How I Was Accused of Child Neglect
A week ago today, my husband & I were called into to a meeting with the principal at my son's school. The topic? His attendance.
My son, Mark, is a first-grader and has had a variety of health and learning issues that we have been sorting through all year. He has seen nine specialists and had a variety of tests, so his absences have been adding up.
We are also pursuing testing for a learning disability. He has shown no progress in reading all year and has seemed entirely disengaged with school. We began researching other schools for him since we were getting a greater and greater sense that the school did not share some of our observations nor support our concerns.
Meanwhile, I had an opportunity to take Mark on a business trip with me. I was meeting several colleagues for a seminar and many of them were bringing their children to participate in a nearby science camp. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to help Mark get excited about learning again! Given that he has demonstrated very little academic growth all year, we felt like there was nothing to lose.
It was also an opportunity to give him some "entrepreneurial" exposure. If you have followed any of my articles from the past, you know that I am a firm believer in raising our students with entrepreneurial skills. The world is changing rapidly and technology is allowing companies to accomplish more with less human resources. Furthermore, companies that are hiring are looking for employees that "think like entrepreneurs." I believe it is vital that our children learn skills to make a living for themselves, if they should ever need to do so. Or, at least, be as marketable as possible.
The business trip was outstanding and my son grew beyond belief! I called home multiple times, telling my husband, "I have my Mark' back!" It was fantastic! Since we've been home, Mark has volunteered to help me with all sorts of things in the office; he's been sending faxes, sorting papers, and even designed a logo for a new project I am developing.
But, the combined total of absences did not sit well with Mark's principal, Dr. Claude. He berated us for our decisions and accused us of "educational neglect." He also claimed we had been "uncooperative" in not providing requested medical documentation. My husband and I nearly jumped out of our chairs"What request!?" we demanded. "You've never requested anything! You haven't even responded to a single email we have sent to you!" He quickly dropped that argument, but ultimately, he threatened to take us to court over the absences.
My husband and I have never seen anything so aggressive in education. Ever! Here we are, both educators (my husband is a well-respected teacher in the same district and, ironically, won a county-wide teaching award the following night) and fiercely dedicated parents, being accused of "educational neglect." How did this happen??!!
I have spent the last several months furiously seeking answers for our son and agonizing over the best options for him. To be accused of something that is 180-degrees opposite of my dedication to his educational growth was a very hard pill to swallow. To say that it hurt would be an understatement.
What Am I Supposed to Learn from this Experience?
I have spent the last week thinking about this question and trusting that it will ultimately lead us to the best options for Mark. For one thing, I have a new level of empathy for all of the parents I "meet" through SOAR. I have been thinking about parents who don't have an educational background, yet know something is not right with their child. I wonder, "How would they go about uncovering answers or have confidence in their decisions? How would they deal with a Dr. Claude'?"
Throughout this school year, I have felt blessed to know of additional resources I can fall back upon. My husband will tell you that I have had a "Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D" laid out since September. Little by little, I've been barreling through the "plans" as we have learned more and more from Mark's health evaluations.
Secondly, it prompted us to move Mark to a new school for the 4th quarter. We have found a school that is well matched to Mark's learning style and equipped to help him with his reading. We were planning to have him make the switch with the new school year, but I now realize, that would have been six more months (including summer) of wasted time.
We consulted another administrator in our school district to get her input on our situation and decision. She is familiar with the new school and whole-heartedly supported the move! She also felt this time of year would be a better transition for Mark than waiting for fall, since Mark will likely get special attention and support from the teachers and students. At the start of a new school year, he is more likely to "get lost in the crowd." I appreciated her input. She also assured us that Dr. Claude has a reputation for harassing parents and that we are not the first to be at this crossroads. (Hmminteresting.)
Finally, I realized that Dr. Claude personifies so much about "The System" that consistently drives parents and teachers crazy! Dr. Claude is a bully. He is rigid, heartless, unforgiving, and myopic. So is The System. Certainly, there are good things about The System (such as the very premise of free education), but there are major problems. I truly believe the next few years will mark a major transition in education. Becoming more aware of the ways in which The System stands in our way will better help us to overcome those hurdles.
Why Am I Sharing This Story?
This is a very personal story that has caused me a lot of anguish over the last seven days, but I am sharing it because I know there are thousands (maybe millions) of parents who consistently agonize over their children and their children's education. We have a tendency to think we are fighting the battle all alone. Through SOAR, I have the great opportunity to hear many stories from parents and KNOW that is not the case, despite how isolated we may feel. We are all learning. As my mother reminded me, "learning" is the very nature of parenthood!
Our family is on spring break this week, but Mark is looking forward to starting at his new school next Monday. The new principal graciously offered to come in on her break to meet with us and help prepare Mark for his first day. We are confident that we are doing the right thing. Perhaps we may even thank Dr. Claude for pushing us in this direction. ;)
Meanwhile, I am requesting documentation from all of the doctors and health-care providers with whom we've met this year, just to "cover our tracks." I created several cover letters this afternoon. In fact, right this moment, Mark is manning the fax machine and sending them all out!