Ah, rejection – our constant companion over the years.
Several weeks ago, I posted about our decision to homeschool. As I wrote at the time, it has been a challenging path, even if, overall, it has been the “least-worst” option. Well, it has been the least-worst option for O, but I am not sure that it has been the least-worst option for me.
Homeschooling O has taken a real toll on my mental and physical health. As a result, on several occasions I have tried to place O in public or private schools, never with positive outcomes. This has been very frustrating, especially when it has seemed that my choice has been to put the boy in school or put myself in the hospital.
We first tried to put O, who is profoundly gifted, into a private school for gifted children. The school’s curriculum was good but far from enough to meet O’s needs without drastic modifications. I asked for those modifications, and was told “Well, Mrs. G., you do realize that all of our students are gifted, don’t you??”
So I trotted off to the local public school to see what I could do. The public school was a non-option. Thanks to state laws O would have to be seven years old before he could enter first grade, and anyway, I was told, there was no way my 5-year-old possibly could comprehend multiplication.
At this point, we moved to another state, and I did the best I could for a year or so to work with a child whose rages steadily worsened, whose funny little habits now built on each other forming a cascading sequence of tics, who generalized any bad incident but could not generalize any positive modeling of appropriate behavior, who, most days, refused even to write his name, but who could explain particle physics and insect evolution and provide cross-cultural analyses of topics from folktales to weaponry to persecution at the drop of a hat.
After a Home Depot employee pulled a knife on my boys (then ages 7 and 4) as a joke, O would launch into screaming fits whenever a stranger spoke to him. Buying groceries became an exercise in torture for all of us. I was a prisoner in my own house. The stress was killing me, and the schoolwork just was not happening. So I took a deep breath and approached our local public school once again.
This time, I was prepared. I spent six weeks fighting with my insurance company to get approval for O to have a neuropsychological evaluation. This evaluation was performed by a rather prominent psychologist whom I will call Dr. Cabbagehead.
Dr. Cabbagehead performed an evaluation of sorts (later reviewed by another psychologist and called “shockingly incomplete”) and, after complaining to me about O’s poor hygiene, said that one might perhaps say that O had Asperger’s Syndrome, but he, Dr. Cabbagehead, preferred to think of a diagnosis as something that reveals itself over time. I asked him if I could quote him on that when I spoke to our local school.
Our school district had a reputation for aggressively harassing homeschoolers – they wanted those kids in school, so they could get funding from the state – so I had been keeping a very low profile. But I needed help, so I went to the school.
At first, the school said they would do whatever they could to help O. O was not gifted until the school said he was gifted, but they would do testing, get him an aide, provide whatever O needed. Then the school did the testing.
At our second meeting, the school psychologist said, “Congratulations on having such a brilliant son! Please take him home and continue homeschooling.” What about help? I asked. What about the gifted program? What about services for special-needs kids? What about an aide??
The principal told me, bluntly and coldly, that if I insisted on placing O in her school, this is what would happen: He would be placed in a regular classroom, with no aide and no accommodations. If O acted out, he would be transferred to the “ED” (emotionally disturbed) classroom and left there; he would be eligible for half an hour of “speech therapy” (O has no speech issues) per month, and that would be it.
In other words, putting O in public school would be equivalent to dumping him.
The school’s decision was a purely financial; they would receive about $7,000 per year from the state for each of my children, whereas it would cost them far more than that to educate O. So the school told us to go away, and we decided to heed their warning.
I tried again to put O in a private school for gifted children, but I was told that his special needs made him unwelcome. The school just could not have children who could not sit still or who made random noises or who were otherwise disruptive.
I tried availing myself of virtual charter schools for homeschoolers, but ran into issues with our “education specialist” who refused to believe that my seven-year-old was studying Latin and geometry, and accused me of doing his work for him. At this point, we moved yet again – this time to New Jersey.
Upon arriving in New Jersey, we made a trip to Virginia to see a psychologist who is well known for specializing in children like O. She was the first person we saw (and we have seen dozens of professionals) who noted O’s then-numerous tics, documented his extraordinarily severe ADHD, and pointed us in a direction where we might make progress.
We returned to New Jersey, and within a week I heard a PSA on the radio from what then was TSANJ, and we soon began to make real progress with O’s special needs. But homeschooling continued to drain me. Soon after we moved to New Jersey, my health had deteriorated. It was clear that stress was a factor in my illness. So we tried, once again, to put O in school.
We visited our local middle school shortly before Thanksgiving. We took O’s very large file with us, including test results, diagnoses, medical history. The principal seemed to have familiarity with special-needs kids. There was balking over letting O take classes at the high school because he was so small, but otherwise we seemed to get off to a good start. The child study team said they would be back to us soon with a plan.
By early August, we began to wonder what, exactly, that plan was. So, I called the school and left a message asking for an update. I received a message in reply that said: Welcome to town! We are looking forward to meeting O! Please be sure to bring his complete file with you when you bring him to register, so we can get off to a good start! I turned to my husband and said, “I think they lost his file.” So we got in the car and went to the school to get answers in person.
I can tell you that there are few things that will light a fire under a principal like the words “We have reason to believe someone on your staff has misplaced our child’s file.” The principal leapt up, grabbed another staff person, and took off on a hunt for O’s file. Eventually the file was found – lying on the school psychologist’s desk, untouched since our meeting the previous November.
Obviously, no plan had been devised. So we asked the principal what might be worked out. The response: So, he would be in sixth grade, right? Oh, sixth grade… that’s a very large class!
Yes, we said, but what about O? Again, we were told, well, that’s a very large class, I don’t know what we could do. How would he change from his gym shoes back into his regular shoes in time for his next class? How could we accommodate O, when we already have so many students?
We said we were willing to work out a part-time plan. O could do academics at home and come to school for art, music, gym. Well, we were told, that would be difficult to do, since the school has a rotating schedule. And sixth grade is such a large class!
And so it went. There were all kinds of reasons why the school did not want O to attend. So we went home, looked at each other and asked ourselves if it was worth fighting for O to go to school for an hour each day, and decided to keep doing what we were doing.
I’ve read the laws. I know that, according to the law, public schools may not refuse my son a free and appropriate public education. I also know that there is a gap between what the law says and the reality of what happens. My child is not the only child I know of who has been turned away from public schools.
After all these years, I still do not know how to react. Should I be angry? Should I be sad? One person suggested I should be relieved: The schools essentially told me that they were not up to the challenge of educating O. Had they, instead, insisted they could handle anything when they really could not, the outcome could have been worse.
Our issues, of course, have extended well beyond the schools we have engaged. But as I doubt anyone has read this far, I will save tales of woe from our efforts to get O involved in activities for another day.