One Family’s Story – Part 2

Nonetheless, I requested an evaluation through our public schools. This time, they identified some deficiencies in Jane’s learning and were willing to provide minimal intervention services in conjunction with my continuing to home school.

The next year my husband took an extended sabbatical and we hopped into a motor home to tour the country and focus on first grade for the second time. We interacted with history and geography as I homeschooled across the country. We made some progress, albeit at an agonizingly slow pace wrought with u-turns and do-overs. In the end, we landed in the Seattle area, this time hoping to receive special education support through the public schools.

After a year of parent-teacher conferences, more testing, principal conferences, IEP meetings, debates, disputes and demands, we succeeded in increasing Jane’s access to special education services. Despite a handful of caring special education teachers along the way, the indifference toward my daughter’s development revealed a disturbing reality in the public school machine. My daughter was disposable. They would do what was necessary to stay in compliance, avoid lawsuits and appease the parents, but nothing more. She wasn’t the one they existed to serve; only the one they were mandated to serve. She just didn’t matter.

Once again, I turned to Christian educators. I called school after school, explaining my desperate situation. The answers were ever so polite.

“We’re not really equipped to meet your daughter’s needs.”

“Our school is focused on high achievement. This environment might prove too stressful for her.”

“If only we had the resources, we would love to help. But it just wouldn’t be fair to the other kids.”

No matter how they couched their responses, the message was loud and clear. She’s too much work, requires too many resources and poses too great a threat to our reputation. We don’t want your daughter.

To two people serving in Christian ministry, the rejection shattered our already broken hearts. For years, I praised Christian education before friends and colleagues, touting the effectiveness of Christian schools versus their public school counterparts. I couldn’t shake the ugly truth that confronted me. They cheated.

Fast forward a few years; I found myself facing similar struggles, this time with my son. For him, the struggles were not as severe, which oddly enough created a new set of issues. He didn’t qualify for special “pull-out” programs and yet he couldn’t meet the daily expectations.

During that time, the more affluent public school systems began systematically increasing academic rigor, resulting in a ruthless school climate. As emphasis on standardized test results increased, educators began to teach to the top tier students. Parents, fearful their children would be unable to meet the demands, began to hold their children back for a year before entering kindergarten. These children, some as many as eighteen months older than their peers who adhered to state age guidelines, became the top tier on whom the teachers focused. Academic demands increased, resulting in curriculum choices inappropriate for the age group a grade supposedly served. My son was expected to learn and utilize a sixth grade spelling list in fourth grade, though he was not reading at a sixth grade level. The lists were provided in cursive, though cursive was not included in the curriculum, eliminated due to “lack of necessity”. The demands intensified, three to five paragraph essays, without sufficient work in handwriting and grammatical conventions; essays and intricate word problems in math, without any emphasis on acquiring basic math facts; onerous reading assignments without phonics instruction or any type of introductory readers.

Because the assignments were not developmentally appropriate, they took an inordinate amount of time to complete, creating another problem. I didn’t have time to teach him the skills he should be learning at that grade level. I felt backed into a corner. On the one hand, I could toss the teacher’s assignments, which violated the principles of teacher respect and classroom responsibility I had always tried to teach my children. On the other hand, I could continue to trudge through the assignments with my son, knowing he would never truly grasp the required concepts without first mastering the critical building blocks. Often I tried to find some middle ground by negotiating Joe’s assignments with a teacher, but too many times my efforts resulted in the teacher shaming Joe for “making poor choices.”

Finally, I left my job to address his educational struggles, a journey that led to my homeschooling him through a portion of elementary school. This decision, though necessary, created a significant financial hardship on our family, and was ultimately unsustainable.

I remained hopeful that a Christian school was still an option, since his needs were not as severe as Jane’s. However, far too many Christian schools had adopted the same philosophy as our neighborhood schools, pushing elementary-aged children to perform sometimes three years beyond their school grade. Those who would discuss placement with me seemed to have a general misunderstanding of learning disabilities. A few suggested they could cure a brain dysfunction through behavioral modification alone. While I believed healthy diet, consistent discipline and prayer would certainly help my son succeed in school; I also knew that apart from supernatural physical healing, these approaches would not erase a cognitive disability. He needed help from someone who understood how to navigate his faulty neural pathways.

To be continued…

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