I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked why I’m so hard on our public education system — and why I’m so adamant about parent choice.
The truth is, the system has made me this way.
Although I have a long and storied reputation as the Cruella deVille of Public Education and the Queen of Charter Schools in Massachusetts who makes her money as a corporate shill carrying water for hedge fund managers …
(This is not me, but I do have this lipstick tho …)
… in reality, I’m just a single mom of three little boys trying my best to keep them out of the school to prison pipeline. I don’t even have a kid in a charter school and I actually work two jobs to keep things going.
And even though I’m probably one of the fiercest parent advocates in the Commonwealth, I still have to fight, almost weekly to get my oldest child the services he needs as a special needs student in the public school system.
To bring us to present day: We are moving. Not by choice, but by necessity. Housing prices in Somerville, Massachusetts are literally astronomical and wealthy real estate investors are gobbling up properties all over the community I grew up in. A developer purchased the home I was renting and wants us out. Now. Luckily we had the protection of a lease to take us to May 31st, but they refused to allow us to stay until the end of the school year. I don’t have $800,000 to purchase a three bedroom condo in my neighborhood, so we’re out.
So yes, this means my 4th grade special needs kid had to change schools on June 1st. It sucks.
I immediately contacted his school to set up a transition plan and to review his extensive IEP that has been years in the making. Matthew is a kid that doesn’t always deal well with transition, but we can help him get through it with a good plan and a positive attitude.
And then the special education merry-go-round once again starts spinning.
(Actually footage of me trying to navigate the special education system for my child …)
Called the special education department of our new community.
“Hi, I’m a parent that is considering transferring my child into your school district. Can you tell me a little about the special education services offered in your community?”
I was told by the person on the phone that they “had no idea” and could not even speak to me until I had formally registered him with the school district.
- What if I just wanted to hear what the options are?
- What if I wanted to compare them to a private placement?
- What if I just want to know what the city’s offerings are as a taxpayer?
- Why is everything a secret?
Feeling pressured, I sign my child up at the parent information center. After presenting his documentation, immunization and IEP — along with my ID, I am them subjected to the suspicious eye of the clerk who has now decided to give me the third degree because I have a different last name than my child.
Apparently I am the first parent ever to have registered a child while having a different last name in the history of this district. And although my legal name is all over his IEP and other documents, I am asked for a marriage license to prove who I am.
After that wonderful experience, I then call the special education department now that I have “formally registered” in the city. I was again told they could tell me nothing, but my child has been assigned to a neighborhood school. My child has a pretty intense IEP and is currently in a “in-district/out-of-district style program in a special-ed only wing of a school.
“Does this school have a similar program? What are the programs at this school like?”
Again, the special education department has no answers.
So like, why do they even have this department?
Next, I get a call from the special education team leader at the neighborhood school.
They have a similar program (they think) and want to observe my child at his current program.
Great! Let’s do this.
The new school visits my child’s current program. The “team leader” from the new school calls me and tells me that while their program is very similar — they are “much more responsive to students” and their program will be alot more restrictive — which “will be good” for him. He’s going to need an intense behavior plan to keep him from “acting out.”
So, of course, I’ve got questions:
How do you know this will be good for him?
You’ve met him for 10 minutes.
What does “acting out” mean?
Also, Mrs. Team Leader informs me that she is pretty sure that my child is going to have “an incredibly difficult transition” and his new classroom teacher is going to be out on the day he is scheduled to begin because she is going to a seminar, so would I mind keeping him home? And they have scheduled a number of field trips over the next few weeks and they are not sure whether my child will be welcome on the trips because, you know, they “don’t know him very well.”
(Y’all people are gonna need Jesus.)
So let me get this straight:
You already know my child is going to have a terrible transition.
You are assuming negative intent.
The question is not, “How can we make this as easy as possible for him?” but instead “How can we brace for impact?”
You have already given up on my child and are assuming he is going to fail.
Yeah, that’s not going to work for me.
And my child needs to stay home from school because you don’t have an educator who will be prepared to welcome him on his first day?
And you are going to punish/restrict my child from field trips because you “don’t know him”?
So needless to say, this conversation was a *disaster*.
Then, the phone rings again. It’s my child’s teachers from the school he currently attends.
Apparently Mrs. Team Leader was openly complaining about “having to take” my child “so late in the year.”
Apparently my child is an incredible burden for her and her school — especially since his IEP calls for an extended year program that stretches into the summer.
Apparently Mrs. Team Leader is just disgusted by the whole situation and has no problem expressing her displeasure.
So, dear reader — tell me what I am supposed to do in this situation as a parent?
And this is ME — a parent who is well versed in being a royal pain-in-the-ass, knows the system and is ready to raise holy hell.
What about the parent that can’t make time in the day to be on the phone with these people for hours on end to do their jobs?
What about the parent who just came from Central America and doesn’t know to push back against someone attempting to create a toxic environment for their child because it’s against the cultural norms?
What about a parent who doesn’t speak English and can’t communicate what their child needs?
Every time parents like me push back against an unjust system we hear the same, tired whining about “We need more money!”
Well, this is not a money problem. This is an attitude problem. This is a broken system problem.
And it would be one thing if this was the FIRST TIME this happened during my experience as a special needs parent. But this has been my experience, time and again, over the last six years. And this is the story I hear from parents, hundreds, if not thousands of them, all over the state.
Now make no mistake about it — this Mama Bear is going to start flipping tables to make sure her baby gets what she needs to be successful and has a GREAT transition to a WONDERFUL NEW SCHOOL and doesn’t have to deal with the stress and anxiety of knowing that the educators he interacts with for hours every day are pissed off because they have to “deal with” him so “late in the year.” You can take that to the bank.
But please, stop asking me — and other parent advocates — are “so tough” on the system and those failing our kids.
We’re a creation of your own making.