Power, Peers, and a Sad Evening: Part III

tuba practice

Last Tuesday, The Boy took me to lunch with a gift card Poppy had given him to do just that. I picked him up from Grammy’s, and we went to McDonald’s. Somewhere along the way, I asked him if he was still sad about the concert.

“Hm,” he said, indicating he didn’t have a ready answer.

“Or maybe you haven’t been thinking about it too much,” I suggested.

“Yeah, I haven’t been thinking about it much,” he parroted back. “I just wish it hadn’t have happened.”

“Me too,” I said. “Those kids made a poor choice, didn’t they?”

“Yes, they did.”

I told him a little bit of the conversation I had with the principal. He asked if the band director had done anything about it. I told him the kids had had to talk to the principal and Mr. Collins about their choices. “The principal didn’t think the kids did it to be mean, though. What do you think?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“It’s hard to tell if someone is just being mean, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“They told the principal they did it because you were playing wrong notes.”

“I wasn’t playing wrong notes!” he said, alarmed.

“Even if you were, it still wasn’t their place. You don’t touch other people’s instruments.”

“No, you don’t touch other people’s instruments,” he agreed.

I asked him to tell me if anything like that happened again, and our conversation moved on to other things. He’s sad because he can’t get that performance back. I think he knows the kids treated him differently than they would have treated a neurotypical kid. I think he’s wondering why they did it. I needed him to know the jist of what had been said at the meeting and what the kids involved had said to the principal. He has a right to know. Along with the right to play.

 

The Principal’s Office

principal's officeI was asked into the Principal’s Office yesterday, and it’s amazing how that still makes me feel in my 40s.

I think many special needs parents go through this experience more often than they’d like, and I wonder how often it’s a power play. I’m beginning to think yesterday’s meeting was exactly that.

If you have followed the blog, you know that The Boy goes to a school across the district, although we live much closer now, because we worked hard to get him placed in a pilot program for those with HFA (high-functioning autism).  We were told that the program would likely not only continue at the middle school, but would then be expanded into the high school and elementary schools.  Except that it not only wasn’t expanded, it was discontinued this year. Not only did they yank the program and it’s supports, they yanked the autism teacher out of the school, reduced the teaching assistants in the school, and left the kids hanging.  Oh and any kids who attended the middle school were now re-assigned to their home high school, putting last year’s 8th graders into a brand new-to-them high school where they know virtually no one.  Nice, huh?

And the principal and the vice principal at the middle school retired, too.

Lots of change for The Boy, yet he’s handled it remarkably well.

We’ve had to deal with increased anxiety a bit this year, as will happen with teens on the spectrum from what I hear.  He has always hated friends being absent, and had to also deal with one of his close friend-who-is-a-girl moving away with no notice.

This past Friday was a doozy of a day. They had scheduled an assembly, another one of his friends-who-is-a-girl was absent, and he had a big performance with the band that evening at the high school football game – very excited, but very overwhelmed.  It was not a good day, and the lead up to the performance was very, very difficult.  I have never seen The Boy so paralyzed by anxiety, and it was heartbreaking.

Yesterday, I had to go in early to make a slight adjustment to the IEP regarding length of time, which really only required a signature, but according to the school required an IEP meeting with three teachers and myself, and ridiculous amounts of paper.  I took The Boy in to school. As students started to arrive, he noticed that his friend-who-is-a-girl wasn’t there again, and began to perseverate, become agitated, and look like he was going to bolt.

So when I left his TA to handle it, I went to the office to handle some other paperwork and was promptly summoned into the principal’s office to discuss any “insights” I had into The Boy’s behavior as of late.

I was told he had had four “bad days” this year, which she interpreted as an escalation, and she was wondering what strategies I could offer, as she had limited staff, and basically implied that she couldn’t afford to have her only TA walking the halls the whole day with my child, as happened on Friday. And the TA was just about the only person who could “get through to him”.

Come to find out, she was counting the morning’s troubles as a bad day (not in my book, as he was already in science class by the time I had walked into her office), and another of the “four days” involved her TA being late to her bus route at the end of the day, because The Boy insisted on giving one of his friends-who-is-a-girl a high five before he got on the bus.  Problematic to be sure, but again, not a “bad day” in my book.

That left us with Friday. “And Thursday was a bad day, too,” she said.  “I hadn’t heard anything about Thursday,” I replied.  “Well, it wasn’t as bad as Friday, but it wasn’t a good day.”

As happens so often, I could only formulate what I should have said after the fact. I explained his increased anxiety as of late, and offered that a lack of communication about these incidents and disruptions to his day (like Friday’s assembly) were obstacles to The Boy’s success. I explained that the anxiety was new to us at home, as well, and that I didn’t have any magic answers. And that was about it.

I should have said that her lack of TAs was not my problem. She needs to take that up with her central office. I should have said that four bad days since August meant that The Boy was doing pretty well considering all the change the district had foisted upon him.  I should have said that if his current TA is the only one who can get trough to him, then she needed to come up with a plan to address that, as it is her school, her educational facility, and her staff. I should have said that it was the district’s policy to employ TAs as bus drivers that was the problem on the one day, not anything that had to do with me. I should have said that kids with autism will have bad days, and that if she or his teachers couldn’t handle that, then they need more training. I should have said that she needed to be approaching the district autism specialist for strategies, rather than the parent who is not at school on a daily basis.

Needless to say, the meeting left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I’m thinking of writing a follow up email with my list of things I should have said. I’m not sure if it’s worth my time, as it seems she is ignorant of what her role is, and of what appropriate expectations of an 8th grader on the spectrum are.

I am beginning to become resigned to the fact that dealing with the school will be a continuous struggle for the next five years, and that gives me even more impetus to find meaningful opportunities for The Boy outside of the school day, and possibly start our own business to afford him a pleasant working experience. I’m just sorry to see the rampant ignorance that still exists, even within the walls of one of the best schools in the district, and even at the highest level.  What more do we have to do??

Sex Ed for Sale

Before break, 7th graders at The Boy’s school had a week-long sex ed program.  A couple of days in advance, an opt-out form was sent home that also explained where materials could be viewed (in the library, something like the following day in the middle of the day – very realistic for working parents, but I digress). I have never opted out of these programs for The Boy in the past because I feel it’s important, and I want him to have access to the same curriculum as his peers.

About the second day of the week, I noticed that the “workbook” for the program was in The Boy’s backpack and thought I would sit down and see what was in it.

The first page I had a problem with claimed that condoms were ineffective against STDs, and that only abstinence would ensure that you would not get an STD.  Half right, in my estimation.  I went to the CDC website to fact-check the information on the page, and actually found that this workbook page contained some inaccurate statements.

Concerned, I continued to read the workbook.  And then I came to this page:

gender

Ah, boys are logical and girls are sensitive.  Boys deal in facts, and girls deal in feelings.  All couched in “sometimes” and “generally” which are the equivalent to “no offense but…”.

Nope.  Not acceptable.  Not even “generally”.  And then, I found this:

marriage?

Check out Attitude #6.  Because if you don’t want to get married, there’s something wrong with you.

What in the world is this crap they are teaching the 7th graders in my county? I googled the name of the group that put the curriculum together.  It’s actually a women’s pregnancy clinic that maintains an anti-abortion stance, and sells this curriculum to school districts.  A pregnancy clinic that doesn’t even know the facts about STDs and condoms.

I emailed the principal, knowing that this curriculum was probably selected by a committee, and was approved and paid for by the school board.  I asked her who I might contact with concerns about the program.  She took several days to email back, and even then only said that one of the counselors would be contacting me about my concern.

At least a week and a half went by before a school counselor called me and referred me to… drumroll, please… the pregnancy clinic that published the curriculum.

That would be like referring a library patron with concerns about pornography in the library to Larry Flynt.

I will be pursuing this with central office.  I will attend board meetings if I have to.  This curriculum is insanely out of date, and presents opinion as fact, which is a very slippery slope.  I just wish I had had better access to this in advance, and I wish the school had handled my concerns more appropriately.  I’m extremely disappointed with their response.

First Contact: Middle School

Today, we met with the principal at The Boy’s new school.

I went in knowing that they don’t have all of the programs and supports that his previous school had, but hoping to get a feel for the size of the classes and the flexibility they have to accommodate The Boy’s needs.  We were also hoping to get a peek at the school so The Boy could become a  little familiar – the more of those before school actually starts, the better!

Tomlinson Middle School New General Classroom

(not The Boy’s real classroom)

I was very pleasantly surprised.  Our new principal (besides being an old friend of The Man) was very personable, and very open about their programs.  He was very reassuring and informative about the various ways they can meet The Boy’s needs.  And as I very well know, the principal’s attitude sets the tone for the staff.  Having someone as caring and open as this man in our corner reassures me a great deal.

We spoke about placements, and what worked at The Boy’s previous school.  We talked about class size (Only 70 6th graders in the whole class!) and personnel.  We talked about The Boy’s interests and motivators, and what exploratory classes he might be interested in.  And The Boy seemed very happy to meet this nice principal.  This man doesn’t know it yet, but The Boy cares a great deal about the person in the principal position: what he thinks, and how he enforces the rules in his school.

All in all, I feel more hopeful than I did before.  Hopeful that this just might work, and The Boy may thrive in this environment, too, even though it is so different.