Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Monday afternoon, I dropped in on Ryan's school to allay my own anxieties.
It didn't work.
Ryan's classroom is in the annex of the school, on the third floor of a church school across the street. To get in, you must first check in with the main office, on the second floor of the big, imposing main school. Just getting to the office was tricky, because there were a couple of classes filing up the narrow staircase to get from the playground to their classrooms. I wove through the kids and found the office.
The office called Ryan's teacher, who said it was a perfect time to stop by and meet her. A school social worker happened to be heading back to her office in the Annex anyway, so I walked with her.
Ms. J seemed perfectly nice, we chatted a while, and she gave me the grand tour. The third floor of the Annex is dedicated to special ed kindergarten. It's a cramped, institutional-feeling place, with horrible fluorescent lighting and furniture that's been in use since the Carter administration. There are three tiny classrooms, all for kids with autism and other communication disorders. There are even smaller, windowless rooms for speech therapy, OT, and PT. For extra play space, the teachers will bring the OT and PT toys into the hallway - I stepped around a therapist working with two little boys with a plastic bowling set. There's a little computer lab full of old computers with giant CRT screens, which is where Ryan was working during my tour.
And then there's the Quiet Room.
Ms. J explained that the Quiet Room is for containing a child who is having a meltdown and has become a danger to himself or others. It is a tiny cell lined with blue gym mats on the walls and floor. There is no furniture. There's a domed mirror near the ceiling so a teacher can monitor an unruly child through the window on the door. "We don't use it much anymore," Ms. J explained, "but it's there for just in case."
I could not get the image of the Quiet Room out of my head for the rest of the day. I was stunned to consider that there would be a circumstance under which a teacher would be totally unable to control a child in any other way besides locking him up. I was terrified of the thought that my baby might someday be relegated to this padded cell. I cried with the realization that my child is spending over six hours a day among kids for whom confinement in this room might someday be an appropriate precaution.
I wonder to what degree this cell is a relic of the way special needs kids used to be handled vs. how educators deal with behavioral issues today. Even if they "don't use it much anymore," the Quiet Room has not been converted to a storage closet or other useful purpose, so it clearly still serves some function. Chrissy tells me it's not an uncommon feature of special ed schools she's seen.
Someone, please buy our beautiful apartment so we can get the hell out of this crappy school district ASAP.