I had a dream the other night that I was in court suing my son’s school district. I had won the action, but my lawyer had forgotten to tell me. When I realized that I had won, I couldn’t believe it, and to top it off, the school district admitted that they had been terribly wrong in the way they treated my son.
Although in “real” life I did not sue the school district, I was forced by circumstances to hire an attorney to receive the rights that were due to my son. I wanted the school district to pay for Ben to go to a private school where teachers would understand him, and his academic difficulties.
I was tired of the constant phone calls from the school about my son’s insolent behavior and lack of academic motivation, despite my numerous attempts to try to get the school to understand Ben and the mysterious interplay of his TS, ADHD and learning disabilities.
We met at the beginning of every year with the teachers to discuss Ben’s challenges and how it affected him both academically and emotionally. Most of the teachers were thoughtful at first, but then grew tired of having to rein in Ben and simply sent him out of class as the preferred mode of discipline.
In fact, because my son is very handsome and athletic, and has a “cool” attitude, most of his teachers thought we were just trying to coddle our troubled son and avoid discipline. And of course, none of the nonacademic teachers ever received Ben’s IEP, so when he was kicked out of various nonacademic classes (music, band, gym) for making noises or faces at the teacher, upon our advising the teachers that he had TS, we were met with skepticism.
I was told on more than one occasion that the school psychologist would have to sit in on the class to see if the behavior was a tic or not. I was even told by school personnel, whose main goal it seemed was to put my son in perpetual detention, that my son really didn’t have TS.
I was fed up with his teachers not following his IEP and stating in e-mails to me why they did not think it was a good idea to follow the various accommodations in their classroom. They would give my son a hard time when he asked for notes at the beginning of class, which he was entitled to receive per his IEP – he was told to go to the library to print them out or simply ignored.
It was rough on him, and he was “checking out” of school, and I couldn’t blame him. He told us that he wanted to learn, but his teachers didn’t understand him, and he wanted to go to a school with small classes where he could ask his questions and get the help he needed.
I decided to get tough and hire an attorney to force the district to pay for private school for Ben. At first, my husband didn’t want to spend the money, so we spoke with countless parent advocates who — although knowledgeable and very giving of their time — had not handled this type of matter and did not want to. I was finally able to find a local attorney who would accept a reasonable flat fee, at least until the matter went to trial.
Based on Ben’s profile, our attorney thought mainstream classes would be best for him and advised that there really weren’t many private options that would be appropriate for Ben.
He really didn’t seem to fit anywhere – not in public school, not in special education schools and not in prep school. She advised that the best of all worlds would be to find a program within our school district that fit him. Our concern was that there would be no change in how the IEP was administered, and we would be back at square one again if we stayed in public school. But we kept an open mind.
Fast forward to this year, and Ben is still in public school. But this year is very different from what we have previously experienced. After agreeing to try one of the programs in our public school, the district is on its best behavior. Ben is in collaborative classes, with a regular ed and special ed teacher. The classes are regular curriculum, and he is able to get additional attention from the special education teachers who are there for a small percentage of the students in a class.
These special education teachers grade his work and give him extra help and keep me informed of any issues that arise. He has an enormously energetic and talented resource teacher who helps to organize all of his study periods with teachers, depending on what tests and projects are in the queue.
She spends time working with him every day and is in daily contact with me for updates and so that we can address issues immediately and I can let her know what Ben is having trouble with. We have also gotten a private tutor, who is helping Ben learn how to be a student.
Ben is a completely different person this year. It might be because of a combination of things – maturation, the fact that he got a part-time job and the success he is experiencing at school. One thing is for sure – as he achieves more success, he is becoming more academically motivated.
Our relationship has changed for the better, too. He is less angry and has had minimal adverse behavioral events at school. The road ahead is still uphill, but I see for the first time the real possibility of a future for Ben in which he can attain his dreams and desires. And most importantly, Ben is now starting to experience success and that his teachers understand him.