This is for the soldiers over at Dad Blogs...
I've had to polish my armor, sharpen my broadsword and am about to mount my high horse. I am going off to war. My opponent, my insidious, wily and downright lowdown opponent will spin fabrication at the drop of a hat. She is a fiendish foe whose goal is to wear me down and make me feel my voice insignificant.
Oh, you, fiery hound of Hell, stand back. Because I am now armed with truth and am not afraid of battling you who shall not be named. You gnarled root ball. You canker blossom. You thorny thistle. But enough mystery! I must reveal your identity, call you by your true self, for I am not afraid of unleashing unending misery upon the lands. That is simply myth. I officially throw down the gauntlet Board of Ed! Your move.
It started innocently enough. Well, he is a boy, after all. I'm sure he'll catch up. And I chose to believe that my son's physical and mental growth was still within average range. This is what I know now... Those people who spoke those words so as not to make us overly concerned, did a huge disservice. The truth is simple. Sebastian has a learning disability.
Sebastian has had IEPs since he was two. (For those of you not in the know, IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. If your kid needs any specialized service from the school board, he or she will have an IEP. Everyone weighs in, the teacher, the therapists, the school psychologist, school nurse, and the special ed liaison, which in our instance is the Vice Principal.) Over the years, Bash has received services for speech, physical and occupational therapies. Once he entered kindergarten, physical was taken away and resource center was added.
After his most recent IEP, the Board of Ed offered only one choice, a special day program at another school for the coming school year. Michael and I visited the proposed school, an architectural nightmare in cement and barbed wire. It had all the charm of San Quentin at lock down. Security buzzer at the front door. An ex-Major type (probably the PE teacher) goosestepping during recess, wearing a whistle round his neck. And when he'd blow that whistle every student went down to his knees, obedient or else. This was a big city school with a big city personality. Not the sunny elementary Sebastian is going to presently. I kept thinking, but he's only six. Let him keep his innocence just a bit longer. In our guts, Michael and I know, this school is wrong for him.
Certainly there must be another program in another school. The Vice Principal says, "The Board of Ed does not like parents..."
Yeah, I'm beginning to get that feeling.
"...does not like parents to cherry pick schools for their kids." This is where I loose it. Where the rose colored glasses fall away. Where I ask someone to pinch me, they actually do, and it hurts like a motherfucker.
But isn't that my job as mommy? To cherry pick for my kids. I choose the food they eat. I choose the after school programs they attend. The sports they participate in. The clothes they wear. The toys they play with. The soap that washes them. The books that are read to them. What time they go to bed. And now that I've provided a safe environment and moved to a good neighborhood with a good school, you're saying tough shit, Sherlock.
I end up reaching out to anyone who will listen. I phoned and emailed school administrators, special ed coordinators, special ed teachers, district offices. Listened to what they had to say, some with good advice, some useless. But, it was through another parent, another soldier who fought the system that I was pointed in the right direction. She gave me the name of a special ed lawyer. I never knew there was such a thing.
"The district has failed your son, this year," the lawyer said after reading Sebastian's IEP. Horrible, yes, and yet music to my ears. It lit a fire under me. I realized how complacent I've been. But then I worry. How much does a special ed lawyer cost. "Nothing," she tells me. "The district will reimburse me." My jaw drops. Another secret disclosed.
Then the lawyer says the board of ed should have recognized Sebastian's specific needs and implemented whatever was necessary. But they're tricky. They wait for the parent to make the first move. Then they offer the smallest grain of rice hoping we will grab it without question. I'm telling you, these people put used car salesmen to shame. And Michael and I have done this. We've accepted those measly grains of rice. I have five of them sitting right here in front of me. But I was an asshole. I should have held out. I would have been able to make pilaf by now.
I say to you parents, you are your kid's advocate. You need to do what it takes to make their life at school successful. If you are met with no, realize that even no has wiggle room. Ask to see where the no is in their bylaws. Ask for the no in writing. Get them to squirm. Because once they saw we had a lawyer, the San Quentin school suddenly left the table. "I'm sure the district will give you a list of other schools to check out." Isn't that a blip? Where was that list before?
Parents have the power. Never sign on the dotted line for one grain of rice. You might be able to hold out for the entire paella.