoned, but it’s abundantly clear they need to be in educational facilities specifically designed to deal with the difficulties involved. Where is the money going to come from? The Tri-Cities school districts, and others, get far more state funding than necessary, and if we eliminate unnecessary programs like golf, dance, bowling, cheer, and wrestling, that’d be a great start.
Were there quiet room abuses? Yes! But they were borne of a state government that consistently fails to comprehend they’re asking far too much of our schools. When Aurora State Senator Stephanie Kifowit, a person I consider to be a friend, jumped on the Tribune quiet room bandwagon, I immediately wanted to encourage her to take a look in the bathroom mirror first.
And I wasn’t nearly the only Facebook respondent who chided her for that, or complained that the expectations thrust upon our school districts are patently unfair.
The fact that she’s a member of the Generally Assembly Democratic supermajority means she has the power to address the root cause, though our educational system needs so many fixes it’s beyond embarrassing.
And lastly, I would encourage the Tribune and Pro Publica to consider the possibility of a greater good before breaking a story, because they both just made an already untenable situation that much worse. I suppose it’s par for the course.