Today, someone from the school district called in answer to my email. I enrolled Julia is a 2- week summer music experience/camp run by the district. I had heard about the camp but hadn’t imagined that Julia could do it. Her strings teacher, her music aide and her special ed teacher thought it was a wonderful idea, and buoyed by their enthusiasm, I did the online enrollment.
The rather cheery woman who called first made sure that I was enrolling a special ed student. Yes, I was. She then explained that my daughter could only take the music camp if she had participated in the strings program in fifth grade. Yes, she had. The woman was silent for a moment. Was she surprised about music and special ed? I am not sure. Then went on to tell me that Julia’s IEP would not be implemented during summer enrichment programs because the programs could not afford services like PT and OT and Speech. She said that Julia could not get all the services that she got during the school year and that they only offered “reasonable accommodation” for summer school. I asked what the accommodation was and she put some words together that explained nothing. Then she asked if I understood.
To back up some, I have been through this a few weeks ago about summer school. There are “reasonable accommodations” for summer school but when it was explained to me it sounded like “reasonable accommodations” were absolutely no accommodations. Well, perhaps a seat in the front of the room, although the summer school person was not sure about that. I decided that summer school would not work for us — for fifth grade math, they planned to work on math facts and Julia has those down cold — and so did not push them on accommodation.
For music camp, however, I couldn’t let her off so easily. Did I understand “reasonable accommodation”? No. Again, I stopped her. “Can’t implement . . “ she started up again and I said that I wasn’t looking for her IEP services just support enough for Julia to participate. In other words, she would need an aide. “We don’t have money for an aide” and suggested that the needs of special ed students could ruin the program. Guilt flooded my senses for a very quick moment. For a split second, I saw the stampede of IEP carrying string players killing the MMSD summer music enrichment experience.
On reflection, I could have asked her just how many special ed students try to enroll in the camp each year? In our school’s case, Julia is the only special ed student in strings this year at her school. When I asked about strings last year for Julia, I was told that there was another special ed student at one time, and as it turned out, I knew the family. So, that is two kids with IEPs in the strings class in four or five years at Randall.
Julia was also the only person who brought an aide to the Strings Festival at West High during which all the kids who feed into West High School from fifth to eighth grade play together. I think that there are just two of these concerts — east and west, although there may be one or two more. Even if there were five concerts — one for each high school — at one special ed student a concert, there might potentially five special ed strings players who would want to join the camp and need some meaningful accommodation. Even imagining that all five enrolled in the camp, it would not necessarily mean that the program would be burdened with paying for five aides or some other expensive accommodation. In Julia’s case, she could easily share an aide with another student. Any kid who made it through fifth grade strings and wanted to play in the summer would probably be motivated to be as independent as possible.
But back to our conversation — I said that I didn’t think — in a very hesitant voice — that they could offer this a camp to the entire district and not offer Julia support. Wasn’t she protected by the IDEA? At the mention of law, the conversation shifted. The nice woman told me that she didn’t think they were required to offer anything in the summer but that instead of telling me that they “couldn’t” she “would check” — with whom she did not say — “and get back to” me.
I had caught her out. I googled “summer school exception” and IDEA, and other terms to find some language and found nothing. I called an old friend and she called an expert and sure enough there is language that was inserted in to the IDEA from Section 504 of the ADA that Julia should have an equal opportunity to participate in school sponsored activities.
So, now I wait to see if and when the very nice lady gets back to me. I am hoping that the mere suggestion that I have some knowledge spurs the PTB to do the right thing, although I am armed and ready to move on and insist if it comes to that. I grieve for the child who is denied this and other opportunities because their parents are not strong advocates. Thank goodness, that Julia is not one of them.
And on another note — Spring thunder storms have begun and this is the first year that the first crack of thunder did not send Julia into my bed. It was not fierce tonight, and I expect that really bad storms will wake her and speed her into my bed, but not tonight. The trauma that so controlled her life is easing, or possibly it is safer in a Gryffindor bedroom than in my bedroom.