Punishing Disability

The other day I took my children to the park for a play date. It was one of those fantastic North Carolina days where the air was warm, the breeze was light, and one could forget that it was winter. My girlfriend was lamenting how her son, “Isaac,” was being punished at school by having his recess revoked and getting the dreaded silent lunches. This sweet boy has a heart of gold and is incredibly bright, but struggles in the classroom due to his ADHD. I know, you are all eye rolling and head nodding — if you have a child with ADHD, then there’s about a 100% chance that your kiddo has been forced to have a similar consequence.

This blog isn’t about how terrible it is for a kiddo that can’t stop fidgeting or sharing his/her thoughts spontaneously to be forced to not move or talk. This is about how to know if your child is being discriminated against in school by the teacher. No one likes to talk about this subject, because it is uncomfortable.


Discrimination in the Classroom

Discrimination is defined as the “unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.” Your child, if they have an educational disability, falls into the “different category of people.”

Discrimination in the classroom can look different than say, discrimination in the workplace. For example, it’s discrimination when a teacher knows that your child has an IEP, has signed the IEP, and still requests that your child complete the work of his/her neurotypical peers — commenting about the lack of ability to get the work done. When a teacher knows that your child has a modification but chooses not to apply or enforce it, that’s discrimination. Another example: your child has a documented executive functioning disorder and the teacher gives your child a “mark” for not having his agenda signed. If a teacher has participated in the IEP meeting, signed the IEP, and still does not abide by the law, this is discrimination. If your child is punished for having a disability, or for not being able to keep up when they are unable to do so, they are being discriminated against.

[Tweet “It’s discrimination when a teacher knows about an IEP, yet still demands neurotypical behavior. “]

Now, let’s be clear. If your child receives a demerit for bad behavior, this is not discrimination. If your child is afforded all of his/ her right’s and the teacher is bending over backwards to follow the IEP by applying all modifications and giving extra accommodations and he/she still gets poor grades or demerits, it’s not discrimination. But if your child has it documented that he gets to chew gum for timed assessments and is not only denied the right to use this accommodation but is punished for chewing gum, then there is discrimination happening.


Advocating for Your Child

Now that we have identified discrimination, what do we do about it if it is happening to your child? First, as a parent of a child with educational needs, I am sure you have a notebook that you use to keep track of all incidents, emails, notes, forms, and blood type (just kidding, not really). If you don’t have one of these, make one.

Second, determine if this is an isolated incident or if there is perpetual discrimination happening on a regular basis. Teachers can have bad days, too. The key is to discern whether the teacher is ignorant or arrogant. If ignorant, educate them on the definition of executive function disorder, ADHD, or whatever disability your child has which enables him or her to have challenges in the classroom.

If you find that the teacher struggles with arrogance — knowing your child has a disability and still giving consequences that are unreasonable and illegal — then you need to proceed with writing a strongly worded letter. Be bold!  USE THE WORD DISCRIMINATION with examples of the incidents which are or have occurred. Send it to the teacher with a guilt-free conscience. No, you aren’t going to make the situation worse for your child. Yes, you will make the teacher mad. But an even bigger yes, you are advocating for your child that he/she make be taught in a safe environment where a person with a disability isn’t seen as a burden, but a blessing.

If the teacher does not respond after a few days, write again to see if you were heard. If you still receive no response, forward your initial letter to the Principal of your school, and the Exceptional Children’s Director. Give it a week and call a meeting. You are calling for accountability purposes, not to stir the pot. You are standing firm and strong for your child’s rights. One day he/ she will stand on their own, but until then, you are the voice for your child.

My friend, aka my soul sista (we all have one, don’t we?) does not at this time have an IEP for her son. This matters because the teacher is not bound by any law to treat “Isaac” any differently than any other neurotypical child. He is, at this time, being held to a standard of every other child, even though his brain doesn’t process like every other child. Therefore, silent lunches and revoked recess are in his future until further notice. It’s not discrimination because he doesn’t fall under the “different category of people”…yet.

PS- The day I wrote this blog she received a note from the teacher complaining about “Isaac’s” terrible behavior and listed all the punishments he had received this week, noting that nothing was working. Ms. Teacher- if nothing is working, you might want to try a different strategy. Soul Sista is sending a formal request for testing to begin this week.