Parent group to continue advocating for inclusion

By: April Lehmbeck | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 8, 2014

GROSSE POINTES — A group of parents with the Grosse Pointe Down Syndrome Guild vow to keep driving their message home during upcoming meetings, and that message is that the district needs to do better in terms of inclusion for children with special needs.

Julie Moe, one of those parents, has been vocal about her mission for her son, Max, to learn in an inclusive classroom.

“The school’s practices will isolate Max from his typical peers from preschool through 12th grade,” she said during the December board meeting, mentioning that there are statistics about inclusion and future success versus noninclusive environments.

She said she has worried that when Max graduates high school, no one will know who he is and that she had previously begged for change.

“I am done begging. I am done asking, and now I am telling you Max is going to go to birthday parties,” Moe said. “If he likes sports, he will be a team manager. If he likes plays, he’ll be in theater, and when he graduates, people are going to know his name, and I hope all of you come. You’re in the audience, you see Max hugging one of his typical friends, maybe somebody he’s known since preschool, and you think, ‘I did this. I helped change Max’s life.’ But either way, I want you to know that I will not rest until I know that Grosse Pointe will provide Max with the education that he deserves and is legally entitled to.”

She said she would keep coming to meetings, would sit through meetings, knock on doors, protest, involve lawyers — anything for her child.

School board members are taking note and have let the parents know that they are being heard and this issue is important to the board.

“I cannot imagine that there’s anyone on this board who does not believe in inclusion and the benefits of inclusion,” Board President Joan Dindoffer said.

Board Trustee Brian Summerfield thanked parents for coming out during the December meeting.

“I think it’s important for the community to focus on some of the important things with differentiation in education, inclusion of children, our technology needs and those items,” he said.

Board Vice President Daniel Roeske said he and Board Secretary Lois Valente have had conversations on inclusion concerns.

“It is not lost on this board, but we’re working through it,” he said.

The parents had plans to sit down with administration and special education professionals in the district this week and come out to speak again during the upcoming board meeting’s public comments.

Dindoffer said she was glad that the administration and parents had scheduled a meeting for Jan. 8, after press time, to talk about this issue more.

“I, for one, will be very interested in understanding more or hearing more of the outcome of that meeting,” she said.

The board is taking the issue further with a proposed place on the agenda during February’s board meeting.

“The issue of inclusion is near and dear to my heart, and I think that it is time that we take a stand and kind of push this issue forward,” Valente said during the December meeting.

Valente said she would be requesting the issue be placed on an agenda in February. At that meeting, she said she wanted more information about the discussion that took place in January with the group of parents and any timelines or plans discussed.

“I also wanted to acknowledge that there are some very inclusive teachers in this district,” Valente said, adding that it had been brought to her attention that the previous commentary on this issue had been too sweeping.

The parents are clear in what they believe needs to be done.

“Our first goal is to get them to create a pilot inclusive preschool classroom(s),” Jennifer Munson, one of the parents with the Grosse Pointe Down Syndrome Guild, said in a message sent to the Grosse Pointe Times through Facebook. “After that, the Grosse Pointe Down Syndrome Guild, along with the newly formed Parent Advisory Committee on Inclusion, will push the administration to provide districtwide training on best practices in inclusive education.”

Munson has said that they were told that financial constraints prevent the district from being able to initiate the changes that the parents are looking for, but the parents believe that there is funding available and staff who are qualified to teach blended classrooms.

While inclusion may not be the best option for every individual student with special needs, she said there is extensive research that shows that children with Down Syndrome thrive in a regular classroom, working alongside “typical” students.

She believes that there is “a seeming culture of segregation that pushes parents to place their children with special needs in separate classrooms, despite the fact that evidence-based research has shown that both special needs and typical students can benefit from being educated together.”

“We are hopeful that our efforts will make inclusion a viable option in the district, for our children and for any student whose parents wish to see if inclusion might benefit their child, as well,” Munson said.

For anyone who wants to hear more about the group’s efforts, they plan to have people speak during the Jan. 13 board meeting and are slated to be on an agenda during a meeting in February.

“We … are hoping to rally the community to come support us at that meeting, and every meeting, until the district agrees to make the necessary changes,” Munson said. “Birmingham and Rochester Hills, among dozens of other districts, have promoted inclusion as a right and moral imperative from preschool through 12th grade. It’s time we got up to speed.”