Monday, March 31, 2008

Why can't things just be simple? (Public school/Private school rant)

If you read this blog with any regularity (friend, relative or cyber pal) you know that we have a son with child-onset or Pediatric Bipolar Disorder. His name is Ben. Ben also has significant learning differences and is socially quirky. Ben is 11 but acts more like a boy who is 8 or 9. Ben, when smaller...say 4 ish, before his moods started rapidly cycling around 7, was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, pdd, anxiety, adhd, dyslexia, sleep disorder (which was really just being a wide awake manic little kid until 2am everynight), etc... When he had his first psychotic break (which is a mental disconnect with reality) he was 7 years old. It was the months following this first break that lead to more and more and faster and faster mood cycling that almost landed Ben in a psychiatric hospital because he was suicidal. God saved the day by putting us in touch with a fabulous, one of a kind, psychiatrist: Dr. C. He figured out what was really going on with Ben and we got him on stabilizing meds slowly and gently in order to get him to a place where he could emotional handle any given day. Prior to Dr. C we were dealing with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on an hour to hour basis.

Okay, so that is the back story. Moving forward: after Dr.C we put Ben in a special needs public school. It is a self contained school attached to a regular elementary school. There are good things and bad things about it. Why did we do it? I needed a break. Dr. C doesn't just take care of Ben e, he takes care of the family. No we are not all on meds. It's that he talks with us and helps us works through things. One of those 'things' was my need to have time off from Ben's constant demands.

Ben was in this school for all of 2nd grade. Then they tried to mainstream him into regular 3rd grade. BIG MISTAKE! So, I took him out of school after Christmas. Then he was home until after Christmas of the following year. That December he took a huge nose dive in mood...and we had to add Lithium. Then, because I was on the brink of becoming unglued (because December had emotionally annihilated me too) we sent Ben back to the special needs school for the last half of 4th grade. This year, 5th grade, Ben's been there since the beginning of the year. (BTW, Ben is no where near actual grade level, but chronologically they put him tin 5th grade, he only has 6 kids in his class of varying ages, ablitlites and levels of progress). Can I say that I really Hate so much about the public school and school in general? Well, I am going to, because I do.

The things I am sooooo angry about:

1)that even though Ben has an IEP that states he can come to school an hour late, and not have it counted as tardy, due to sleep issues, I STILL get letters from the school board saying Ben has too many tardies and social services may be called. Gimme a break.

2) that even though I am Ben's mother, I am treated like one who doesn't know my son, oh but they do. Everything I bring up is questioned and I am treated with disrespect and disdain. The very strong feeling is that 'they' know Ben and 'I' don't. After all, they have him most of the day. I should bow to their expertise. Well all I can say is: *#^%^(&@((^%&#@)_*)#(&#&$*@@()@_!!!!!

3) that if I want to keep Ben home for some really fun homeschooling outing that has come up, I have to lie and tell them that Ben was sick or else it is counted against him and again, I would be threatened by a visit from social services. And that I am treated like dogsh*t when I come to pick Ben up from school, because they would rather him always take the bus. That's one of the reasons I get crap about him being late...because they want him on the bus in the AM too. Forget it. He has better things to do in the morning (like sleep) than ride around on a bus for half an hour.

4) that Ben's class of kids are treated like trained dogs. They are given point values for every hour which tally up for the day and then the week. At the end of the week he gets a prize. He is so into this that he has come to expect this kind of treatment at home and I don't like it! I want him to be good for goodness' sake, not because of some cheap-made-in-China-by=Christian-Prisoners-dollar-store-piece-of-crap-toy!

5) that even though they are better than the average public school classroom (I admit) they *still* with all the money and special services they are given, helped Ben to read beyond what he was taught by a really wonderful reading tutor last year. She worked with him 1x a week for several months. School has him everyday! (There's proof for all homeschoolers out there who think schools teach kids to read...bullsh*t!)

The good things:
1) that Ben has only 5 other kids in his class
2) that there are 2 teachers for the 5 kids
3) that they agreed in the IEP not to give him homework (they send it home, tho, and I throw it out.)
4) it has helped Ben to see that he can leave me and he will be alright
5) that they go on a field trip several times 'per month'

My beef is not with the teachers. They seem very dedicated to these kids. It's the school system, the administrators who don't see the forest for the trees. It's No Child Left Behind. It's the mindlessness of so much of what they do.

Here is a great example: Ben told me the other day to send him with extra snacks because it was too hard to buy 2 lunches (Iet him get 2 lunches on somedays because he doesn't like to eat in the morning). Well, a new rule was started that if you get up you lose points (remember those Friday prizes?). But, he can't grab 2 items each per 1 lunch tray, so he *has* to get up to get a 2nd lunch, yet his still gets penalized for it. So, Ben, who is an ANGEL at school (he saves the Demon side for me) stays hungry and won't get up so as not to lose his points. What the....ugh!

Oh, I gotta tell you this. When Ben was mainstreamed we sent Autumn to the same school for Kindergarten to help Ben with his transitions. Autumn thought Kindergarten was fun (who wouldn't) so I wasn't really worried about her. However, since that school was across the street, I would go over often and have lunch with the kids. They went back to back, so I would come for Autumn and stay for Ben. Well, because Autumn was 5 and a half, at the time, I would sit her on my lap while we ate lunch. A NOTE WAS SENT HOME, FROM THE PRINCIPAL, SAYING I COULD NOT PUT MY OWN DAUGHTER ON MY LAP BECAUSE I WOULD MAKE THE OTHER KIDS FEEL BAD WHOSE PARENTS DIDN'T VISIT FOR LUNCH!!!!! Can you believe that!?! BTW, I still would put her on my lap.

However, when we pulled Ben out of that regular school (because it was just too much for him) we took Autumn out too...never to return....thank God. Here I was thinking I would be focusing my time on Ben, and Autumn would have fun in Kindergarten (our intention was to bring her back home for 1st grade), but she dealt with a bunch of garbage too. She once came home with a 'red' note, which is supposed to be really bad. I called and spoke with her teacher and it was because she screamed (with joy, mind you) over how cute one of her classmates was, while they were in the bathroom. Sheer stupidity!

Okay back to Ben's story:
This whole time we were thinking that Ben could finally come back home for 6th grade and up. However, Georgia passed SB10 (senate bill 10) that gives the parents of children, who have an IEP in place while attending a public school (for 1 whole school year), the equivalent funds it cost to teach, said child, to put toward a private school which has been approved to take the funds or to send, said child, to another public school, outside their home district, that may have more fitting programs for, said child's, IEP.

According to the administrators at Ben's school, Ben, because he is in a self-contained special needs school, would get the maximum amount of funds. That is cool, right? Yeah. On the surface.
But now it sets up a whole'nother set of complications. The first was fairly easy to surmount. It was finding the right private school. There happens to be, not 3 miles from here, a private school for kids like Ben. We applied, he got in to the tune of 18K! (choke, sputter, cough, hack!) But wait, we have this SB10 voucher to apply and then we have a special needs kids benefit program through my husband's job which covers a percentage as well. After that assistance has been caculated, we are probably looking at 3K out of pocket. Not too bad! Of course the paperwork for all of this sucks. However, with the exception of being able to play video games or watch TV, this school he'll be going to won't be a whole lot different from being home.

They don't pressure kids academically. They say their goal is to keep their students' self-esteem and self-respect in tact. The whole student body is made up of kids who don't learn the same, or as fast, as typical school kids. Most of the kids in this school are probably one or more of the following: ADD/ADHD, NVLD, Aspergers, Bipolar, Dyslexic, LD etc... I think ADD/ADHD is the #1 "issue" of the majority of the kids there. Ben will be in perfect company.

The reason none of this is sitting well with me, is because I kinda wish there was no voucher program. I feel like we would never have considered any of this stuff and Ben would have just stayed home. I am sick of school...sick of it. I can't wait for Andrew to be done with high school. And, as I have said before, I am hoping against hope that Autumn and Ben won't want to go to high school (private or otherwise). I hate the restrictions. I hate the hoops to jump through. I hate not having freedom. But, my dh, doesn't really agree that Ben should be unschooled.

That leads me to the question: is unschooling just for those who fall within some kind of 'normal/neurotypical' range? Ben is not *that* different from 'normal'. But he is very obsessive. More than the average person. He is the type who doesn't do well with self-limiting. But this little part of me says, "Why can't he be home and unschooled?" "Why can't we see what would happen?" Of course, my dh would say, "We can't because if we do, Ben loses the SB10 voucher." The irony here is killing me. The school system is using my tax money right now to educate (Yeah, Right!) Ben. However, they (the school system) is now willing to give me the 'choice' to find Ben a more appropriate education outside their system (because it SUCKS so badly and they know it) by giving me back my tax money in order to use it where it will best serve Ben. BUT, and this is a big BUT, I can't used my own tax money, in the form of a voucher, to homeschool Ben, he's got to go to 'a' school. Either a better public school (as deemed by us, his parents) or a private school that takes the voucher. So, my choice and my money are STILL not really my choice or my money. I am STILL being told what my choice has to be (a school) and I am being told that my money really still belongs to the school system and they'll give it to me if I play by their rules. IT SUCKS!!!

I mean, with the money I would get from the voucher, I could probably find a homeschooling teenager to come and hang out with Ben a couple times a week and give me the break I need from Ben without him having to be shipped to school. Autumn would then have her brother back, and though they do fight like Israel and Palestine, she does talk about missing him during the day. I would rather use that money to put Ben into neato classes he'd like to try.

I am so frustrated about all this stuff. I don't even know if there are any answers or what they are? I have prayed until my head hurts over all this stuff, yet God seems silent or hard to understand. Anyway, I have to go. I have been working on this post in bursts over the course of a day. You know 5 minutes here and there.

It just seems that when it comes to Ben NOTHING is ever simple. I have an idea how I want our family to be able to live it's life, but because of Ben's issues, it seems the world is never going to let us.



Leonie said...

Wow, it sounds difficut. What are your dh's thoughts about school and unschool? I often have, in my head, a picture of the ideal unschool and yet it can be hard for the reality to match. So, I know a little bit of your stuggles with what you want to happen and with what is curently happening....

Rhea said...

You have a lot on your plate. I can't imagine how difficult it was dealing with your son as his bipolar progressed and not understanding what was going on. My dad's a psychiatrist, so I've learned a lot about mental health.

I can't believe the school was upset your daughter was on your lap. Give me a break. That's ridiculous. There are some serious problems with the public school system, I admit.

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