I was a parent and then director of a small parent cooperative in NJ. It appears from what you have written that you have been able to get services for the children with special needs. It was my understanding that the act that was known as the Preschool Handicap Act covered evaluation and support for special needs children below kindergarten free of charge through your local school district. My grandson who has special needs had an assistant in his preschool classroom who was there to assist him.
I found that parents/families in the coop school and on the Board are often missing empathy toward the families struggling with a child with special needs. Often, parents/families are preoccupied with their own children and want to control the environment for the own child to make it a perfect place free of children with special needs or any conflict. I know that sounds terrible but I have seen it close up.
I found that children who have special needs have to be given more attention when they enroll if that enrollment occurs after the class has coalesced, that is after the start of the new school year. Mechanisms to help them become part of the group are essential for them to successfully adjust.
Another thought I had was that the teachers, assistants, and you should bring in somebody to observe the daily life of the classroom and how it unfolds. There may be ways to ameliorate the disruption seen and experienced by all by adjustments to schedules, words used when talking to these children, and through the daily flow of the day.
In addition, maybe it is time to bring in speakers who can dialogue with parents about children with special needs and how all members of the coop can help these children adjust and succeed.
One statement you wrote particularly struck home for me because I experienced it as the director of the parent coop. As I said earlier, coops are tricky in the sense that the families "own" the school and run the Board - ultimately hiring and firing teachers and the director and "expelling" families from the coop. And as I wrote earlier, they are rightfully, in many ways, particularly protective of their own children and often find it hard to empathetically think about the child who has special needs.
"Parents are concerned with some justification and the board would like to have these parents provide shadows for these children or ask them to leave. Our behavior plan does allow us to take either action after we have followed the proscribed steps, which we have. One child has been here since September, and we've seen little improvement. Another child (another class) just came in mid-November and almost immediately started twice weekly therapy after two weeks. The other child had been going to an OT and now is scheduled for further evaluation."
Good luck. If you want to talk, you can email me privately.
Nora Krieger, PhD
Associate Professor Emerita/Past Chair NJEEPRE
Bloomfield College/NJ Educators Exploring the Practices of Reggio Emilia
Highland Park, NJ
Sent: 02-11-2023 02:14 PM
From: Margaret Sweeney
Subject: Requesting more parental support for special needs children
Hello. I am a teacher/director in a small parent cooperative preschool. We have long had a reputation of a school that offers a lot of outdoor time, establishes strong relationships and is well-suited to active children. Like many schools, we are seeing the effects of the pandemic this year. Many children need a lot of adult attention and we're seeing several with pronounced sensory seeking behaviors. We've consulted with parents, who have been cooperative about getting their children into occupational therapy. We have talked to their therapists and had several come to observe and offer pointers. And still, these children need almost the full attention of one of two teachers in each class.
In one class, with several diagnosed children with special needs, we have hired a third teacher for 4 days a week with our Childcare relief funds. This has helped but a couple of children with sensory seeking issues are very disruptive and sometimes hurt other children unintentionally or seems threatening in their actions. Parents are concerned with some justification and the board would like to have these parents provide shadows for these children or ask them to leave. Our behavior plan does allow us to take either action after we have followed the proscribed steps, which we have. One child has been here since September, and we've seen little improvement. Another child (another class) just came in mid-November and almost immediately started twice weekly therapy after two weeks. The other child had been going to an OT and now is scheduled for further evaluation.
I have told the Board that we need to allow for a little time to see improvement for those who are actively getting help. Our third teacher solution won't last forever due to funds and teacher availability. I also know for many families who work, can't afford to pay a shadow or have younger children at home it is not really feasible to be at preschool several days a week or hire someone. I feel like their only recourse would be to drop from the program, which is definitely detrimental to that family. On the other hand, teachers are getting exhausted.
Any advice or ideas are appreciated.