It was no easy task finding my children a new school. I researched our options carefully, and chose my local top preference. The visit to that potential new school went worse than I could have imagined – the principal told me she was a friend of the principal at the school my children were leaving, and that I had to go make it work back there. I told her I’d already made the decision to remove my children from that school and was searching for a new one; but she insisted I stick to their old “local” school, even though hers was literally just a few more minutes down the road from home. I outright asked her “are you saying you’d refuse to enrol my children at your school?”, knowing full well she was legally obligated to enrol my children if I chose the school since it was a public one we were entitled to attend. She told me she wasn’t allowed to say that. She’s right, but she’d made her point: your kids are not welcome here. She knew they had special needs, and her deputy principal had already told me that she couldn’t promise that the school wouldn’t stop my child attending full days like the old school did, even though I knew that stance was illegal too.
The utter irony that the principal told me I had to send my child to their “local” school, but that by her treatment towards us I’ve ended up with my children attending a school that means I have to drive them 40 minutes through rush hour traffic every morning.
I both hate and love the new school my children now attend. I chose it because the principal has a strong background in and understanding of children with special needs, but more specifically I even considered it in the first place because it was the school I went to as a child so I knew my children would absolutely be wanted and accepted there. It’s a private school, which we can’t afford, but my parents agreed to pay the fees. We still have to pay all those other private costs which are very far in excess of anything I could have imagined when I initially enrolled them. I chose it as well thinking the playground situation would be perfect for my youngest son who loves trees and nature and freedom, but only later I found out the children are only allowed to use the concrete playground within the park – they’re not allowed to play with the trees and rolling hills and nature that I had access to there as a child. Add to this the ridiculous daily commute in and out, the 5:30am start to my day just to be ready to leave on time, and the horrible parking situations where I often end up having to pay just to be able to pick up my kids and have time to talk to their teachers, and you’ll get some idea of why I’m hating our new daily routine. Every day is exhausting and stressful, and regular meetings are expensive and difficult to attend.
Still, the teachers are fantastic, the supports are impressive, and they have worked very hard on making it possible for my children to attend full school days. There is absolutely no doubt my kids are wanted there, are much happier there, and are learning much more than they ever did at their old school. If I could be sure all those positives could be replicated at a public and closer school, I’d have had my kids there in an instant (despite the horror of a third school transition in just a few months). I still struggle every single day with my decision – I am secure in my decision to remove them from the first school, and not to send them to the other local school we visited, but I didn’t feel completely comfortable with their new school. And then things got worse.
My youngest son was receiving 5 hours a day teacher aide support at his new school, and it was clearly needed. The Ministy of Education has, in its infinite wisdom, now decided to cut that to 2 hours day. This, despite my son having autism, ADHD, and dyspraxia. This, despite my son being a run-risk and not actively engaged in school lessons unless he has dedicated one-on-one support. The services manager at the Ministry told me it would be fine for my son to just sit and play to the side in the classroom. It’s like they’ve given up on son’s ability and right to learn at school. She said that because he’s not hurting other children in the classroom, that he’s not considered to be in their higher funding pool (we’re talking 3 hours versus 2 hours a day here). The 5 hours was only temporary, despite what a huge difference it was making to him and for the classroom teacher. I’ve been told he’s highly unlikely to qualify for the top funding pool called ORS (which his older brother gets), and though I’ve requested about three times now that his Ministry support contact person look into starting the application process anyway, there have been no steps taken in that direction.
I’m entitled to keep my youngest son at home because he’s not 6 years old and therefore not required to be enrolled at school yet in legal terms. He is clearly smart enough to be at school and learning what everyone else learns though, so if I kept him home I’d be doing a version of homeschooling, which may have to eventually turn into official homeschooling if he reaches 6 years old and is still not entitled to adequate classroom supports through the Ministry. The Ministry contact person’s official view is I shouldn’t pull my son out of school because of the fact he’s already gone through some transitioning. But transitioning concerns cannot and do not outweigh serious concerns about his safety, happiness and basic ability to learn in a classroom, and I told her so. I will not drop my son off at school each day so he can sit in the corner for most of everyday, when he could be home with me happy, safe, and learning. If they continue to refuse to provide him adequate support, I have to and will keep him home.
So what does the school itself think about all this? Well, they’re dedicated to giving it their best shot, no matter what level of support he gets. They never once said they’d send him home half way through everyday like the other two public schools were happy to do. They’re going to work on ways to make sure he’s OK and actually learning , even though they’re fully aware of what a handful he’ll be for them. That’s the difference between your kids being wanted at a school, and not being wanted – even when the Ministry is willing to remove fundamental necessary supports and give up on my son learning in the classroom, the school isn’t. The school staff have made it absolutely clear they are going to fight alongside me to get those supports, so at least I’m not up against both a school and the Ministry this time around – the school is on my side where it belongs.
Different school, same Ministry.
That’s where things stand now. It’s stressful, it’s uncertain, it’s all hard work. I can tell you that my older son is now doing well though; he gets good and appropriate supports and my communication with his teacher and the school SENCO is open, good, and productive, which is worlds away from the horror at the first school. Have to take your upsides where you can, I just wish there were more of them to share with you at this time.