There Is Always Another Way

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We are afraid to take the leap out of the life we know and into the life that is made to fit us so much better. We become trapped in the idea that there is only one way, one option, one normal despite the fact that the one way we think is the only way completely paralyzes us.

It has been 7 years that I have been fighting against a school system who never enforced or followed through on my sons accommodations. I have barely survived year after year as the people who were supposed to support my son and family did nothing but destroy us and my faith in any good coming from a school. The stress and anxiety and panic attack’s that we have had to endure have been tough growing pains but today I leave it all behind as we venture into the new normal of charter school. As I sit here tonight, the relief I feel that we are done dealing with the disaster traditional public school has become, leaves me with a peace I have not known for quite some time. No more emails unanswered. No more waiting weeks for a single assignment to be graded. No more meetings of empty promises and wasted days. We are done and never looking back.

Do not suffer on a path if you have another option. Do not try and fit yourself into a box you could never fit into to. If something isn’t working, do something different. My only regret is that it took me so long but I have a feeling next year will be one of the calmest and happiest years we’ve had in a long time. We are not meant to struggle or be miserable. There is always a way out and a new door that will lead to a life that is so much better. The door is open. All you have to do is walk on through. I hope to see you on the other side.

The Final Chapter

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I’ve been hesitant to share this but I feel the time is finally right. A while back, I filed a discrimination case against the school with The Office of Civil Rights. The school absolutely refused to meet my sons accommodations and after begging and pleading for several years, I realized I had no other option than to go this route. I really thought foolishly that teachers and administrators would bend over backwards to help kids anyway they could. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Just like those NFL players, I took my place in front of them week after week trying to be heard. I tried negotiating, begging, bargaining and anything else I could think of to get him the resources he needed. They pushed back hard. The principal tried to threaten and intimidate me to make me go away. Chase started to see repercussions in a particular class and I had to pull him out and place him with another teacher. Our family was falling apart. I kept fighting because like any mother, I would do anything to get my son the help he needed. I was placed on depression medication and had panic attacks where I couldn’t breathe. The situation was killing me but it wasn’t right to let them get away with this and I never wanted a single kid or family to go through what we had to endure. It was the worst time in my entire life. I was interviewed by OCRs lawyer and told I would hear from them. I did 16 months later. 

In the meantime, my son switched over to high school and slowly but surely life was getting back to normal. There was a day I assumed OCR would never get back to me and I came to the realization that if I remained obsessed with that debilitating experience, I would allow those teachers and that horrible administrator to lock me in that hell that I didn’t want to live in anymore. It was ruining my life. My noble notion to do something good for future kids  along with my need to see these horrible people pay a price was killing me slowly one day at a time. Guess what! No one cares. No one came to rescue me as I was drowning in a pain I never should have owned. The only choice I had was to let it go. By holding onto my obsession to hold these people rightly accountable, I was losing precious days of finding joy and living my life. 

I received a letter from OCR two weeks ago (now 18 months) stating that because the allotted time expired since filing my complaint, my case was being closed and no investigation would take place. Was this fair that due to them dragging their feet to get around to my case that I was being punished? You bet your ass it isn’t but guess what? That’s the way it is and crying and dwelling on it will not change the circumstances anyway. I never had a chance because when there is no enforcement of codes and rules and laws, people can do whatever they want. The wrong people are being protected and like it or not that’s just the way it is. 

I’m happy to report I am off my medication and feel happy and grateful most of the time. Chase is doing fantastic in school and I think our lives are no longer controlled by the school system. 

Life isn’t fair. Period. This chapter is closed and this story is over. It feels so good to put it behind me and really move on. Put down what is too heavy for you to carry. Stop choosing to be a victim of your circumstances. Stop thinking people should care about your problems. Stop trying to punish those who cause you pain. Stop thinking the world owes you a favor or you are entitled to a better outcome. Be your own hero and do everything you can to fix whatever you can and leave the rest behind. Move on, be grateful and focus on what is good in your life. Only then will you truly be free. 

Are You Insane?

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They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. 

I have another meeting at the school today to discuss new accommodations for Chase. They aren’t really new ideas but rather worded in a new way they hope will be more specific for teachers to understand. This is their sneaky way of getting away with doing nothing. If we continue to talk about ways to change the 504, we never then have to focus on how to enforce it. Usually on days where I have to sit down with the same administers that have caused me nothing but grief, I have an increased amount of anxiety and border on melting down into a full blown panic attack. Today is different. I have a new calm and a new confidence and they can no longer shake me. The meeting is pointless. The world will not be fixed in one day and certainly their word will not mean a thing overnight either. Like it or not, people are predictable and often they repeat the same patterns over and over. They are not really willing to change but always eager to talk a good talk. Today I am going to listen without interest and without any hope for change. It’s like that trip to the dentist every six months that you aren’t psyched about but cannot avoid. You just go sit in the chair, stare at the light and hope the time passes quickly so you can get up and leave. That is my approach today. I will not get worked up or upset by people who do not mean a thing. These people have shown their true colors and are never going to change despite the millions of times we set aside to meet. Wish me luck as I allow my thoughts to fade into the light. They will no longer tell me who I am in there. I am strong, I am confident and I am a mom who would do anything to make sure her child gets what he needs. I know now that so don’t need their help to make that happen. I can do it all on my own. 

A Devastating Lesson

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The single most powerful tool for winning a negotiation is the ability to get up and walk away from the table without a deal
Paul Gauguin

After months of negotiating with the school to try and find a way to get Chase’s accommodations followed through, I happened to stumble upon the quote above. The only thing this constant meeting with administrators is resulting in is a decline in my health and a dangerous spike in anxiety. I realize, there are some fights I will just never win and there are people who will lead me along and pretend to negotiate when the only change that will even come about is the loss of precious time. I gave it my best fight. I still am saddened and disturbed that teachers will stand against what would help their students succeed. I am devastated that a vice principal and head of special education in the school would suggest maybe his struggle is due to lack of effort or laziness. I am alarmed that this same man will accuse me of attacking teachers because I have the audacity to question them and call them out. I am physically ill that a school would protect teachers who break the law and knowingly choose not to comply with a 504 and try and bully me to try and make me go away. I am disgusted that the school does not look out for the best interest of my child. Who will protect him? In Chase’s case, the most tasking thing we asked for are the notes. How can a teacher refuse when it is in the accommodations and especially when there is no textbook for the class? I realize now, it is not about the kids at all but rather a battle of control. Who loses? The kids every single time. 

Each and every night I go to bed I say my prayers. I pray that our lives won’t be ripped apart anymore by the ridiculous demands of school. I pray the palpitations and panic will eventually slow until they come to a stop. My biggest prayer though is that all this constant stress on Chase doesn’t start to take its toll. I pray that a test grade will never define who he thinks he is. I pray his self esteem will not be damaged everytime he tells me he thinks he’s just stupid because no matter how hard he studies he can’t seem to do better than a D on a test. I pray that my heart won’t break in half each night as I watch him struggle at the table for hours to learn and complete his work. I pray for some peace of mind, body and spirit. Maybe, just maybe that quote is right. In this case, maybe the only way to win is to walk away from the table. It is only there where they hold the power.

Here We Go Again

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The anxiety is starting to reach a level that I am finding difficult to handle. Tomorrow I have a meeting with the Director of Special Services and a new principal and the stress of having to go over and over this with new people year after year is starting to take its toll on me. I am at my breaking point spending endless hours trying to help my son at home and being on the receiving end of backlash from the school the entire way. I actually reached out to the Office of Civil Rights and the lawyer on the end asked, why have you waited so long to file a complaint? I didn’t even have to think of an answer. The truth is, I thought all teachers cared about students. I really in my foolish heart believed that teachers would do whatever it would take to assure their students would be successful in school. Boy, I was so wrong. Even when by law they are required to provide certain accommodations, there are a few that will resist on every level. So how does the school react? They attempt to change the words in my sons 504 to protect these same teachers that refuse to meet the accommodation. Are you kidding me? Is protecting a law breaking teacher more of a priority than doing everything they can to make sure a child learns? I guess I didn’t believe anyone could be so cruel, so uncaring that even when you ask for their help, they will not give it. I am so naive when it comes to people. It is hard for me to not expect the best in them because I could never act that way myself. I am a parent and I do whatever it takes to help my son because as a mom, I know I am the one person in the world who will always have his back. I am sad and broken and trying to ignore the palpitations that keep me up at night. I will continue this fight because the support from many of you gives me the strength I need to carry on. Wish me luck tomorrow. I will give it one final shot and then I am left with only one other option. It’s time to move in a different direction.

A New Direction

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Today I am hopeful. I met with a new principal who is taking over Chases 504. He listened to me and really heard what it is I am needing for each individual class. That is the problem with a plan of action. Teachers do enough work as it is so I would never want them to do more than they need to do. Different classes require different needs so why force all teachers to do something if I only need something specific in one or two classes? I think he understood our situation a little better after providing him with specific examples of the reason behind why I believe Chase is struggling so much and after I polished off an entire box of tissues sitting on his desk.

I got Chases state test results in the mail yesterday and although they have little significance, their findings reinforce what I say over and over again. He scored a 20-30% on reading comprehension which is why it is so important for him to be provided with notes. The results show that his ability to teach himself information by sitting in class and reading a chapter to fill out answers in a packet as a method of learning does not suit him well. 

My response to him saying it sounded like I am at a point where I am very frustrated with teachers was this. I am not frustrated with teachers, I am frustrated that I am the one responsible to make teachers follow the law. I saw him write that down at the same time I saw the lightbulb appear over his head. This is more than misplaced aggression toward teachers. This is a serious, serious offense. To those who say teachers are overwhelmed, they can only do so much, I reply with this, if you get pulled over because you are not wearing your seatbelt and you explain to the officer you are busy and overwhelmed and your life is crowded up with too many things, I believe he would probably respond by saying, too bad, a law is a law and you have broken it. The reason just doesn’t matter.

Wish me luck as we come up with a new plan and he takes over the job of reinforcer. I don’t know if it’s a step in the right direction but at least it’s one in a new direction.

Why???

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Why when someone is expected to do something do they avoid doing it and the second it is not required of them anymore and you replace it with a new requirement do they start to do the original one and ignore the replacement one? Why? Just why?

I don’t want to believe people are just difficult and dig their heels in the sand but what am I supposed to think? Yes, of course I am referring to school and I guess just people in general. We changed Chases 504 accommodations because the teachers were not following them and now they are not doing the new accommodation but now magically willing and able to do the one they were expected to do all year long. Maybe this is a test because I have made a promise to myself to see the best in everyone and really give them a fair chance. My word is important but I am struggling with this one. Actually, on a positive note, 3 out of 4 teachers have been doing both the old and the new accommodation so really it is just one stubborn mule challenging me to a very painful head butt. My head already hurts. Do I fight this battle or consider 3 out of 4 a win? This is not supposed to be an option and who is supposed to make sure people do their job these days? Anyway, I will try and remind myself there is a purpose for everyone in my life and surely it is more than to give me a headache. What do you think?

And it Is Done

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We did it. We finally got through the 504 review and hopefully it will be last meeting of the school year. Each time I have to sit down face to face with this group of 6 people, my heart grows a little more heavy. Do people not know what they say? Or is it some things are just too hard for me to hear?

We didn’t start off the usual way. The counselor informed me that the principal did not show up for school and so the 6th grade principal would be taking her place. Why is this a problem? Well, for two reasons. First, we have dealt with this one years ago and when there was no resolution to a problem because of the way it was handled, I pulled my daughter out of the school. So, we established since we already have trust and mishandling issues, it would be better for us to have the 8th grade principal and start fresh. The other problem is we now have a new face that has not been brought up to speed, walking into an important meeting without any background or what has lead us to this point in the first place. If you ask me, I believe that should have warranted a phone call allowing me the option to postpone until our principal returned. And, why I was told it was necessary for an administrator to sit in on this meeting when there wasn’t one required the last time just two weeks ago? Who knows.

It’s all still a blur and I have to admit I’m still shaking my head as to what went on. I realized as I sat there that this will just never, ever, really be about Chase and his needs. This is about a team or to be fair, part of a team that is strongly digging their high heels into the mud because they think the accommodations are personal and they really don’t see the need to follow them through. At the end of the day, I heard the one heartbreaking thing that no parent even wants to hear. We were discussing the electricity unit and we couldn’t even agree about what to call it. I had a teacher sit there and tell me they were starting the hands on portion of the unit this week while she insinuated they hadn’t done it yet. So, I struggled as to how I would word the question the right way as to why the kids read several pages on their own from the book on the topic of electricity, why they spent weeks filling out answers on an electricity packet, and why they had been tested before spring break. Did I miss something? Was I losing my mind or was she going out of her way to make me look stupid while being extremely difficult? Call it a unit, several pages from a book, several chapters whatever but let’s agree we were tested on the concept of electricity period. We talked about how the kids might have learned more if each section of electricity was broken down and the kids corrected that section of the packet until they understood the information and then moved on with the next section, instead of being totally confused at the end of the packet as a whole. The principal seemed concerned that some kids had little if any understanding and suggested they readdress the packet as a class. The teachers response, “what difference would that make? We’ve moved on so what would be the point?” That’s when I did it. I laughed and gently hit myself in the forehead. Do you seriously say to a parent “what difference does it make if the child doesn’t learn anything.” I almost had to clutch my heart that was ready to throb right out of my chest when I mentioned that most parents actually do care whether their child is learning. How do you work with someone who clearly has goals so different from your own? She went on to explain most of the kids were successful and did very well on the test. I reminded her that the kids brought in a cheat sheet filled with the definition of every term and that I wonder how well they would have done without the magic little piece of paper. Her very snide response, “I guess we’ll never know will we?” Nope, lucky for her we never will but the parents know, believe me WE KNOW.

If that wasn’t bad enough the counselor tells me that the principal who has not followed up with me over break like she was supposed to so that we walked into the meeting on the same page said that SHE, yes she, had decided to remove the accommodation that reads Parent Portal for parent to be able to see what assignments are due and have been turned in.The reasoning? That accommodation is for parents and not the student. The way I see it is this. They are supposed to be using parent portal for the benefit of all kids in the district. It is only when I am aware that Chase is missing work and not completing it or handing it in, that I have a heads up that maybe the dose of medication he is on is not working. And if I find out 7 assignments in that so much work is missing, imagine how he falls behind. And this accommodation is for me how? Wait, explain that again. Oh yeah, you can’t because you didn’t show up.

I know this is hard to believe. Some of it is downright crazy. My husband and I just look at each other because when the ship has sailed without someone to steer it, it becomes lost at sea. We did come up with new, more specific accommodations, one being the teachers will email me on a weekly basis as to whether the work is getting done. One teacher actually added that her motto is no news is good news so would it be okay for her to skip out on the weekly email and trust that she would contact me if there’s a problem. Is there anyone, anywhere that could please accompany me to a meeting and explain in a way the teachers could comprehend that do they do not get to pick and choose if and when they follow an accommodation? How could they still not get it?

One last ridiculous remark by the counselor about how sometimes parents need to expect their kids to take on more responsibility. This was after I refused the suggestion from another teacher that Chase use an agenda that he brings to class and is responsible to bring to the teacher to sign that would provide me with daily communication that he would then be expected to bring home to me. So now, you get out of posting in parent portal and Chase becomes responsible for my correspondence with the teacher? Ummmm….no. So when the counselor lectured me about Chase and responsibility (who has ADD and not ADHD for the record), I simply talked over her and asked the social studies teacher 2 questions. 1) have you or have you not emailed me about Chase not bringing a pencil to class on more than one occasion and 2) how are you going to feel when you ask him where his agenda is and he responds in his locker with his pencil. That was the end of that one right then and there. Sometimes the lightbulb turns on and sometimes it doesn’t.

So, how do I feel now that we a struggled through the review? Relieved, and I admit a little angry that sometimes it is insinuated that I am just wrong. I am working on being better at communicating in a calm, rational manner. It remains a challenge. I did do one thing different and better. I chose to not argue. While we were trying to determine what a reasonable amount of time it should take the teacher to grade/notify me of of a missing or incomplete assignment I said certainly not five weeks. The principal in a noble way proudly jumped to the teachers defense and told me she would never have that problem with this particular group of teachers. I looked her dead in the eye and asked if she was absolutely sure and again she repeated about the teachers in THIS room yes. So, when I got home I sent her an email telling her I appreciated her enthusiasm and for stepping in at the late point in the process and asked her to please go and take a look at Chases grades in parent portal. There are two grades that were due on 2/11 and 2/25 that have a blank space next to them so, did he do the work? Did he hand it in? OR has the teacher not gotten around to letting me know in a timely manner over the last 4 and 6 weeks to give us some kind of indication when remember, up until today, that was a specific accommodation in Chases 504. I’m really not into public humiliation even if I feel some people really deserve it for their crappy attitude. My point, if I say something you can bet its true, and tread very carefully because I always, ALWAYS have the facts to back up my words.

Anyway, it’s over and done and I am grateful to move on. Until then, hang on, we’ve hit rough seas and remember no-one is steering this boat. I can only hope we will make it safely to shore.