Opting Out

Author: Karen Copeland

Recently, this article came across my twitter feed: Why are so many parents opting out of B.C.’s renowned public schools?

To say the article is relevant to our family situation would be an understatement. We have struggled for years within the public system trying to support our son and his learning style. We have had a couple good years and small successes, but these are tempered with much frustration, discouragement and a lot of hard advocacy work.

As time has gone on, we have resigned ourselves to the fact that our son just does not fit in the public system in its current state. I want to be clear that we have had some amazing people working within the school with our son over the past year, however it is just not enough. We have done our job as parents, attending multiple meetings, participating in consultations, discussions and plans. We have diligently accessed outside services in order to get support for our son and our family. But the reality is he does not fit the system, no matter how much we try.

Lately I have been reflecting on the idea of failure – and the value of failure as a learning tool. And I do believe in this idea – in fact, my best learning has come from the times I have failed and then reflected on what I could do differently. But I wonder. What happens when we are not experiencing at least an equal amount or more success in our lives? What if most of it is failure and frustration? What might we be learning then?

When our son was younger, we were encouraged to register him in group activities. He would go, but the support that he would require would not be implemented nor understood, resulting in challenging experiences. If you enter into an activity and regularly have negative experiences, what does this do to your motivation to return and try again? And what might happen to your self-concept if these negative experiences are permitted to build up over time?

We “opted out” of these group experiences and chose to create opportunities where he would be successful. We worked with a wonderful mentor, Chris, who took the time to build a trusting relationship with our son – met him where he was at, before pushing him to do things he was anxious about doing. We saw a beautiful thing happen. We saw more smiles come across our son’s face. We heard him ask excitedly “Is Chris coming today?” We are so thankful for what Chris was able to accomplish in his year and a bit of mentoring with our son. We began to see confidence in our son, and a bit more willingness to try activities instead of saying “no” outright.

And thus, after the above reflection…

We are faced with the choice of keeping him in public school where his emotional wellness becomes further compromised, or find another option. Honestly, I don’t feel like we have much of a choice in this.

We are moving on. We are “opting out”.

Perhaps we will find a “Chris” in our new educational adventures. It is worth a try.

Wondering how we are doing? Read my follow up post Absolutely Yes


  1. Karen I hear you. We came to the same decision when our boys were going into grade 8 and 6 after the oldest spent 7 weeks in the psychiatry unit at Children’s Hospital. We kept believing we could make school work if we kept advocating but that simply was not true. Now looking back I ask myself why we didn’t do it sooner but hindsight is always better than foresight, as we all know. Since homeschooling my youngest, who is a quiet sweet tempered boy, he has written in assignments and some poetry about his feelings when he was at school. It breaks my heart because I just didn’t know his pain inside because he always left with a smile and came home with a smile. I feel I failed him in not realizing what was really going on. On the bright side, he has flourished and done extremely well since, as my oldest also has. Sometimes life just takes us down different paths than the typical family and acceptance of this helps me face the ups and downs I face with having boys with challenges.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this comment, Melody. You are right, sometimes life does take us down different paths – and sometimes those paths lead to incredibly beautiful destinations, where we learn things about our children and ourselves that we never would have known before.


    • Thank you for your comment, Nic. It has always been interesting to me that so many families are “opting out”. However, when we started exploring our options and seeing what we quite possibly will be able to access (a program tailored to our child’s strengths, a program that is truly collaborative with our voice strong at the table), this decision became so much easier. Please feel free to connect if you ever want to chat about this. You know where to find me 🙂


  2. Karen, I know this was a difficult decision that needed to be made and I am hopeful that your son will again find a champion who will come along side of him. Know that there are many people out there cheering for your family.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Karen, you have written a very eloquent, timely post. So many other parents are struggling with the decision to home school and have found it works better for their kids than the current ‘system’. Loved the honesty in your words and I’m sure it will help guide others in the future. Just a question..do you think the school system as a collective actually ‘opted out’ a long time ago for so many kids with different learning needs and you actually just ‘opted in’ to discovering what’s best for your family???

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow this is so our family! I so admire that you have decided to do this. We thought about it but I knew I wouldn’t have the strength to carry it out. And so until mid Grade 8 school was such a negative experience for our son and for us. Now we have a wonderful case worker at school and Brandon isn’t just surviving anymore and I’m not at the school screaming anymore. We are in a smooth period now. I wish you all tge best and go tell you I’d admire you.

    Liked by 1 person

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