As you may recall, I've been freaking out about the prospect of having to enroll Ryan in kindergarten this coming fall. I am pleased to report on a lovely conversation I just had with two helpful ladies at the Westchester Institute for Human Development. It is one of New York State's 13 Special Education Parent Centers, providing parents of children with disabilities information on navigating The System.
Here's what I learned:
In New York, kindergarten is not mandatory, but once you enroll your child in kindergarten, the school clock starts, and it is not the parent's prerogative to hold the child back for another year of kindergarten. Once a child is eligible for CSE* all special ed services take place in kindergarten, BUT a parent can choose to enroll her child in a private preschool program and bring him to the school where the kindergarten is for therapy services. So, I could send him to a private preschool (that would accept a 5-year-old) in the mornings, then bring him to our local elementary school for his speech and occupational therapy. To continue using the same therapists he uses now, I would have to ask if the school district still contracts with XYZ on the CSE level.
Holding a child back from kindergarten is known as "red shirting." I do not want my child to be blown up on an alien planet, but such is the life of a special education family.
There are major differences in philosophy between CPSE** and CSE. CPSE is developmentally focused, and CSE is educationally focused. Example: let's say a child has beautiful handwriting but has poor coordination. He could qualify for OT under CPSE, but probably would not qualify under CSE, because OT would not directly improve his academic performance. So CSE usually provides a child fewer services than he got with CPSE.
Another difference: SEIT*** is a CPSE-only phenomenon. A kindergärtner [spell check wants this word to have umlauts! I'm psyched!] might qualify for an individual classroom aide, but would not have a SEIT. Our Chrissy days are numbered...
The ladies at the Parents Center / Early Childhood Direction Center stressed that a parent must be her child's fiercest advocate, and be an equal voice on the committee. I am now armed with the name and number of my district's CSE chair, and a little information to help me make more informed decisions. Watch out, Bureaucracy, here comes Mama.
* Committee on Special Education - in our school district, this happens the school year in which a child will be 5 as of 12/31.
** Committee on Preschool Special Education - for ages 3-5.
*** Special Education Itinerant Teacher. AKA Chrissy.