At about two and a half years old your child will begin the transition from Early Steps (early intervention) to services provided by the School District of Palm Beach County. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provides that children with disabilities be served from birth through 21 years old. The ESE (Exceptional Student Education) Department provides those services from age 3 through a student’s 22nd birthday. At age 3, the child moves from a Family Support Plan to an IEP, Individualized Education Plan.
Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization provides training opportunities for families whose children will be transitioning to preschool or kindergarten. The trainer discusses the differences between services in Early Steps, preschool, and kindergarten, the IEP process, what to expect, and how to prepare. The School District provides a special education preschool option for children with disabilities (preschool must be offered, but it is not mandatory) and in 2015 there are more opportunities for children with Down syndrome and other disabilities to attend inclusive preschools, provided by the district or by a private preschool. The IEP is developed through a school/home partnership and contains a child’s present levels of performance and annual goals to achieve both academic and social success. Moving from Early Steps into the ESE system is exciting for many of our preschoolers, but challenging for families as “services” are viewed from a different perspective. When children with disabilities are 4 years old, they are eligible for VPK in the same way that any typical child may be. Click here for information about VPK in Palm Beach County. Click here for information about the IEP and the education law.
We know that Individuals with Down syndrome are life long learners. When planning for a child’s education, it is important to stay focused on outcomes, the end result of an education, which should be an active and valued life in the community upon exit from school. Always remember that parents and professionals may not have the same vision for a child’s future. As a parent, you know your child best and must insist that the goals you have for your child are included in the IEP. There is often discussion after a child’s 5th birthday about whether or not they are “ready” for kindergarten. Children in Florida do not have to enter kindergarten until age six. Many families feel that remaining in preschool for an extra year will better prepare their child for the kindergarten experience. Other families will move their child onto kindergarten, keeping in mind that retention there may give them that same developmental opportunity. Today, we have an expectation that children with Down syndrome will enter a typical kindergarten class alongside their peers without disabilties and receive the supports and services they need to be successful in the inclusive, general education setting.
Your child may or may not attend an ESE preschool in the school they will attend for kindergarten. There are a limited number of preschool programs throughout the school district and your child should attend the preschool program closest to your home that has the program appropriate for meeting your child’s IEP goals. There are half-day and full-day programs depending on your child’s individual needs. Many programs are speech/language models which are often appropriate placements for children with Down syndrome. Most of the preschool programs provided by the school district serve only children with disabilities. More and more families are choosing to send their children to preschool or daycare programs with typical children. VPK can provide this option when a child turns four and there are now VPK options that include supports from ESE. When choosing the appropriate preschool option for your child, it is important to look for a classroom and teacher with high expectations, and positive speech/language, social/behavior, and self-help skill role models that can impact the development of many of our children who are great imitators.
The I.E.P. document, developed through a partnership between school and home, contains a child’s present level of performance and goals they should be working on to achieve both academic and social success. Your child will have an IEP as long as they are receiving special education services from the ESE Department of the Palm Beach County School District. Your child has the right to go to school and the right to have a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment(LRE). It is stated in the law as follows: “Each public agency shall ensure— 1. That to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are nondisabled; and 2. That special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.”
The LRE for almost all children with Down syndrome is the general education classroom with supplementary aids and services. This is known as Inclusion. You may have heard the term mainstreaming. While inclusion educates children in the mainstream (where the typical peers are), inclusion and mainstreaming are not the same thing. In mainstreaming, children with disabilities are a part of a special education class and earn their way into the mainstream. They are usually invited to join music, art and physical education and therefore may be seen as visitors. Children who are “included” are part of a general education class. They belong in the general education class. Their name is on the roster for that class and they may receive their special education services in that classroom. If they receive any services out of the general education class, such as in a resource room, they return to the general education class. (TIP to parents: It is very important to remember that when Congress passed PL 94-142 they did not intend for Special Education to become the place it has today. Special education is a service that should be delivered in the Least Restrictive Environment.)
After elementary school, your child will transition to middle school and then high school. In general, children should attend the same school they would attend if they did not have Down syndrome, unless you as their parent choose a different school. Today there are choices through the McKay Scholarship and through school district Choice Programs. This can provide opportunties for individuals to experience classes that may be high interest such as culinary arts or an ROTC program. Families also use these options when they are not comfortable with the school a student would otherwise attend.
All schools in Palm Beach County have ESE teachers and Speech Language Pathologists. Special education services should be delivered at a child’s home school or the school a parent chooses, unless the nature of the disability is such to require a special type of placement. Regardless of disability, we all send our children to school to learn. You should be able to measure your child’s progress, every twelve weeks for elementary and quarterly for secondary, by the progress reports (and the pages of your child’s IEP) that are sent home from school. You should review your child’s IEP often. If your child is not making progress you should immediately address it. You are an equal partner in the educational process. This means making IEP decisions as part of the team, as well as doing your part at home in all areas of learning to ensure your child’s success at school.
To be your child’s best advocate and develop an individualized educational program where your child truly learns and thrives, you need to know about your child’s educational rights and the IEP process. You should begin attending local trainings about the time your child is 18 months old. For more information, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 561-912-1231.
Have you attended an IEP training yet? It is never too early or never too late! Knowing your child’s legal rights is an important part of the educational process. You cannot advocate for your child without information. Information is gained by going to trainings. The Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization strongly believes that parents cannot have too much training. We provide opportunities, or will keep you informed of local opportunities, to attend trainings in areas such as the IEP process, transitioning from Early Steps to Preschool, transitioning from Preschool to Kindergarten, Smart Start for Kindergarten, Legal Rights, the IDEA, etc. As part of our educational advocacy efforts, someone from Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization can attend an IEP meeting with you.
The Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization is a partner in Florida CEIDD (Coalition for the Education of Individuals with Developmental Disabilities). Founded as a project of the National Down Syndrome Society, through the Institute of Systems Change Leadership, it began as a meeting and collaboration of numerous advocacy and disability groups across the state of Florida. For more information or to get involved, please email CEIDD@bellsouth.net
Parents are their child’s lifelong advocate. One area that requires on-going advocacy is that of education. Children with disabilities such as Down syndrome did not have access to public school until 1975 with the passage of PL94-142, now known as the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and reauthorized in 2004. You and your child will meet many good and helpful people along your journey through the educational system, but ultimately, it is you, his or her parents who know your child best and are responsible for making good decisions about their education. It is very important that parents take every opportunity to learn about their child’s legal rights.