How I Was Accused of Child Abuse
A week ago today, my husband & I were called in to meet with our son’s principal.
The topic? His attendance.
Mark, a first-grader, has a variety of health and learning issues that we’ve been sorting through all year. He’s seen nine specialists and had a WIDE variety of tests, so his absences have been adding up.
We are also pursuing testing for a learning disability. He has shown no progress in reading all year and seems entirely disengaged with school. We started looking at new schools last month. It had been getting more evident that the school did not share our observations, nor support our concerns. (Editor’s note: six weeks later, he was officially diagnosed with “Severe Dyslexia.”)
But, never in our wildest dreams did we ever expect what happened last week. The principal pointed his finger in my face… “You’re the one holding him back. HIS MOTHER is the one holding him back!” He then threatened that if Mark had one more absence, he would refer us to the court for “Educational Neglect,” which is full-fledged child abuse in the court system.
What Triggered This Horrible Meeting?
I took Mark out of school last month to join me on a business trip. I was meeting several colleagues for a seminar; many of them were bringing their children to participate in a nearby science camp. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to help Mark get excited about learning again! Given that he demonstrated little academic growth all year, there was nothing to lose.
It was also an opportunity to give him some “entrepreneurial” exposure. I’m a firm believer in raising our students with entrepreneurial skills. The world is changing rapidly and technology is allowing companies to accomplish more with less human resources. Furthermore, companies that are hiring are looking for employees who “think like entrepreneurs.” It’s vital that our children learn skills to make a living for themselves. Or, at least, be as marketable as possible.
The business trip was outstanding and Mark grew beyond belief! I called home to my husband every day, “I have my Mark back! We have our son back!” It was amazing! Since we returned, Mark has been volunteering around the office: sending faxes, sorting papers, and even designed a logo for a new project I’m developing.
But, the combined total of absences did not sit well with Mark’s principal, Dr. Claude.* He berated us for our decisions. In addition to his threat, he claimed we had been “uncooperative” by not providing requested medical documentation. We nearly jumped out of our chairs…”What request!?” we demanded. “You’ve never requested anything! You haven’t even responded to a single email we sent to you!” He quickly dropped that argument. But, he still threatened to take us to court over Mark’s attendance.
How Did This Happen?
Neither my husband or I have never seen anything so aggressive in all of our years in education. Ever! Here we are, both educators (my husband is a well-respected teacher in the same district and, ironically, won a county-wide teaching award the following night) and fiercely dedicated parents, being accused of “educational neglect.” How did this happen?! How could this happen?
I’ve spent the last several months furiously seeking answers for our son, agonizing over our best options. To be accused of something that is 180-degrees opposite of my dedication to his educational growth was a very hard pill to swallow. To say that it hurt would be an understatement.
What Am I supposed to Learn from this Experience?
Over the last week, this question keeps ruminating through my mind. I’m trusting (hoping) that it will ultimately lead us to the best options for Mark. I certainly have a new level of empathy for all of the parents I meet through SOAR. I’ve wondered “What do parents do who don’t have our professional resources, yet know something is not right with their child? How would they uncover answers or have confidence in their decisions? How could they deal with a ‘Dr. Claude’?”
Throughout this whole ordeal, I’ve been blessed to have a constant line of back-up plans. My husband will tell you that I’ve had a “Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D” laid out since September. Little by little, I’ve been barreling through the “plans” as we have learned more and more from Mark’s health evaluations.
Time for a New School
Ultimately, the principal’s threat prompted us to move Mark to a new school for the 4th quarter. We found a school that is well matched to Mark’s learning style and equipped to help him with his reading. We were planning to make the switch in September. But, I now realize that would have been six more months of wasted time.
We consulted another administrator in our school district to get her input on our situation and decision. She is familiar with the new school and whole-heartedly supported the move! She also felt this time of year would be a better transition for Mark; she thinks he’ll get more support from teachers and peers now than in September. At the start of a new school year, he is more likely to “get lost in the crowd.”
Dr. Claude: The Bully
That administrator also assured us that Dr. Claude has a reputation for harassing parents. Apparently, we are not the first to be at this crossroads. (Hmm…interesting.)
Dr. Claude personifies so much about “The System” that consistently drives parents and teachers insane! He’s a classic bully. He is rigid, heartless, unforgiving, and myopic. So is The System. Certainly, there are good things about The System (such as the very premise of free education), but there are major problems! As those problems swell, a tipping point will eventually fall. The next several years will mark a major transition in education. Becoming more aware of the ways in which The System stands in our way will better help us to overcome those hurdles.
Why Am I Sharing This?
This is a very personal story that has caused me a lot of anguish over the last seven days. But, I am sharing it because I know there are thousands (maybe millions) of parents who consistently agonize over their children and their children’s education. We have a tendency to think we are fighting the battle all alone. Through SOAR®, I have the great opportunity to hear many stories from parents and KNOW that is not the case, despite how isolated we may feel.
We are all learning. As my mother reminded me, “’Learning’ is the very nature of parenthood!”
Our family is on spring break this week, but Mark is looking forward to starting at his new school next Monday. The new principal graciously offered to come in on her break to meet with us and help prepare Mark for his first day. We are confident that we are doing the right thing! Perhaps we’ll one day thank Dr. Claude for pushing us in this direction.
Meanwhile, just in case Dr. Claude isn’t done with us, I’m requesting official documentation from all of Mark’s doctors and health-care providers. I created several cover letters this afternoon. In fact, right this moment, Mark is manning the fax machine and sending them all out!
To our children’s success,
*Name changed to protect the guilty.