Wednesday, August 6, 2014

aftermath of the school meeting

How did it go?

I met with the school on Monday. The meeting was attended by the tester, the principal, and another lady (who did not introduce herself or stated why she is there, so I am still not sure of her role).

The bottom line is: in order for 8 yo to attend this school, he has to be on medication and/or have a shadow and receive therapy for his anxiety. The shadow would come from our pocket (in addition to tuition). The therapy would also obviously come from our pocket. The medication would need to start immediately, so it has a chance to kick in before the school year starts (in three weeks). I asked, which medication did they have in mind, for anxiety or for ADHD? They said, possibly both, but they understand that I might not be interested in medication, so a shadow would be a must. Also he might need to be in second grade Judaics, since they are not sure of his skills, although the tester admitted that she does not think he showed his full ability. And the acceptance would be for a trial period, till Succot (about six weeks). I was also asked by the principal why I chose to homeschool. I was quite passionate in my response. Then I was asked, why am I sending him to school now? I said that my circumstances have changed, and I would like 8 yo to compare himself to his peers, not to his older advanced brother. The principal then said, send us the older one and keep the younger one! I chuckled bitterly, we have explored all different options.

During the meeting, mostly I listened. After being told the conditions for admission, I asked, since I am coming from homeschooling, why can't I get him a shadow or a tutor and a therapist at home? What does he need to go to school for? The reply was: you cannot homeschool forever, eventually kids need to be with others, function as part of a school, not be isolated. I said, I am not keeping them locked up in the basement... 

I also told the committee that a psychologist and a psychiatrist independently told us that they do not think 8 yo needs to be medicated, his ADHD is mild and he will grow out of it. The response: well, it probably works at home, but in a busy classroom with a lot of activity going on, he might need to be medicated, so "he could really take off in his learning". All the meanwhile I was feeling like I am shoving a round peg into a square hole. Maybe if I cut off a nose, and a right arm, and squeeze it a bit, it will fit.

I felt devastated after the meeting. Very appropriately, it happened on erev Tisha B'Av, the saddest day on the calendar. What am I supposed to do with my atypical kid? I called a good homeschooling friend to vent and to get some advice. One of the things she told me: now you are vindicated, now it's officially confirmed that 8 yo does need more than just be put into average classroom. She brainstormed some options, and she calmed me by telling me that whatever I choose to do with him would be fine. If he ends up in Chabad school for a year, he'll be fine. If he ends up in a very modern Orthodox school, or public school, it will be fine. And then she also mentioned how if she would consider putting her son into school, she cannot imagine what kind of school would take him.

What about all these kids who do not fit in? They are mostly boys, and they are within a fairly narrow range (5-10). And their parents are going nuts: something is off with my child. No, it is not autism spectrum. But these kids march to their own drum, and the world is hell-bent on making them stop and face the music of everyone else. I got a recommendation from the school to talk to another parent whose son is receiving therapy. I smiled when I saw the name: same parent was asking me about homeschooling previously. If the school just realized how many people out there are searching for options, maybe they would not be so quick with their declaration of conditions for acceptance.

Then I got another comment how maybe if I would discipline my son more, he would be more compliant. By discipline, I mean spanking and other general meanness. I feel that this child already gets punished and pushed around enough. I do not see a reason to rock his emotional boat any further with dubious methods and get dubious results.

I went into Tisha B'Av not knowing what to do. During the day, I attended Chofetz Chaiim lecture. Many people have seen these. As I was listening to story after story, what jumped out at me were the examples by R. Paysach Kronn of teachers and principals who were kind and soft in the situations where, it seemed, a heavy hand was required. One story stood out in particular: a principal of a large elementary school in Lakewood often had boys sent up to him for mussar (rebuke talks). After he spoke with the boy, he always sent them out with: "Don't forget that I love you". One boy was in the office more than usual. After yet another incident, he had the usual speech and the principal sent him out to join his class. The kid just stood there. Then he said: "You forgot to tell me that you love me!" R. Kronn's point was that the kid would not remember ANYTHING that he learned in class that year, but he would remember for the rest of his life that even when he was rebuked, the rebuke ended with a declaration of love.

I thought about the cold encounter in the office, and I could not see this principal telling my son that he loved him. I knew that my son a priori will be flagged as a "problem to be watched", and any outburst, any misbehavior will be "we told you that your kid does not belong here as he is". Change him, numb him, steer him like a dumb horse with blinders: oh, now we have a nice obedient student. Now there is somebody to love!

I do not think that the principal was telling lashon hara, but his words were not words of kindness and care. Thinking of all this, discussing the situation further with my husband, I found myself in the same place where I started homeschooling this child: the world is not kind enough and open-minded enough to throw him out there.

I was planning on taking this year as a break from this difficult situation by finding some kind of acceptable program for 8 yo. What we decided by the end of the fast was that we will keep him home. We will get him a therapist to work on his anxiety. I will get a shadow or a teacher to help me. My husband will take on Judaics (primarily Chumash). I will continue secular studies. And we will get someone to help with driving places.

It's funny to say, but after this decision, I actually felt invigorated. I might be kidding myself, it will still be hard, and burnout did not perfectly lift with the summertime. But I felt that reestablishing my commitment to my child, and realizing that he is MY responsibility, not school's, made me calmer.

So I said "no thanks" to the school, and submitted paperwork for my daughter's playgroup. I am yet to file "Intent to Homeschool" for the second one, but, in an unschooly manner, we got some schoolwork done today. While 8 yo was finishing his breakfast, I was post-dating checks for the playgroup. He wanted to know how much a whole year would cost (he saw the sum on each check). I told him there are 10 checks, and he can figure it out. I gave him a piece of paper (we have not done multiplication yet) and wrote: XXX a month, for 10 months. He sat down and added two, then he added those two, then he added four months to four months, and finally he added two months to a total. He lined up his numbers, and got the correct answer. I wrote down the sum next to XXX and asked what he noticed. He said, a zero at the end. I told him the trick about multiplying by ten, and showed a few examples. Then I gave him one to try. He giggled, this was easy! He even drew a little arrow to show a zero jumping behind the number. Math lesson for the day.

Then we went to Walmart to buy school supplies. I showed him a spelling board, with words, meant for grades K-2. He said that he was interested. When we got home, he opened it up right away. There were three pictures on one side, and a long list of words on the other. He asked me to tell him the words to spell. I told him the first one, but that one did not match any of the three pictures. He said tearfully that he expected to just spell the names of objects in front of him. Meanwhile, 10 yo haughtily started up that of course he knows how to spell them all. I quickly told him to grab a paper and pencil and better get them all right  he is quite a few grades ahead, after all). 8 yo spelled three sets of pictures, got stuck on "coat". He knew that what he was writing was not right, but he had hard time envisioning what else might be in the word. I told him how to spell "coat" correctly, then asked him to write it one more time, and he complied without more tears.

Not impressive as a school day, but encouraging in a way that he is interested in trying. My husband thinks that his writing and spelling will come with time, seemingly all of a sudden, and I should not drive myself crazy about it.

In a way, I am thankful to the school for opening my eyes. I forgot how much satisfaction I get from watching my child soar. And, please G-d, he will soar, without being numbed down, and without being squeezed into an environment where he does not fit.


  1. I am glad you have come to a decision that will not harm your son and hopefully will invigorate your family as well! Please continue to talk to your friends and get chizzuk from them. It's so important!!

  2. I'm so inspired by this post. May you know only success this year! Maybe 8 yo got scared into the idea that he was actually going to go to school!!!

  3. My atypical kids are thriving and happy in public schools, which have the resources and experience to deal with them. The shadow is free, the OT is free. They're learning a ton. So what if the other kids aren't frum?