In January, I wrote a post titled “Opting Out“, sharing our decision to remove our son from school and begin homeschooling. I recently connected with another parent who is facing the same decision. I am sharing her story with you today, and it is more aptly named “Forced Out” because that truly is how our families are feeling about these decisions. Thank you Tracey, for your courage in sharing your story. If Tracey’s story resonates with you, please share in the comments section.
Author: Tracey White
BC Business Magazine published an article on January 7, 2015 titled “Why are so many parents opting out of B.C.’s renowned public schools?”
While the article touched on some of the issues faced by students whose needs are not being met by the current public education system it didn’t once mention the fact that a great number of parents of special needs students who leave, do so not by choice, but because they are forced to.
Why no one is asking the question “were you forced out?” baffles me. Perhaps it’s because government, boards of education, and school districts know it’s happening and to admit as such would mean the notion that our education system is one of the best in the world is a lie.
Ask the family whose ADHD son is sent home from school every day before lunch for misbehaving, or the family whose autistic daughter is left alone in an empty closet for hours, or the family whose learning disabled child is depressed, if B.C. public schools are the best in the world. They will all tell you no. They will also tell you that if they haven’t been forced out already because the needs of their child are not being met, as mandated by law in our province, that they think about leaving every single day.
These families were not presented with “options” for their children who are described in the B.C. Business article as square pegs trying to fit into round holes. No one came up to them and said “well we know Sam has a learning disability, he is a square peg, and for square pegs we can offer you three “options” for his education – A, B or C – and here are the pros and cons for each. Now let’s decide which one is the best fit”.
No it doesn’t work that way.
For most families of a special needs child who was at one time in the public system the decision to leave came at a point where the “option” was to either keep the child in public school and watch as the son or daughter they once knew slipped further and further away or pull them out and start to repair the damage.
So really, not an “option”.
More like a fork in the road where public school is no longer one of the paths that lay ahead. Actually where the fork splits into directions with labels such as private school, distance learning or home schooling they also contain the words on how to best heal the wounds inflicted as a result of simply being a special needs student at a public school that was not meeting their needs.
We are currently standing at the fork. This week we were forced to make a decision.
Leave R at his public school and watch as the anxiety, repetitive behavior, stimming, vocalizations and language regression increased to the point where we don’t recognize him anymore or take him out and focus on repairing the damage. We took him out.
Now before you say we made a choice, we had other options, let me be clear that we did not.
Options in our case would mean that we don’t know what success for R looks like. That perhaps we don’t know exactly what his needs are and how they could be supported in public school.
Actually we do know what success looks like for our son and we also know how to achieve it which is why when we told our school we were taking R out next week they looked stunned. So surprised in fact they too believe we are “opting” out.
We’ve stood at this fork in the road before. Twice, actually, at our former school.
The first time we left R in because his grade one year was almost over and we believed that when he started grade 2, armed with new assessments, a certainty he had autism and a fresh teacher that the school would meet his needs. They did not and 8 months later we were forced to pull him out but not before the damage had been done. The bright, inventive and curious boy we knew was all but gone. If you were female and called his name he would scream and run away. The anxiety so severe we were told it would take months to heal.
We left one public school for another on the promise by our school district that while there would be bumps in the road, what happened at our former school would not happen again.
And for R’s grade 3 year it didn’t.
It started with the formation of a team that at its core worked from the premise that sharing, listening and collaboration were the keys to success. This led to needs being identified and supported. The results were swift and magical.
We watched as the anxiety that held R hostage for so many months melted away. He was in a space where he was beginning to learn what his sensory challenges were and how to lessen them by using the tools we provided. He found the language to tell people when things were too much and that he needed a break. As the year progressed he was able to spend more and more time in the classroom learning and forging friendships with other students. We ended the year believing we had put the time at our former school behind us.
We had the best summer vacation since before R entered kindergarten. Our family was able to breathe again.
Then R entered grade 4 and the team changed. The sharing, listening and collaboration ended. R’s disruptive behaviors, the ones that surface when his needs are not being met, started small and gradually increased to the point where he sprayed a classmate in the eyes with whiteboard cleaner this past Wednesday.
The teacher got angry. Very, very angry and yelled at R in front of the entire class. When I went to pick him up from school I found him cowering beside a study carol, frantically sucking on his chewy dog tag and scratching the bridge of his nose so hard it was bleeding. We hadn’t seen him like this in over a year.
The school saw the incident as isolated. Deliberate on his part. He was mad at the classmate.
We know it is culmination of weeks of increased sensory overload that has lead to a state where he can no longer self regulate. Where all he can do to survive the school environment is to push, hit, kick and scream when agitated and slump, refuse, and grunt when exhausted. When conflict arises he can no longer access the part of his brain that stores the information on what to do.
When the school is not following the recommendations of the occupational therapy report or the results of the learning temperament assessment, when the school based case manager is overwhelmed and gives up, when the new case manager is not school based, when a smart, useful IEP is not in place, when the teacher doesn’t ask district autism support for help and when there is no collaboration it all falls apart.
The surprising part is that the team did it last year so why drop by the ball this year?
Because when the team that won the trophy last year fails to show for up practice next season then how can they expect to win the game? They can’t.
So when a family is forced to decide between their child’s mental and emotional well being and a public school system that is not meeting their needs it really isn’t a choice. To call it “opting” out is a lie. There were no “options”. “Options” imply more than one choice and we, like many parents of special needs students in our province, didn’t have a choice.
We were forced out.