When I met with you and the rest of the team last year, we talked about how hard the transition to middle school would be for my son. He has always struggled with changes to his routine and it is well known that students with disabilities typically take at least six months to adjust to the changes from elementary school to middle school. You were concerned about the amount of homework there would be and you worried that Zack would not be able to handle the 4 to 5 hours of homework per night that you expected there to be in the magnet program. However, you assured me that as long as my son showed that he was trying, he would not be kicked out of the magnet program or the school.
We moved to this school district with the sole purpose of getting him into a school that seemed to have the student’s best interests at heart and would work to ensure he had the help he needed in order to succeed. We came from a school that punished him every time he asked for help or didn’t do his work good enough. The educational team here at your school seemed to care about Zack’s diagnoses and ensuring that his 504 Plan accommodated what his needs were. The team was empathetic to the situation and listened as I worked with the medical team to figure out everything that was going on. That said, it became evident in the last three years that, while the 504 team was on the same page for the most part, the teachers were not. I have begged and pleaded with every teacher he has ever had to focus on positive reinforcement instead of constant criticisms about not doing good enough. He is motivated by doing well and pleasing his authority figures. But Zack has heard that he’s not good enough every single year in school, with the exception of 3rd grade. He believes it now.
Last week, he was told by the Dean that he had 3 days to bring his grade point average up from 1.25 to 2.5. You and I both know this was not a possible task. He was spoken to before anything had been brought to my attention and he came home from school devastated that, yet again, his efforts just aren’t good enough. He’s made great strides this year as far as maturity is concerned and has been trying hard to stay on top of everything. I have seen this first hand. But yes, he has missed a few assignments. Five assignment according to Progress Book. But some of those zeros were not his fault at all as he was paired with other group members that didn’t do their parts and caused the entire group to get zeros. There are assignments he knows he turned in that he has zeros on. But the main reason his GPA is so low, from what I can tell on Progress Book, is that he’s making low scores on his quizzes and tests, as his Neuropsychologist said he would.
I paid several grand to have a Neuropsychologist sit down and evaluate Zack’s diagnoses and abilities so that we could determine where his weaknesses were. I brought that paperwork to the school, I requested an IEP. The school Psychologist reviewed all of the reports and agreed that they were consistent with what we were seeing from Zack. The struggles he has in school are a direct reflection of what his weaknesses are due to his disabilities. Yet, he’s been consistently told that he’s just not trying or he’s just not good enough. He’s been given mixed messages and he’s been told things that have been presented to me differently. For example, the Dean told me in the email that she spoke with Zack about how to check Progress Book on his own so that he can make up the work hadn’t gotten done before. So the very next day, he asked his teacher if he could turn one of those assignments in the following day and her response to him was, “Why would I take it now?” How would you tell Zack to respond to that? How would you respond to that as his parent? I sent somewhat of a long email when the Dean notified me that the team was meeting to decide if Zack was going to be kicked out of school, I copied you on it. The Dean forwarded the message on to his teachers because had very specific questions in there. I have yet to receive a response from you or the teachers. Sure, I defend him a bit in my email by calling out the teachers on not communicating with me and the reasons behind the zeros. I also recognized that Zack didn’t do everything he needed to get done. I am the only advocate that he has. If I don’t stand by him, who will?
You told me at the beginning of this school year, “We’re going to stand by Zack, I assure you. We’ll work with him.” I’ve yet to see that happen. Threatening to kick him out of school if he doesn’t meet the impossible expectations put in front of him within 3 days is not standing by him. It’s not working with him. And it’s not doing anything at all in his best interest. Not responding to the questions, not communicating with me on what he needs help with before it’s too late, and threatening to kick him out of school is not standing by him. It’s not helping him in the slightest. Year after year, the school has destroyed his confidence, broken his spirit, and consistently made him feel worthless. I spend every summer, every weekend, and every week night building him back up and getting him excited again. His first day of school this year, he was so excited to tell you about his summer trip to DC where he learned so much of our history, it was a purely educational trip. He was so motivated to get started learning again, he could barely contain himself. Now he’s just ready to give up because this year was no different than any other year. No matter how hard he’s tried, it’s just not good enough.
In reviewing his progress this year, I found that during the second 9 weeks, he brought his Spanish grade up from an 88% (B) to a 94% (A). His Science grade dropped 2% from an 82% (B) to an 80% (B). His History grade improved 3% from a 73% (C) to a 76% (C). ICT improved 9% from an 81% (B) to a 90% (A). Team Sports dropped from a 100% (A) to a 99% (A). Math dropped 2% from a 62% (D) to a 60% (D). Finally, Language Arts dropped drastically from a 75% (C) to a 50% (F) indicating that something major happened here, however, his conduct for that class improved from a 2 to a 1. His conduct was a 1 in all other classes. His grades year-to-date are as follows: Spanish – 91% (A), Team Sports – 99% (A), ICT – 86% (B), Science – 81% (B), History – 74% (C), Language Arts – 62% (D), and Math – 61% (D). As the neuropsychologist predicted, his troubles are in Math and English. Despite that fact, these grades do not paint a picture of a child that doesn’t care about school or doesn’t put forth the effort. To threaten him with removal from school the first week back from the holiday break was completely unnecessary and uncalled for. Had the school called me and talked to me, we could have called a teacher conference and figured out what the problem was. I would have been more tolerant of the school’s position if they hadn’t focused on his failures and completely ignored the improvements he made during the second quarter and if they had spoken to me before talking to Zack. The message that was given to Zack was, “Even though you clearly made improvements, you’re still a failure.” That’s not acceptable for any child.
As teachers and professionals that have dedicated their lives to working with children, I would expect each of you to know that putting those kinds of expectations on any child is setting them up for failure. It is not helping them. Your jobs are to encourage them and do everything you can to help them succeed academically. It is truly disheartening and sad to me that the kids that seem to need the most encouragement, the most positivity, and the most compassion from their teachers seem to get the least of it. Sure, everybody loves the perfect kiddos that never cause any problems and always do everything right. But there are plenty of truly unique, very compassionate, highly talented kids with super personalities that don’t fit that model and they seem to be the ones that get the worst treatment from the public school system. My son is not a perfect student. He struggles with a few things. He doesn’t always get everything done on time, if at all. But when he’s tried the absolute best that he possibly can, he’s told it’s not good enough. Why would he keep trying?
I fully recognize that teachers and school staff have hard jobs. I know that the standards that the schools have to meet are hard and that it has jeopardized the quality of education our kids can receive. I recognize that there are bigger classes and less time to teach, less time to give students individual attention and that all of my son’s needs cannot be met by any one teacher. I’ve always recognized this. I’ve asked for very few accommodations. Extended time on tests and assignments was the main one and that was due to the issues with his processing speed. I have no way to verify that this was actually given to him so I give his teachers the benefit of the doubt. I’ve asked that he be allowed to go to the office and speak to the guidance counselor when he’s overly stressed or having a bad day. But it’s evident that unless he asks to go, nobody cares enough to make the suggestion to him. I say this because it was just last year we found out he had been bullied for three straight years and it took Zack to lash out twice in order to figure it out. He’s never felt like he had any help at school because he’s always been criticized and put down. So why would he ask to speak to anybody when they’re just going to tell him how he failed? When he finally did tell us what was going on, the bullies were removed from his class temporarily before being put right back in his classroom. But he had to threaten to kill somebody before he was able to get even that temporary help.
Instead of communicating with me when he’s failing at something, he’s been allowed to continue failing until it’s too late to make much of a difference and then it’s left up to the Dean to handle. The Dean then sits him down and tells him he’s fully capable of doing what he needs to do, which is simply untrue as proven by the neuropsychologist, and that if he doesn’t fix it in three days then he’ll be kicked out of school. So he goes to fix it and the teachers refuse to work with him…again. To my son, this translates to, the world is going to crumble and fall apart in three days. Have you ever watched a child sob for three days straight because they’re not good enough? It is absolutely, by far, the most humbling, frightening, helpless, and earth shattering feeling I have ever felt as a parent. In those moments, it occurred to me that my son is on the path to becoming another suicidal statistic, he’s been at his lowest low this week because of all of this. Now I am quite sure that wasn’t the intentions of the school, the teachers or the Dean. But I’ve begged and I’ve pleaded for too many years for this type of stuff to stop and it’s clearly not going to. I will not allow the school system to continue tearing my son down. It was nice of the guidance counselor to call him in this week after all of that, and after my original email, to talk to him and let him know that he’ll probably be allowed to stay for the 3rd quarter. But it was too little, too late. The damage had already been done and at that point, the school is just jerking him around.
Since you took a moment out of your day at the beginning of the year to tell me that your school will stand by Zack, I wanted to take a moment out of mine to tell you that you were wrong. And to give you an explanation as to why I withdrew him from your school today. You see, I’m not going to allow “the team” to make the decision to give him another chance. He was never given a chance in the first place. Therefore, I will be homeschooling him as I can do so while building him back up and not destroying his spirit. I really do appreciate your words of encouragement at the beginning of the year. I appreciate that you seemed to want to help. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t good enough.
**Names were removed from this post to protect the identities of the parties involved.**