I desperately need your help to pressurize our local public school into providing my 9 year-old son’s work in an accessible format. My son, JJ, has multiple and severe physical disabilities; he can’t walk, he’s unable to hold things in his hands, he’s visually impaired and uses a computer to talk (go to OK4JJ on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/pages/OK4JJ/445599938886371 - to learn more about him and watch videos of the way his school work is presented) but inside he’s a regular 9 year-old boy. Because he’s such a smart little guy he’s mainstreamed with his typical peers at our local elementary school. JJ has just started 4th grade however after four years with Seminole County Public Schools they are still giving him his work on paper; which is totally impossible for him to access. Through no fault of his own he’s struggling to complete assignments; he has no way to read independently and no manipulatives to use during math meaning every calculation has to be done in his head. The only concession they make is to magnify whatever worksheet the rest of the class is using and then make him write his answers on his communication device.
As soon as JJ was enrolled as a student with Seminole County Public Schools in 2009 they recognized he would need his work computerized in order for him to participate. The issue has never been whether JJ needed the technology; it’s always been about their inability to use any of it. JJ has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and this is supposed to ensure he gets the same education that every other student is entitled to. In theory his IEP is a legally binding document that the school must follow …………... in practice they don’t.
In 2nd grade I went into the classroom to watch JJ take a reading test. They had magnified the book onto a computer screen and a member of staff was holding a piece of cardboard in one hand against the screen to cover up the superfluous text and had a stick in the other hand that she used to point word by word. Because JJ can’t talk he had no control over the speed the stick was moved at - she simply guessed - and he was allowed no opportunity to reread anything if he needed to. I find it incredible that in the 21st Century this archaic method is the best Seminole County Public Schools has to offer a student with a disability. In 3rd grade he was given a reading test – using the same antiquated technique with the stick - to assess his Lexile score for reading and he got a ……………………… ZERO!! This is a boy who uses a text to speech computer to communicate and aces spelling tests yet they assessed his reading level at below a beginner reader.
This year they finally hired someone to adapt JJ’s work, although inexplicably only for 60% of the week. Unfortunately the first person they hired was grabbing my son’s head and pushing him (luckily he was able to tell me what was happening) so she was fired. The second person they hired was excellent and we could not have been happier but she left after a couple of months to take a full-time job. The fact that this is not a full-time position is difficult to understand because currently – with someone there for 60% of the time - JJ is getting less than 10% of his work adapted. When I complained about the presentation of JJ’s work the reply I received on August 30th 2013 from the Seminole County Public Schools Area Administrator was that JJ was receiving “homework materials provided in an adapted format as indicated on his IEP”. Check out the videos to see what you think! The third person SCPS hired treats my son as if he's cognitively impaired referring to herself in the third person and on her fourth day of work when I asked her about his IEP - the legally binding document created to protect his rights to FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) - she told me that she had not even read it. When I emailed the Assistant Principal voicing my alarm about this she said, “rest assured (she) has read JJ’s IEP”. I wonder if she’d have had this laid back approach if it was her child who was unable to access their work.
JJ loves books and he longs to read a book on his own but without them setting up the software (they got it almost a year ago but they don’t know how to program it) he cannot access books and he has to rely on someone reading everything to him. On November 30th 2012 they promised to get the Reading Overlay set up to allow JJ to read independently. As of today, Thursday September 12th 2013, this still has not been done.
So for four years I’ve gone to meeting after meeting, written to every elected official in Florida appealing for help, hired an Advocate and then an Attorney and - despite Seminole County Public Schools repeated promises – at the start of 4th grade JJ is still getting his work on paper. You guys really are my last hope of getting Seminole County Public Schools to adapt JJ’s work into an accessible format. Thank you for taking the time to read this and please, please, please help end JJ’s (and my) pain by signing my petition!!