My name is Dawn Warburton and I am a follower of both your Facebook page and website. I often share your information as I find it is valuable and important for people to know. However, that is not why I am writing.
Today is the second day of school in my area, Cape Cod, MA. My son, age 16, a junior, is not there. Instead, he is in bed suffering from an unexplained migraine that he has been battle for the last few days. A headache so intense we spent four and half hours in the hospital emergency room last night getting blood work and a CAT scan only to find it was considered a “tension” or stress headache. This is not the first time my son has been sick, in fact he has been battle illness since the middle of his ninth grade year. The week before our winter vacation he was out of school for five days with a high fever and swollen lymph nodes. A trip to the pediatrician resulted in a diagnosis of a “virus” and a prescriptions of rest, acetaminophen and ibuprofen. As the remainder of the school months continued, he became sicker and sicker. Finally, out of frustrations and six more doctors visits, I took him to an off cape functional medicine doctor in Wellesley, MA who diagnosed him with mononucleosis, pneumonia, and a parvovirus which effects the bone marrow. Imagine my surprise, shock and anger that my son had been sick for so long.
With a diagnosis in hand, we moved forward and try to get him healthy. Lots of good foods, vitamins, supplements, and most importantly a summer in a program that was mentally and educationally beneficial for him at a well-known school for children with dyslexia. See, my son was diagnosed at age 6 with dyslexia. He spent his entire nursery, elementary, and middle school career in small private schools. All with under 50 students per school and five to ten students per class. He got a lot of one on one attentions and was able to flourish because he was learning the way in which he learned, was accepted for who he was and was given positive reinforcement. During this time, I had been working as a special education advocate, attending training with the state parent training center, Wright’s Law, the state department of education. I worked for an advocacy organization, I knew the laws, regulations and programs that were required and available to children with learning difference.
After getting through ninth grade, which was at a small 200 student public high school, our families first foray into public school, he applied and was accepted to a charter school. He was excited and coming off the exceptionally positive experience at the private summer program. He already had friends from private school at the public charter, was ready to learn and motivated to get up each morning. He was even excited to take the bus. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, this school was rigorous but no more rigorous than his private middle school. The school promote a new climate, a special place, where kids were part of the process and were educated in a new way. By the end of September, I knew it was more than just a problem. He was failing every class. My A/B student, who loved school, was a social butterfly, starting getting sick. First it was the fatigue and then came the blood noses which was followed by his complete loss of appetite.
Then came the first Individual Education Program meeting. As usual, the table was stacked heavily on the school side. The special education coordinator, associate director, counselor, history, math, and science teachers, special education teacher all around the table. At the end, sitting together, was my son and I. The coordinator started with the obligatory introductions and the reasons why we had convened. She then turned to the math teacher and asked him to tell my son and I what were Lucas’s strengths and weaknesses. Apparently, he heard the questions wrong because he began rattling off the 101 ways in which he felt my son was just about the worst student he had ever had. My son, according to him, could do nothing right. Wait, I take that back, his only discernible skill was the ability to raise his hand. Yes, he told my 15 year old son, he only knew how to raise his hand. I repeated back to him, exactly what he had said, and asked if I understood him correctly. He looked me in the eye and said, “Yes, that is what I am saying.”
The process went downhill from there, even beyond that meeting. They blamed my son for his inability to learn, even though his evaluations had shown he was reading and performing much lower grade level. They blamed me for being an overinvolved parent. At one point the coordinator refused my son access to books on tape because she said “in good conscience, your son does not have a disability” forcing us out the a neurologist to confirm his almost decade long dyslexia diagnosis. The associate director, sent me an email notifying me that he would only speak to me in scheduled meetings. Even when I had to pick my son up at school, he would see me in the hallway and not acknowledge my existence. I got emails upon emails upon telephone calls telling me that my son, again the problem, had not stayed after school for his 15 minutes of miracle work that the school assured me would “fix” his grades and all his problems.
But at what point did anyone ask “What is happening to the student?” Naturally, I kept asking but the school had decided that my son did not fit the profile outlined by their charter and he had to go. He needed services that were going to cost them money and they didn’t want that blemish on their academic or financial records. No matter what my son did, how he performed, or even the fact that he spent every waking moment in that building hearing about what an awful, under achiever he was, he kept getting up each morning and showing up for school. It was obvious that the school was emotionally toxic and physically draining for my child. He began to experience all the same symptoms from ninth grade. He was exhausted, sleeping 12 to 16 hours a day, not eating, losing weight, and not doing any of the out of school activities he loved.
Back to the doctor we went, to find out that he was still having all the same virus problems. His body refused to flush these diseases out of his system. The doctors put him on vitamins and supplements and tried to get his body moving with specialized treatments but he did not tolerate it very well. The nurse practitioner, with a doctorate in nursing, signed a hospital/homebound form, which the school refused to accept. The school made us go back, an hour and half drive from our home, and get another signed form plus they refused to waive his previous absences without a doctors signed note showing every date. It was a game and they were winning.
I finally realized my son’s life was on the line and his Dad and I decided to enroll him in a private online program. We had to do something to stop the vicious torment that the school was afflicting upon our son. We had one more meeting, which the school felt needed to be facilitated by the department of education bureau of special education appeals. I attended with my son and mother and right of the bat it was apparent that it was a useless waste of our time. My son opened by asking the special education coordinator if she believed he had dyslexia. At this point both a prominent neurologist and a respected Harvard University professor had sent reports to the school verifying the dyslexia diagnosis. What was her response? “It would be inappropriate for me to say if I do or don’t think you have dyslexia?”. He asked again, “Do you think I have dyslexia?”. She responded, “Well, these reports seems to say you do?”. He answered, “So you obviously don’t think I have it and aren’t going to help me.” She responded with silence. At one point in the meeting, my son was speaking telling this table of professionals that he wanted to be able to read the material and perform with his classmates, he wanted to go to college, and be successful, everything that IDEA stands for and the response was silence. Wait, I take that back, the response was the IEP facilitator interrupting to tell him he was getting off track. At that point in the meeting, he stood up, took his back pack and said he realize no one at that table was going to help him and left. The school continued on as if he had never been there.
We needed him to be healthy and not end up hospitalized because he was so gaunt and weak. We talked a lot about if this was the right decisions. He is so incredibly social, how would he handle not seeing his friends each day but he decided that it was just too much for him to handle. He would forgo the friends if it meant no stress and getting his health back to normal. With a couple of weeks of being at home doing school work, he started to perk up; he didn’t look so pale and was finally eating on a normal schedule. He has had to sacrifice so much just to be healthy. To say that the 2011-12 school was the worse experience of my family’s life, would be an understatement.
Throughout this entire process while my son was sick, we never got a phone call, email, a card, from anyone at the school saying, get better soon. In fact, he started getting messages from the students saying they heard he wasn’t coming back, all before we even un-enrolled. The school won. The coordinator, the associate director, the teachers, all the people who supposedly care about their students had beaten the life out of my child. They had accomplished their goal of frustrating my son to the point where he would not return to school. They had grabbed ahold of the blemish and ripped it open and now it was gone without anyone being held accountable for what they had done. Now, on day two of school, its 10:30 in the morning, my son is still sound asleep in bed, with the blankets covering his eyes to block the light, which is ripping through his skull because of the head ache, he has lost his appetite, his skin’s sharp paleness has returned, and I am brokenhearted that he is suffering in a way I can’t seem to repair.
Who is responsible for the bad behavior of an administration and it’s teachers? The community sees this glowing program filled with false accolades that self-promotes like no one’s business but they don’t see the children who are driven out because they will diminish test scores and may tarnish their shiny image. The community doesn’t seem to see the havoc they’ve wrecked on my child. Schools need to be held accountable, teachers need to be held accountable, children are not puppets to be played with an discarded when their stitching comes undone. Schools, teachers, and administrators need to be held to the same high standards that parents are held to because they are charged with not only educating a child but ensuring their safety.
As we speak, I hear my son’s footsteps down the hallway. It’s eleven o’clock and he is just getting up. He sounds sad and doesn’t want to get shower or get dressed, just move from the bed to the couch with his blanket. I want everyone to know that this shouldn’t be happening and should be criminal. Even if you would not consider posting my story, please consider writing a piece about abuse at the hands of educators and administrators. It must be stopped.
Parent and advocate,
Editorial Note: I received this blog this morning via email and decided to post it right away. It shows the pain and suffering that can be infilcted upon a family and a child by a school adminstrator when they are adamant about removing a child from their school. I hear stories like this all to often as a special education advocate and it gives all the other well meaning, hard working school staff a bad name. I also refuse to allow the comment section below to be a catalyst for more pain and suffering for this family so please remember to be respectful when and if you comment.