A Crisis of Faith

While my personal faith remains steadfast, I have lost faith that my kid’s school can reliably educate my son. I no longer believe they care about him. So, what do you do when you no longer believe that your school can uphold an IEP?

I’m in the process of trying to figure out what to do. My problem is my son can’t wait much longer. He is getting more and more determined not to attend school. He will do anything to get out of working. It wasn’t always this bad, but school and my son never had a positive relationship. My son’s mind is in pain and I feel helpless. I’m not, but if feels that way.

I know the challenges that schools are facing. I know about the funding issues. Even at the federal level we haven’t seen changes to IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) in about 10 years. With inflation, rising diagnosis, and equipment cost we should view that as a cut. North Carolina isn’t funding it schools properly and it is showing. I believe to some extent I’m watching the consequences of underfunded school systems play out in my son’s school life. I see the lack of adults in the building. I met the school psychiatrist for the first time this year and my son is in third grade. I see the teacher and support staff shortage in the inability to keep so many special ed teachers and the revolving doors of OT (Occupational Therapist).

I was even told once that the school was using too much of its resources to handle my son and other kids weren’t getting services. I of course told this person that allocation of resources wasn’t my job, but his. It illustrates just how ignorant schools can be when it comes to mental illness and autism. The implication of the phone conversation wasn’t just lack of school resources, but also that I needed to discipline my son and get him to act right in school. That isn’t how autism and anxiety work. I can’t just take away his video games if he has a violent meltdown and expect different behavior. I tried it. It didn’t help. Please know that we, as special need parents, have all have tried. We’ve tried everything. We’ll probably continue to try everything.

There seems to be very little understanding of what autism is and even less about a child dealing with both autism and anxiety. Chart to the tops and current social emotional learning projects like Positivity Project aren’t helping. Social emotional help needs to be deeper and not on display to the rest of the class. My son needs an IEP that is supportive and followed not just by its literal accommodations, but by all things we as parents add to describe a child’s behaviors, triggers, and needs. Those paragraphs in the beginning of the document matter too.

The IEP process is filled with potholes and flaws that I’m only now beginning to understand. It is an agreement of services between the school and parents of a disabled child. My problem is how do I agree to things I am not really understanding. We don’t have textbooks, we don’t have a curriculum that is easy to understand not to mention the constant tweaks and changes. Often I don’t have any idea what my child does during the school day. I have to trust the school. After my son has more than a few meltdowns, the very thing an IEP is suppose to prevent, how do I trust the school? I have to trust that school isn’t motivated by funding. I have to trust that they care about my child’s education and not their own reputation. I have lost my trust.

The worst part is that I feel like there is very little accountability. I don’t want to sue, but I can see now why so many parents do go a legal route. It seems like one of the few ways to get action. In Wake County, we have the family and community connections program. It is a resource, but has no answers when you tell them “I’ve lost faith in my school’s ability to uphold my child’s IEP.” They urge you to work it out with the school. This isn’t helpful when a parent feels alienated.

Who is watching this process. Do red flags get triggered anywhere when a special needs child gets suspended in elementary school? Do our counties in North Carolina watch over anything but test scores? Do they have regular inspections and audits? I honestly have no idea. I’ve got time to write emails to school boards, attend meetings, and even write a blog post. I get accountability by my advocacy. How do others get it? I do know more and more parents like me are leaving public school.

In many of my public speeches, I warned others that the lack of funding in our schools here in North Carolina could lead to problems with IEPs and our most vulnerable kids in public schools. I really hate that I’m watching it play out in my own son’s educational life. I wanted to be wrong. I also know that I live in Wake County North Carolina. We are wealthy in comparison to others. What must other parents and children be going through? How many broken promises? My faith is shaken.

I write this on the eve of going in to a very tough meeting with the school tomorrow. I have a team to back me up, but we are facing uncertain changes. I left out names intentionally. I write this for myself, to voice my fears. Drop me a line, but know that I’m supported. Know that others may not be. This is what keeps me up at night. It what gets me back on podiums to speak. I believe in public education. I believe we need to strive to make it better for all children.

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