Sunday, February 17, 2013

Am I Expecting Too Much From the School?

Friday I had my 504 meeting with my oldest son’s middle school. It was dreadful in every way and I left feeling heavy with disappointment. Are my expectations too high? I thought if a child was struggling academically, the school would take steps to help them overcome their challenges, not walk around them.

The meeting started with a thud after I passed out the brochure, Educating the Bipolar Child. I jokingly stated, “Don’t worry, I don’t plan to read through the entire brochure, instead I’ll just highlight a few items.” From which the principal responded in a very serious tone of authority, “If I have anything to do with it, you will NOT be reading the entire brochure.”

Hmmm... feeling the love already.

After discussing my son’s diagnosis and how it impacts him at school. The principal, asked his staff, “So do any of you see these behaviors in this child at school?” One teacher chimed in, “Well he does like to cover his head and lay his head on his desk.” The principal responds, “Yes, but it isn’t much, right?” The teacher responds, “Actually it happens a lot.” The principal moved on without comment.

When I stated that my son needed extra help in math and writing, not just accommodations, I was once again met with resistance because, “His last year’s Star testing showed him to be in the normal range.” I pointed out that he has received all Ds and Fs for the last month in math, with the exception of an A on a test that he did with the study skills teacher’s assistance. In response, the principal asked his teachers if their grades were a true refection of my son’s abilities—everyone nodded, “yes”. But when pushed further, the math teacher admitted that without the accommodations he was receiving, he would be getting an F in his class, instead of the current passing grade of a C.

The english teacher also admitted that he struggled a lot when it came to writing. I then expressed my concern by pointing out that his sentences were incoherent on his most recent draft essay. The study skills teacher responded by agreeing that he did require a lot of her help. Which really meant she was writing part of his paper. I know this after reading his incoherent paper, the following day, I read through it again and it read entirely different. When I asked my son, “Did you write this?” He respond, “No, my study skills teacher did that.”

The same thing happens in math, he gets a lot of hand holding. Yes it helps him get a passing grade, but is he learning? How will he ever pass the high school exit exam if he is not learning these concepts now. It feels like they are more concerned with finding ways for him to pass the class instead of actually learning. Is this the best the school can do or am I expecting too much?

I then explained a list of stressors he’s experiencing at school that leads to emotional break downs at home, such as bullying, an inconsistent teacher, and sensory issues. Their answer to the bullying was that my son should learn to walk away whenever he is harassed. When I explained that he didn’t feel comfortable leaving the safety of his friends, to sit alone, the school psychologist chimed in and said, “That is what he needs to learn”. I asked, “But what if he can’t do it, what if it triggers too much anxiety (as it has in the past) what is your answer then?” She said, “I don’t have another answer.”

None of the other stressors were addressed, instead the principal stood up and said, “I appreciate that you have so many struggles with your son, but it appears that he is doing fine at school, I see him on campus and he looks happy, so the problems are only at home.” Then he gathered his things and walked out of the room.

This follows a week where my son was so overwhelmed over a math assignment that he started talking about wanting to end his life because he’ll never learn how to do it.

How do I help my son?


  1. This is so heartbreaking. It seems that it time for you to get an educational advocate involved. I'm not sure how it works in your state but no one does their research like you Mama Bear. I know where I live (Rhode Island) it is common for parents to bring advocates with them to the 504 and IEP meetings (and often you will have to pay them) but they get results. I'm so sorry that you and your son have to deal with such unnecessary and additional stress and heartache.

    1. How much do advocates cost? It sure would be nice to have someone there for support and knowledge. I may seek it through other local moms as another option. I’ve got some homework on this!

  2. Reading this blog made my blood boil. That principal is out of line acting so dismissive. I would be getting an educational advocate. I might also suggest talking to the person in charge of special services for your district to see if they can be of assistance prior to making a federal case of this. Unfortunately, since you only have a 504 plan for your son my knowledge is limited. My son has a IEP which affords greater protection. I've been told off the record that I'm a "High profile parent". I've consulted an educational lawyer and while the lawyer basically told me I could fight the district but it would be costly the fact that I consulted a lawyer made the district sit up and take me more seriously. They will try to get away with what they can most likely because of the cost of providing more services to your son. Do your research and don't be afraid to bring in help!!!

    1. You put into words what I felt, the principal was being dismissive, that's exactly what I was feeling.

      So what's it like being a high profile parent? Does the school like to work with you, or do they become more resistant? I was warned about this with my school, I was even told that if I went to the district that it would only make things harder for us at the school. I’m trying to keep the lines of communication open!

  3. I would highly recommend getting an advocate. The difference in how the school responds is remarkable. In my experience, parents going at it alone are frankly bullied into receiving subpar services. With an advocate, the school knows they better get their act together as the advocate will put them to the wall and get a lawyer involved if needed. If you want to go straight to the lawyer, it is possible to recoup your money on that. Much of the time, in due process, the school must reimburse you for the lawyer costs. Or if the school can't offer FAPE, your son is eligible to attend a non public school, which would probably be the very best outcome. Good luck to you and your family.

    1. That is interesting, I’m hearing a lot about advocates making a real difference in how the school responds, that's sad. Do you know what advocates cost in your area?

  4. My two cents.....decide if the fight with THIS school is worth it, and if so put on the gloves and go forward without looking back.

    If not, put your efforts towards a school that will have your son's best interest at heart. There are schools that can help him learn and grow, not keep him down! Changing schools may be scary for him, but I think in the long run it may change his life.

    1. That's good advice. We are looking into a charter school nearby. We figure at this point it may be best to have a back up plan ready. We have to be sensitive with change and him leaving the friends he does have, but we are keeping this option on the table. I’m going to have him visit the school soon so he can see what it would be like. I also like that the charter school goes all the way through high school so if it's a success, he won't have to change schools again. The downside is that they push their kids academically, it's a lot harder curriculum . I need to find out how he would fit into this system. I’m hopeful!

  5. Wow. Again, we are basically facing the EXACT same situation. I am going to look in to an educational advocate too. Keep us updated!

    1. And you do the same : ) Let me know what you find out on advocates...

  6. I don't know how much an advocate would cost. However, here is the website for the parent network in my state.

    There is a resource number to call on the home page. They are extremely helpful and I'm sure they could give you some information you need and get you pointed in the right direction to find the info in your area.


  7. This broke my heart for you. We had a moderately more "supportive" principal for our 504, meaning that she was at least in the meetings and not a curmudgeon about it. In the final analysis we wound up pulling him from school when he ran away from that school (and an abusive, lousy, horrible teacher) in desperation.

    I am so sorry that this person has so little regard for his charges. They are good at mouthing the words that keep them out of court, but generally terrible at actually making a difference in the lives of children outside of the mainstream.

    Oh, I am raging inside for you now.

    1. Thank you Halbert, you make a good point about the words verse action seen in school, there are a lot of words....

  8. Hello,
    Since your son has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, so a disability, wouldn't it be more logical to have an IEP instead of a 504 plan ?
    Because since an IEP offers greater protection than the 504.

    I know that you don't want your son to be stigmatized, but my strong opinion is that the more you talk about it without naming the disability, the more your son will receive stigma from school.
    If I say to people "hyperactive", I get dismissed and stigmatized being told that "if you were really committed into therapy instead of pretending that you have a disability, you would had already been healed" even by doctors (when I go even for something unrelated, BTW).
    When I say ADHD, then, people don't know much what to say. When they reply "hyperactive", I stick to my guns about the fact that it's an improper name and I don't care about their opinion.
    The more you show that you know your facts even better than the so-called professionals, the better you are respected.
    The first step is naming the illness by its technical name. The more you name it by its technical name, the more you can show them how much you know.

    The second point is that I notice that you are overeager to please the school.
    You want to obtain what you want but instead, it backfires on you and more important, on your son. Instead of having what you want because your son needs it, you are told that you will have it while receiving substandard services.
    Don't worry about not pleasing them. You are not here to please them, you are here to receive what your son needs.
    You are not married with them, and if they are upset because you know better than them, let them be upset.
    Instead, the more they are upset because you show how much you know your facts, say what you mean and mean what you say, the more they understand that you will contact a lawyer if they don't abide to the law, the more you will receive services.

    Last but not least, if you cannot hire an advocate or a lawyer, learn the law as much as a lawyer.
    You have to make everything in written. Never answer oral stuff, only by written. This first thing will piss them off because they cannot make promises they cannot keep. Never go to the principal without registring, even if it means using your iphone inside your pocket. If he promises something without keeping it, you can broadcast it on YouTube : the best way to make them know that you will know what they make.

    My final point is that with such people, to obtain what you want, you need to be callous unemotional. You must show how much you don't care about their feelings and their needs.
    If you show that you consider them, they won't consider you. They will use you like a rag and throw it aftermath.
    Instead, you must show them who is the boss if you want to receive what your son needs. It means being callous unemotional and cocky.
    They won't kill you if you are treating them like a callous unemotional woman. You must treat them like a pitbull and never give up.

    Take care

    1. We’ve asked for an IEP for years, the district won't give us one because he is not performing 2 years below his grade level.

      I have labeled my son’s illness with the school, I even educated them about bipolar disorder.

      As for worrying about the feelings of those at the school. I’m not too worried. I am doing the political dance required to work within my system. If I go in with a bull dog mentality, I will only negatively impact my son at this school. Being kind is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of wisdom. Also, there is a due process that must take place. I’m documenting every step of the way and will continue to educate myself about the laws so I can fight for my child's rights.

    2. I don't say that being kind is a sign of weakness generally speaking.

      But administrations like school districts reason this way : for them, being kind equals weakness. If a parent is kind to them, they label him as weak.
      But the school district thinks so : if you are kind with them, it backfires on you and on your son. Because you show them that you want to be a team player. And in their way of reasoning, it means that you are weak. Again, it is the specific way bureaucracy reasons.
      They already labeled you as "weak because you're kind". This is the way they think. I know that it's not what you think, and it's not what I like most either.
      But they march on a different drummer, and it's an understatement. It's like they live on another planet.
      So, you have to speak the same language as them. I know that it's not the way you've been educated and the way you want to raise your children. I know it's hard for you because it's not your mentality.
      But in some situations, you need to be a pitbull. If they are callous unemotional, you have to sing the same song, aka being callous unemotional to them.
      Since they understand only callous unemotional, you can obtain what you want with them by being callous unemotional.

      And to have some experience with these kind of bureaucracy, I notice that the more I deal with them with kindness and being a team player, the less I obtain what I want.
      I needed a lot of abuse and not obtaining what I need to understand that contrary to what people like you and my mother say, being a pitbull with the bureaucrats is the only way to go.
      It does not backfire. It won't backfire on your son. Instead, it shows to them who is the boss: you.
      And contrary to what you or my mother thinks, they respect you more when you can be a pitbull than when you are kind.
      Sad ? Yes, because I wish it would had been different.

      Of course, what works with bureaucracy is not the way to deal with your best friend.

      I also noticed on my experience that this way to deal with bureaucracy works also with bully doctors, when they are patronising, condescending, rude and MIphobic.
      So sad to need to resort to such methods to be respected !!

  9. Mama, hugs to you. It sounds as if the teachers were "trying" to be in agreement with you. Am I right? They see his problems and struggles? Did they have any suggestions or did the principal run the meeting? I'm curious what departments your son's school has. Do they have a counseling dept? A special ed dept? Is there ANYONE there who can help you? A good place to begin is with the school district--contact them and find out who is there to help with 504 meetings. In our district we have advocates that work for the district so you wouldn't have to pay out of pocket for them.
    I agree with the previous poster who said you need to decide if this is the school you want to fight with. But it's so hard to know WHERE our kids will do best. I have finally resigned myself to the fact that my daughter will most likely be dual-enrolled at two different schools for the rest of her life. She does an online curriculum that does not stress her out at all (but I am solely responsible for motivating her and helping her understand the material) and then she goes to her middle school for lunch and two extra curricular classes. Do I like it. No way. My entire day is wrapped around her schedule and I don't ever get a break from her they way I would if she attended school all day. But is she less anxious and more able to succeed? Yes.
    I will be praying for the right learning environment for you sweet boy and that you keep on fighting the good fight for him. He NEEDS HELP and the school is REQUIRED BY LAW to help him.

    1. Oohh, I’ll check with the district for an advocate, that's a good idea! Thanks!

  10. I don't know if this reaches to your area--but it might give you a place to start:

    And Parents Helping Parents might also give you some direction

    And Writes Law is good place to brush up on the legal stuff yourself:

    And my opinion is that you've played nice with them so far, to try and get them to play nice with you--which I think is the right approach. But the principal is no longer playing nice or showing any willingness to work with you. I think is is worth fighting with this school--even if end result is your son ends up in a different school--it might pave the way for future students at that school. And you will learn more about the process that will help you do a better job at the next school. The more of us who stand up and say "No, this is not acceptable" the more likely there is to be change.

  11. Thanks for the links Heather, I’m sure it will help others too!