September 2, 2013
Re: HOST Afterschool Program
Hillsborough County School Board members,
I am writing you in true disbelief. Disgusted at how my daughter and I were disregarded by staff members at the HOST program at my daughters school, Lewis Elementary. I enrolled her in the HOST program and clearly indicated on the application that she had autism and the best ways for her to communicate or to understand her surroundings. I submitted the paper application a week before school started. That first Friday of the school year we were out of town so I had asked her teacher to turn in the check for the upcoming week ahead so it was paid on time. Fast forward to the Tuesday, August 27th, after school my daughter began her first day at the HOST program. I knew it would be a challenging day as my daughter has autism and for many individuals with autism it takes a while for them to get use to their surroundings and new people. When I picked her up from school that afternoon approximately 2.5 hours after dismissal, she was sitting quietly at the lunch tables with her shoes off, but in a good mood. I was the told by one of the workers there that my daughter didn’t want to stay with her group, she threw herself to the floor which I had to sign an incident report, and then was handed my application and check back with ‘sorry this isn’t going to work’. The young lady then told me the manager of the Lewis HOST program would give me a call tomorrow to discuss this further. I was never called by the manager (still to this day of writing this letter never received the call). I had to call the district office of the HOST program. After two days of calling and leaving a message, I finally got a supervisor on the phone. Just as I was dismissed at Lewis, I was being dismissed by this supervisor. She said she was made aware of the situation of what happened and that my daughter was a flight risk and danger to others. I was repeatedly told that when I signed her up I saw the ‘stipulations’ that kids must follow. It was also implied by this supervisor that I didn’t quite do enough to let the HOST program know about my daughter as she kept referring to “weren’t you the parent that had the teacher turn in the application and check for you?” Nothing was achieved by this phone call to this supervisor and I again was left speechless.
My daughter has been in Hillsborough County schools since the age of three and has never been considered a danger to others. I also find it absolutely mind boggling that if she was such a problem and a danger, why her Step father or I was NEVER called to come pick her up. If any child is ever a huge threat or problem parents are immediately called at school, why not at HOST?
I am writing you to inform you of this dismissal and outward display of discrimination of my daughter because of her autism and her differences. It is discrimination at its purest form. Like I told the Supervisor on the phone, they say they accept student with disabilities in effort to brush away the discriminatory claims that could be made if they didn’t take our kids. However, it is clearly evident they don’t want to accept our kids! It is appalling to me that instead of working with me or her teacher on better ways for her to communicate and follow directions, such as picture schedules and choice boards; they were so quick to just kick her out. It is saddening to me as a parent and a professional who works with autism daily. Children on the spectrum cannot be made to conform in 2 hours on the first day. It takes time for any child to adjust to a schedule especially children with autism.
Those who are employed by HOST and who are at these schools do not have the patience for kids with special needs. They do not have the training or education to help children with different circumstances or different ways of interacting. A district of your size and stature who educates and is in charge of the well-being of thousands of children in the ESE/ASD education system should have better equipped after school programs for kids like my daughter. If you offer programs like HOST for general education students you need to give that same right to children with special needs. You need to offer that same service to parents of special needs. Parents like me who work Full time need somewhere we can trust for our children to go. They should be able to join a program where they are respected and are given an opportunity to have fun after school like the rest of the students. A place that understands their differences and accepts those differences instead of looking at them like pests, much like the HOST program did to my daughter. Sure there are camps and daycares around however like mentioned before you offer this HOST program to mainstream students at a low cost, something similar should be available to your exceptional students and families as well. We shouldn’t have to seek past our district for this service nor pay ridiculous costs to other places. Our kids are just as important!
Neither I nor parents like me, ask for our kids to get special treatment, however we do expect them to have the same opportunities that mainstream children have. Parents like me need to work full time, we struggle daily to find a place in this world for our kids. Most parents of special needs are drained emotionally, financially, and desperately need to work. Having no afterschool care that is fit for our kids is a huge inconvenience for us but an even bigger injustice for our kids!
With this letter I do not wish for my child to get put back in HOST. I feel quite opposite as I do not think she will be treated kindly nor cared for. As it is evident they are incompetent to care for children with special needs. I wish to see change! I seek an afterschool program created like HOST but for those kids who are different. For the kids that excel best with people who are patient and kind who are willing to accept their difference. Not people who expect children to follow suit on day one and don’t give a child a chance to adjust and adapt to their surroundings before giving them the boot. A thorough look into this HOST program needs to be done. These individuals need to trained and knowledgeable of all the exceptionalities that Hillsborough County teaches every year. The number of children with disabilities, especially autism continues to climb at an alarming rate and a need for a program that accepts our kids is vital. What is even more important is employees who are capable of working with children with different abilities needs to be hired so that no kid is pushed to the way side like they are a nucense, much like my daughter.
Children with disabilities can thrive and excel if given the chance and compassion to do so. My daughter especially was treated like a second class citizen at this point in time by HOST. It is sickening and disheartening as a parent and I won’t go quietly and sit back idly why this happens to my family and others, district wide. A district that tends to thousands of students like mine should have more opportunities available for our kids because HOST surely isn’t the answer.
I await your response.