What’s the opposite of nostalgia? I’m pretty sure I experienced it yesterday when I came across some 10-year-old old paperwork pertaining to school evaluations for my son. My brilliant, sweet boy, who was ten years old at the time.
I have embarked on a project to purge and organized the piles of paperwork that have been accumulating around my house for, oh, ten years. It’s slow going because I keep stopping to read things. For instance a file full of print-outs I made of email communications with school personnel.
For context, my son, M, has auditory processing difficulties. His brain doesn’t filter sounds very well. We started the evaluation process thinking he would have an IEP (individualized education plan), but he didn’t actually need changes in the curriculum, only changes to ensure him equal access to the curriculum. So we ended up with what’s called a 504 plan under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
I had almost managed to forget the constant vigilance and stress involved in having a child in school under these circumstances. Many teachers and school staff were wonderful and amazing. But many others were not. I experienced a fair amount of lip service, some head patting, some gaslighting, and whole lot of hoop jumping on my part. I’m glad that experience is behind me.
The following is one of the emails I re-discovered, and typical of the kinds of things I found myself writing a lot in those days.
Hi Ms. K & Ms. L,
As always, thanks for all of your time and effort on behalf of M. I want to address two things:
1. Regarding the parent input statement I wrote to be included with all evaluation reports: I will make multiple copies for each of you so it can be attached to every printed copy of the report, rather than only in a computer somewhere. ( I understand the school district’s budget is extremely tight, but it is a part of the report that should be available with every copy. I will supply the paper and ink for that to happen. (I had been told that, of course I could supply a parent input statement to be added to teacher observations and everything else in the reports. But when I showed up for the first meeting, the statement I had emailed was not included and everyone seemed to think it was eccentric of me to believe it would be added to the actual report, which was already using so much paper. I was assured the email had been saved and that my painstakingly created contribution was “in the computer.”)
2. I am also attaching here a copy of more observations I have made including my classroom observations from last May. I sent these once, but was told they couldn’t be included in the report at that time because they happened after the date of the evaluation meeting. I’m sorry I did not bring this to yesterday’s meeting, but did not realize they could now be included until I read through the report and saw mention of staff observations that had occurred from the same time period. Now that I know the door is open again, I’m sending them. (If this isn’t obvious, someone lied to me about why they *couldn’t* put my classroom observations into the report. And I caught them in the lie.) This document should also be attached to all copies of M’s evaluation reports. In addition to attaching it here, I will supply multiple paper copies as a donation to keep district expenses low.
If any parents currently going through the process happen to read this, please know you are not alone. You are allowed to have your voice heard. Don’t let them gaslight you or shut you up. Keep speaking the truth for your child. You will find advocates and allies within the system, though it can sometimes take a little while to figure out who they are. Work on building relationships with those folks. My son’s grade school speech therapist and his junior high counselor, in particular, were real angels who had his back.
That said, I look back on this and wonder about families who don’t have the resources I did. We’ve never been wealthy, but I could at least afford paper and toner. And this was before I started my sandwich generation gig, so I could carve out the time. How many kids fall into the cracks because their parents don’t have the resources or time or knowledge to stay on top of things?
I’m happy to say my son made it through and is now a brilliant, sweet 20-year-old who does what he can to make the world a better place. He made it through with his kindness and compassion intact, which is what I most wanted for him.