Right now, this beautiful child is sitting next to me, watching Bill Nye, while we wait for his home-study instructor so we can begin the journey to finish 5th grade from the safety and security of our home. Home-schooling has never been something I felt called to; it’s only something we’re embarking on because we’ve come to the end of our rope with a mismatched and poorly suited 5th grade year. There truly was no other option.
I’m pro-level with Special Ed; I’ve done M.Ed level work, and I’ve got my own kid in-house. I’ve been doing IEPs for nine years, and we’ve had predominantly stellar experiences. Bean has had wonderful teachers, tremendous therapists, deeply committed members of his team, over two states, and five schools. In the three years we’ve been in the DC area, he’s changed schools three times because of re-districting. I have moved once. He’s the worst possible child for that to have happened to, but I was powerless to stop district gerrymandering. He’s also gone from having the very best academic and social year of his life- a year where he excelled at every subject, made friends, loved his teachers and his school, and where his IEP team praised him for making such great leaps and being such a wonderful kid. In one year, he went from that, to our deciding, after 8 months of almost daily calls from the school, to pull him and spend the rest of the time before 6th grade rebuilding the damage done to him by his current school.
He’s still the same happy, quirky kid here at home. But I now have a concrete example of an educational team where an IEP can be followed to the letter, but where there can be zero investment in the child. I knew, the day I first walked into his classroom, that it wasn’t going to work. His assigned teacher may be a wonderful teacher for other kids, but for this particular child, she was wrong. I regret tremendously not asking to have him switched right then. I talked myself out of it. It was a mistake.
I try and teach my children responsibility and I don’t automatically assume my child is without fault. I wait, I weight things out. I talk to my kids, and to their teachers. The importance of the individual teacher cannot be overstated. Many kids can navigate many teachers, and there won’t be blips. Some kids do phenomenally with some teachers, and then some kids are catastrophically failed by some teachers. This was one of those times. At every chance, Bean was read and interpreted as a problem. When someone sees you as a problem, you start to believe you are a problem.
When you child comes home from school almost every day and cries, something is wrong. When on Sunday evenings, he realizes school is the next morning, and he bursts into tears yet again, something is wrong. When the teacher, who is armed with an IEP an inch thick and a full-time aid in the classroom, calls me 4-7 times a week, something is wrong. Last week, she called me three times in one day. Something is very wrong.
I am also a fervent defender of my kids, and when I walk into the district offices and ask for a meeting, it’s because I’ve been up all night reading the legal briefs and the actual legislation for IDEA (Individuals with Disability Education Act). I will be able to cite case law, and point out where federal (not state, not local, not school district… Federal) law has been violated, and I will ask if we should be recording this meeting.
Basically, don’t mess with me.
So when I walk into the district offices and ask for a meeting with the head of Special Education Services, I get one. And while I’m really glad that my reputation allows me to get that meeting, and my phone calls afterwards are taken, I am really *really* angry that a school district has to be coerced into following law they should be following for every. single. child. What about the mother who doesn’t speak English well, but whose child qualifies for services he’s not getting? What about the single mom working two jobs who simply cannot take off for yet another meeting? (Jon has used almost a week of his vacation because of IEP’s this year.) What about the mother who lacks the education to walk in armed with legal citations and the ability to advocate? The gulf between the privileged and the disadvantaged widens, and I am furious on their behalf. It’s really not enough that I, in a position of very real privilege, can advocate for my child. It should not be this hard.
FAPE (Free Access to Public Education) is something to which every single child in America is entitled. It’s not only for the kids in good neighborhoods, or whose mothers know how to work the system. It’s not only for the parents who can take time off to attend another meeting because the school is failing to meet the standards set out in an IEP. Every child. Every time. Every school.
So last week, after a phone meeting with the head of Special Ed for the school district, we made the very hard decision to throw in the towel and homeschool Bean for the rest of the year. He will still receive instructional support from the district. A (new) teacher will come to our home for 420 minutes a week. He will still receive all his special ed services, including therapy and counseling, here at our home. He will still receive music instruction, and be able to attend activities with his classmates, but he will not ever enter that classroom again.
If any of you are pro-level home-schoolers, I’d love and welcome some suggestions and feedback. As far as I’ve gotten is asking him to write me a list of five things he really wants to learn about. He wants to know how birds build their nests, how centrifugal force works on wheels, how light bulbs work, why humans taste things as good or bad, how clocks work.
And it’s straight-up privilege that I can do this to make sure he gets what he needs. It should never come to this.