Saturday, February 12, 2011

That school update I should have written two weeks ago

You may have noticed this blog has remained pretty much untouched for the last couple of weeks. First, I managed to sprain my elbow, resulting in a really ridiculous looking sling and quite a bit of pin. Then, almost exactly one week later, I sprained my wrist. This resulted in my getting the pleasure of wearing a wrist brace for the next few weeks, in hopes that things will fix themselves and I don't have to spend more money on doctors visits. Not surprisingly, not having the use of either arm kind of made for trouble typing. And writing. And eating. And driving. But now that I ditched the sling, I have decent use of my left hand, and the brace can come off for brief periods so I can type/eat/etc. I'm horrendously behind on school work... So what am I doing? Writing a blog post. You see where my priorities are. Shame.

We had an IEP meeting a couple of weeks ago, to discuss the new schedule for Jaymes for school and to try and work out some of the issues I have had with his teacher. Prior to the IEP meeting, I had a couple meetings with the principal, but as much as I like her, it's her job to defend teachers- and she does it well. Even when they are wrong.

I wanted Jaymes out of his current classroom for a lot of reasons... The biggest of which is the fact that the teacher was punishing him for every little thing, taking away "stickers" or "smiley faces" and he would come home horribly stressed and unhappy and scratch his face bloody. I did actually try to work this out with the teacher before I brought the principal into it, but this particular teacher is one who clearly knows it all, and refuses to acknowledge that maybe someone else might have some valid ideas and thoughts on a situation. She seems very set in her ways, unlike last year's teacher who was fantastic and creative. Mrs. C worked like crazy with the school OT to make things work for Jaymes- and he did well with that. This year's teacher... Yeah. Not half the teacher Mrs. C is. I finally gave up trying to deal with the woman, the constant condescension and nasty back and forth both in person and in notes to school was just too much. We'd get notes home saying that Jaymes lost stickers because "he made too many messes," "he talked at lunch time," and equally ridiculous rule infractions. When I explained to her that Jaymes gets so upset over the stupid stickers that he hurts himself, she told me that "he has to follow the rules like everyone else." Fair enough, he DOES need to follow the rules. But, when he is so distraught over a stupid sticker or a smiley face that he shreds his face bloody over it... A change needs to be made. A little compassion would have been nice, at the very least. All I got was that he has to follow the rules, then a few times denials that he even does it. Despite having had therapists outside school see it, the school bus driver see it, the teachers and staff at school see it... I mean really, what parent would make something like that up?!

Anyway, the straw that broke the camels back... One day he came home with a note that just said something like "Jaymes had a bad day." So I wrote a note back, asking what it was specifically that made it a bad day, so we could work on the issues at home. Instead of acting like a normal human being, and writing back "Jaymes had some trouble sitting still, and he ripped a book," I get a TWO page letter, literally listing all the things Jaymes does wrong. One part of the letter was written by the teacher, and it's no coincidence that this part of that letter was written in such a way that no one could take offense to any part of it... The other, longer part was written by the male teacher's aide, who said things like "Jaymes is frequently found wandering the room" "ripping things" etc... The letter ended by telling us that without the parents reinforcing things at home, the school cannot accomplish anything... Not the best thing to tell me. This happened on a Thursday, and luckily for the innocent principal, she was away until Monday. Had she been in while I was that upset, the entire school (and half of the city of Kernersville) would have heard me bellowing. I have NEVER been upset enough with any school to raise my voice. As many of you know, I'm actually pretty chicken, and have a lot of trouble speaking up. But I was ready to blast someone.

By that Friday night, I was doing my normal "oh, what if I'm overreacting, what if it's all in my head" thing, and was afraid I'd end up backing down. We decided it would be nice to take the kids to McDonalds for dinner, and I am SO glad we did. Sitting at the table next to us was the mother of another little boy in Jaymes' class. I don't know any of the other parents, so I didn't recognize her- but she recognized Jaymes and we got to talking. I didn't want to bring up my issue with this teacher in case she was a huge fan of her (that would be awkward!), so imagine my surprise when she started ranting about the teacher- FOR THE SAME REASONS! That someone else had a child coming home distraught, and hurting himself over being nitpicked the same way Jaymes was being nitpicked... well that was a turning point for me. In the past, whenever I have had a big issue with the school, I've felt guilty advocating for Jaymes. I don't like to be a witch, and I don't like to make waves. Thanks to this whole mess, I don't feel guilty anymore. I feel empowered. I am SO happy we went to McDonalds that day, or I would never have known and might have dropped the whole thing.

At this point, I pulled Jaymes out of school. He stayed home for two weeks. I met with the principal and tried to make my case... But her opinion is that this teacher is just "blunt, she says it like it is." Fair enough, she is entitled to her option. But in the real world, there is a five letter word that describes the teacher perfectly- and it is not "blunt."

Jaymes didn't end up with two weeks of unexcused absences, the timing was convenient that he got a severe ear infection right around that time and the ENT doc asked me to keep him home.

In the end, my request for him to change classrooms was denied. Not thrilled about that. I don't understand why the school stands behind teachers like this. There is a reason this particular school has a horrible reputation (in the autism community, l0cally) as one of the worst schools in the county for kids with special needs. They're one of the best for regular education- the school is beautiful, the staff are fantastic. Their scores are through the roof. You would think that they would want to work to rebuild a decent reputation in the weaker section-the EC classes. What I have seen is that unless a parent pushes, the school wants to warehouse these kids in self contained classrooms that do not even go to eat lunch in the cafeteria. They stay in those classes until middle school, where they usually end up at Lowrance Middle- a school that is (I believe) 100% EC (special ed). I have a friend with a son who started there last year, and one day his son came home with bruises from elbow to shoulder. No way in hell is Jaymes ever going there. Which is why I push so hard for him to be included in the regular ed classes too- he needs every chance he can possibly get. That school is where summer school is done, and last summer I had one of the summer staff tell me that Jaymes will never have to go to Lowrance. He's capable of more, with the proper support.

The thing is, with last year's teacher, we learned how to work together, and it ended up really, really good for Jaymes. While I doubt a lot of the other kids are getting the best education, I knew Jaymes was. This year... Not so much. Seems like he has lost more skills than he has gained, and that he's gained lots of negative behaviors as a result of being in the class with kids much lower functioning than he is. The lack of supervision is the big issue there too- if he had adequate supervision, the issues would be minimal. But even the teacher's aide who wrote me that letter confirmed what I already knew, in saying that Jaymes is often "found" wandering the room. Found? Really? That's like me saying I "found" Jaymes on the roof. I already knew this though, because all school year he has come home with his backpack stuffed with school property. Books, toys, pencil grips, etc. Things he should not have had, things they didn't even know he had put into his backpack. Now, this is a classroom with three staff and seven kids. It's not a big room, and for Jaymes to fill his backpack with stuff he would have had to walk across the room, get his backpack of of his cubby, walk back across the room, fill it up, then again cross the room to put the backpack up. How was he getting away with this? He's sneaky, and he's fast- but he's not The Flash.

In the IEP meeting this issue came up, and it sparked the beginning of a nasty back and forth between the teacher and myself. When I mentioned the lack of supervision, evidenced by Jaymes stealing, the teacher's response was to turn it back on me by saying "Well I haven't seen YOU return anything yet."

For one thing, I've tried. dozens of times. On top of the stolen stuff, I get other kids soiled underwear (Jaymes is in diapers, he doesn't wear underwear) and other clothing sent home. Sometimes I get other kids IEPs (can we say "confidential document?"). Sometimes I get other kids lunches. I try to send things back with notes, and they come right on back to me because they don't look in the backpack. Just this week, we got home some kids dirty underpants in a baggie. I stuck a post-it note on them that said "not ours" and sent them back. Guess what was still in the backpack the next afternoon? You guessed it. They're sitting in the backpack now, awaiting another attempted return. At some point, it got ridiculous to try to send home all the stuff he came home with. And being treated like crap by the teacher makes me a WHOLE lot less likely to do so. I'm sure not going to drive the giant pile of stuff over there and hand it to her myself- why do the extra courtesy, when I'm treated like that?

Secondly, why their stuff has not been returned is not the answer to the question I asked. It's a less than clever way to turn the heat off of her, and onto me. Except that I don't really care, and it made her look ridiculous. If they want their stuff back, after all the times I've tried to send it back in, they can drive on out and pick it up themselves. I didn't let him steal it to begin with- if he'd been watched, the stuff would still be in the classroom, where it belongs. Jaymes is punished every time he steals, so the lesson is still being learned.

Anyway, the IEP was a joke, and I was really disappointed that the principal didn't see a reason to put a stop to the back and forth nastiness. The teacher seems to need to have the last word on everything- right down to tiny stuff. At one point the principal and I were talking about limiting Jaymes' sugary food intake... I said that I try to keep sugary treats to a minimum because they make him nutty- which they do. Teacher pipes up with "Well I just read a study that said sugar doesn't make kids hyper." Uh, ok. Congrats on that. How about I spend a weekend stuffing Jaymes with candy, then see how his day the next Monday goes? Really, who argues about a parent wanting to limit their kids candy consumption? It's just petty.

I did end up speaking to the head of the EC department for the school district, because Jaymes was being punished for things that are directly related to his disability- and there are laws against that. He put me into contact with the zone EC supervisor... She called and left me a message, saying that she'd spoken to the school, and was told we had a great IEP meeting and that everything was solved. That if I had concerns, to go ahead and call her. I'm not great on the phone, so I emailed her. I felt like it needed to be said that the issue was not totally solved, and if we had a great meeting, I must have been at a different one. I have never been so furious or frustrated at an IEP meeting. The only thing that meeting accomplished was giving me some definitions I needed. Prior to the meeting, I'd cooled down in regards to how upset I was at the teacher... by the end of the meeting, I had a strong desire to wallop her across the head with a Mackerel. Which apparently is not legal. But the imagery made me feel immensely better. As we walked out, I made it clear to the principal that I want nothing at all to do with this teacher. I don't feel she has a thing to offer Jaymes (or any other child, for that matter), and I'm over the nastiness. She and I will not accomplish anything by meeting, so I'm just going to deal with the good teacher, Mrs. C.

Which brings me to the positive part of the whole mess. The principal did decide we needed to change something. She had the current teacher and Mrs. C work out a schedule together, and I actually really like it. Obviously, I don't want Jaymes anywhere near the one teacher, but this is the next best solution. Basically, every 30-45 minutes he switches between the current teacher's room, Mrs. C's room, and the regular ed kindergarten. He spends the majority of time with Mrs. C and Mr. H- and much much less with his original teacher. Thank God for small miracles.

Jaymes has come home every day, with a huge grin on his face. He tells me "Jaymes went to Mrs. C's class!" or "Jaymes love Mr. H!" He doesn't hurt himself. He doesn't scream and cry. He doesn't beg not to go to school anymore. He is a different child. I think that speaks for itself- the issue was the teacher. I have heard she is retiring, hopefully that is true. If she is, I'll leave things as they are this year, knowing he won't be dealing with her next year. If she will be here, there will be an almighty explosion if the school thinks Jaymes will spend ANY time near the woman next year.

The thing I hate about all this is that Jaymes was retained for a reason. I wanted him to get extra time to catch up and get ready to go out to the regular ed first grade next year. Half the year was wasted trying to work with a teacher who should have retired years ago. THAT frustrates me beyond belief.

So it's been one big, ugly mess and one hell of a headache. The teacher hasn't learned a thing from this, and the school has done nothing to show her that she needs to learn a little tolerance and compassion- or find a more suitable career. Perhaps as a high school teacher or a parole officer.

But in the end, Jaymes is better off than he was, and I am grateful to the staff who worked this new schedule out, and to the principal for meeting with me time and time again to discuss it. And really, I'm actually grateful to the teacher too. Without her tremendous failure at teaching Jaymes, I'd still have trouble speaking up at IEP meetings. I don't feel guilty anymore, and I don't hold anything back. That's a gift, especially to someone who has been "building a spine, vertebra(e?) by vertebra(e?)."

Another day this week I'll scan the now famous two page letter that set off the explosion and post it up here. I'm curious whether others who do not have a stake in the situation will get out of it the offensiveness that I did.


Lisa said...

That's why I'm homeschooling, I can't stand horrble teachers

Amber DBTD said...

The ongoing craziness does certainly make homeschooling look tempting! But I know myself, I don't have the skills or knowledge to get the best out of Jaymes. I really value the social aspect of school- learning with kids with autism, and kids developing normally. For Jaymes, that's really important. But every kid is different, and what works for him isn't going to necessarily work for another child!

Lisa said...

I agree there are things about homeschooling that aren't great, and I don't have skills or knowledge that will help my child bloom and grow, and change and become easy to deal with, but from what you say about that teacher and what I've seen from placements we've been offered they don't either. I've heard New Jersey is really good, I've been tempted to move. I'm sorry you have to deal with these backwards folks.

Anonymous said...

It really infuriates me to hear about children going through this. It's a form of bullying in my opinion, even though the school will most probably never admit that. Teachers who upset their pupils to such an extent should be struck off.

Glad to hear you've got it somewhat resolved and that Jaymes is now enjoying school again. Nothing worse than sending our children to school knowing they don't want to go.

CJ xx

Casdok said...

Good that Jaymes is better off and you could see a gift!