I woke up this morning to the word "freedom" in my mind. How wonderful, I thought, that this is a day to project freedom. I was asked by Priya's dad (not the child's real name) if I could take care of her this morning and drop her to school at 10:30 a.m. rather than regular time at 8:40 a.m. Priya, my autistic student that attends my after school program and is absolutely beautiful.
Hmmm, that's a strange request I thought. I was happy to care for her, but I was confused about why the school would ask her to come late. He texted me that the teacher asked the junior kindergarten students to come at 10:30 a.m. because the senior kindergarten students were having graduation. So this morning I did have to pass by the school at 8:40 a.m. and noticed ALL the kids were on their way to school as usual.
The parents, students and teachers were dressed up, handing out gifts and looking excited for a party. I stopped some of the JK parents walking to ask if they knew anything about this late drop off. They all said "no." I asked one of the Early Childhood Education (ECE) helpers and she said: "Oh, Priya has to come at 10:30 today." I said: "Can I ask why?" She said: "Wellllll we don't have an EA (Education Assistant) for her this morning." "And you have an EA after 10:30?" I asked. "Welllllll you see we're going to give out treats and Priya will see that and get realllly upset. But please don't say anything." So I guess what you're saying is you don't want Priya to ruin your graduation?
I asked a teacher and she said: "You know what? I can't speak to you, you're not the parent and SHE is supposed to come at 10:30." Wow, I thought. I walked up to the principal and said: "I am Priya's caregiver and I know this is none of my business (or so I've been informed), however I want you to know that what's happening here this morning is wrong. This student was asked not to attend this graduation -- don't you find that a bit discriminatory? She has the right to be here just as everyone yet you're asking her not to attend school until 10:30 when it's over?"
She looked at me firmly and said: "I call it setting up kids for success. And if you're that upset talk to the dad." As newcomers to Canada the father was confused about his daughter's rights in the public school system. I spoke to him on the phone and he said: "I was just doing as they asked."
I spent the morning grocery shopping with Priya, which was wonderful. I looked at her and thought about how she has no voice because she is still young. She doesn't even know what's going on and I felt sad. What if this was happening to the teacher and this was her child? I am a teacher and I know what I love most about my profession: I love to make a positive difference in the lives of young people and to watch them grow. To me, it's the best profession in the world.
As I walked Priya to class at 10:30 a.m. I saw her teacher in the hallway holding her cupcake. I asked her "Is this the right time for you now?" "Yup. 10:30," she said. I told her that this was not personal but that this act the school took to not allow this autistic child to attend graduation was a disgrace to my profession. I told her that what happened today was sad because our world is suffering from discrimination. I said I would write about this because really, that's all I can do. All I can do is spread the word so we grow and learn from this. She looked at me as she finished her cupcake and circled her hand in my face: "You know what? You do whatcha gotta do."
#shame #autism #kidsrights #freedom #spreadtheworld #muirheadps #discrimination #tdsb
*This post previously appeared on the Heart Learning Centre website.
MORE ON HUFFPOST: