On Tuesday, October 17 2017, I had the opportunity to join members of 482Foward on a bus trip to Lansing to lobby for our educational system. Along with other parents, teachers, and former principals I had the chance to express concerns directly to certain representatives about the personal impact of school closures. I’m thankful to have found such an organized and diligent effort to give unheard Detroit a voice. I am equally thankful for detroitschooltalk.org for taking on the task of getting the information out electronically. Part of the reason for Detroit being unheard, from my perspective, is because many just do not have the information that leads to places where effective conversations are happening.
As a concerned parent I also felt unheard and powerless to the school system when it came to what was right for my children. My first encounter dealing with the school system was with my son Kenyatta III. Kenyatta was developing well and then suddenly began missing his milestones as he was approaching 3 years old. My wife and I were then hit with the news that our son carried a diagnosis of autism.
My thoughts were to hurry and get him in a school or center that would have the experts we need to help him develop. With all the information we gathered we ended up seeking out Detroit Day School for the Deaf on 4555 John C Lodge Fwy, Detroit, MI 48201 (which is now permanently closed). Detroit Day School for the Deaf offered some services but they were very few and short while we had hoped for daily therapy to aid his development. We also learned right away that their early intervention stopped at 3 years of age, which only gave us a few months of services. At that particular time while we were looking for some place to enroll him we learned of Beaumont’s early intervention ABA program in Royal Oak. Because we could not find any services in Detroit my amazing wife got off work and travelled from Dearborn to the Royal Oak Beaumont Center on 13Mile near Woodward for services. We ended up spending thousand of dollars out of pocket for a program five days a week for three months.
Another encounter was when Kenyatta was getting older and ready for grade school and we were not sure where to place him as we knew he would need special services. My wife and I, in our own way, had become advocates for autism awareness, sharing and seeking information anywhere we could find it. I looked into some schools but quickly learned that I as a parent was not allowed to decide where my son went to school. Instead, I had to wait on a letter from the district telling me where he would be placed.
His first placement was Mae Jemison on 16400 Tireman Ave. (which is now permanently closed). I felt at ease with him seeing someone everyday and with an opportunity to be mainstreamed with other kids. But I was soon disappointed to learn that the standard for an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) classroom — one certified ASD Teacher and two aides for seven students — was not being met. The class had more than seven students and only one aide, who seemed to have never worked with kids on the spectrum at all. I then took it upon myself, because I worked evenings, to volunteer my time in the class before work so that the teacher was not overwhelmed and each child could have some “required” one-on-one time.
His second placement after Mae Jemison closed was John R. King Academic and Performing Arts Academy. I had a good experience at J.R. King. The special education teacher was strong, her aides were strong, and Kenyatta seem to perform well with her. My wife and I thought we had finally found the right school. It was closer to home, the teacher gave good reports, and we saw how an ASD classroom was supposed to run. The next year we were hoping for more of the same but when the placement letter came he had been moved again, this time to the new David Mackenzie Elementary. Although I felt a personal joy because he would be attending my alma mater, everything was ultimately about what was best for my son.
In fact, during this time my eyes were set on Burger Baylor (a school for student diagnosed with autism) at 28865 Carlysle St, Inkster, MI 48141. Although I’m not displeased with Mackenzie I know that education for my son could be much better. I raised the idea of transferring him but was told of the opposition I would be met with. After a failed attempt to visit Burger I was told that my son would not be accepted without a referral from DPS. I was so discouraged and disappointed that my son could be at a school that specialized in his gift but to get him in I’d have to leave Detroit.
One last point: during these events my voting post was changed to Oakman Elementary Orthopedic School on 12920 Wadsworth St, Detroit, MI 48227. It was then I found out that they also serviced children on the spectrum. It was literally a few blocks away from my home and was a school dedicated to special needs children but I never got information or placement there and it is now permanently closed.