Valerie Rice | May 6, 2021
This is mental health awareness month as well as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) awareness month. Great, both my specialties! I have decided that this month I am going to be sharing personal experiences with both of these to help increase awareness, but more important, acceptance. So today, I want to share my family’s experience with school and how these struggles impacted them. On your mark, get set, GO!
Before Covid-19 swept the globe and shut down the schools, my children all had 504 or IEP plans in place. Some were falling years behind their peers. One was so far ahead he could have graduated 3 years early. But it was a disaster. Attendance was an issue because of health, both mental and physical, grades were marked low for late or missing work, and so on. One child had been expelled for the previous 2 years for acting autistic. Well, technically, for “inappropriate behavior” that just so happened to occur during a meltdown and anger his teacher. There were numerous suspensions, expulsion hearings, IEP meetings, and so on that I had to attend for all the children thanks to their “special need” (diagnoses). My family was labeled a problem, my children irredeemable, and a case manager from the school assigned to help boost attendance. This worker spun uselessly in circles for months, unable to force my children’s medical providers to change all their schedules to suit the school district for some reason, before giving up.
Ah yes, the sheer terror that came with the start of the pandemic was enough to get them off my back. The children were sent paper packets of the work for the remainder of the year. Whether they finished it or not was irrelevant; all children passed that year. I let my children drop it. I no longer had the energy to care about whether or not they filled out their busy work. I also did not give a flying elephant about their grades either. Why? Because they didn’t die. Because when you are struggling to survive, learning some white washed version of US history seems like a low priority. Thus, when lockdown began, so did our summer break. It also coincided with my daughter’s release from inpatient for psychiatric treatment. Hooray, together again! For months my children focused on sleeping, eating, recreation, self soothing, family bonding, and personal reflection. We ignored the outside world, except for Mom, because I needed to stay abreast of the pandemic situation.
When school started up again, My older children who were now all in high school, were lucky enough to be accepted into an alternative school. My youngest was stuck in a traditional middle school. The only good part was that it was all online. There were problems, of course, when the district server crashed, classes blacked out, and other technical difficulties that are bound to happen when thousands of students are online simultaneously. So I didn’t push it. When my kids were willing, they went online to school. I was not willing to force an issue that may not even work out in the end. This was not well received by the middle school, but accepted by the high school. By December, my youngest was attending one or two classes a day. My older kids, maybe one a week. Why? Because I was allowing them to prioritize self care. In the middle of a pandemic, public education took a back burner in my mind. Again, the middle school hated my attitude and the high school accepted it. Again, I personally had no energy to fight battles I did not believe in, such as being dressed and in virtual class at 8:4 a.m.. My daughter was getting kicked from class for being in a nightgown and a few minutes late, so I said to just “whatever” and if she missed it, she missed it.
By Spring, my youngest was failing all her classes and often not going at all. My older three had completed several credits each, getting rave reviews on their work from their teachers, and looking forward to a return to in-person classes. At the IEP meeting for them, the majority of their goals had been met for the year, if not surpassed. The supports they needed were naturally in place in the classroom design: individual attention, breaks as needed, headphones and music, etc. so very little needed to be added. They even respected my opinion when I refused an intervention that I thought was unnecessary. Their goal is to get each child a diploma and a path to success, be it career, higher education, or whatever they want to be. I love this school so much it literally makes me cry. They care about my children and their futures.
The middle school, on the other hand, is a nightmare. Each class my daughter had attempted to attend and was late for, even if it was by one minute, locked her out. She was then marked absent. There was one teacher in particular who was fond of calling her out in front of the class for being behind, or late, or asking questions. There was another teacher who went the extra mile to help my daughter though. She allowed her to be late, stay late, and would provide one-on-one help. The school did not, however, follow the 504, nor did it respond to my written request for an IEP (yes, I know that is illegal, let’s move forward). For them, education is about control; and it shows. This is the highest rated middle school in the district that I fought to get my daughter into, and it is disheartening.
My response to the way the teachers treated my baby girl this year was to validate my child’s frustration, allow her to focus on her emotions and attempt to regulate and process them, and then pounce on the school for their behavior. At one point I got so fed up with the teacher that I hid behind my daughter’s screen and called the teacher out on an open mic in front of her class. When the principal called me about it, I turned it around on him, and asked why he hadn’t responded to my previous emails and phone calls about the woman’s treatment of my child. I got an apology, but my daughter is still failing all her classes! I honestly do not care.
LOOK, YOU LITERALLY CANNOT FORCE ANOTHER PERSON TO DO SOMETHING YOU WANT THEM TO DO. When you try to force your will on others, especially my children, they will resist. As they were taught, and I am so proud of them for that. When the entire world is dying, you need to rethink your priorities. When children are allowed to feel safe and cared for, they thrive. Despite the misery she endured at the hands of the middle school, my youngest started reading for pleasure. During the pandemic she found anime fan fic, and reads all the time. She has also picked up manga. I am so freaking proud of her and the look of joy in her eyes when she describes her favorite stories is the absolute best thing I have seen from her in a long time. After all, LeVar Burton taught us that if you read, you can do anything. And my older, “irredeemable” children? One is graduating. The other two have caught up to their peers and are thriving. Not only are they making friends, but they are getting good grades. I mean, I have three “ A and B” high school students. While life may not be [perfect, and they struggle with mental health issues as well as physical ones, and poverty, they are happy and finally learning. So pick your battles, and until next time, Be Well!