New School; Same Ministry.

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.

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21 Responses to New School; Same Ministry.

  1. Catherine says:

    This is a good article about what us parents of special needs kids are up against when it comes to government funding and our neo liberal school systems. This is in the UK, but it applies here too.
    The new school sounds better, but the logistics of getting there and back are a big sacrifice. Sends you kind thoughts and hope for a deeper and better change in your school situation.

  2. ambhannah says:

    It makes my blood boil when I read this, it is the same for so many people. It sickens me that a government Ministry just sits there, trotting out the same old lines to parent after parent. The worst thing is that the people at the Ministry do not seem to want change to happen. They do not want to ask for more funding. They do not want to problem solve. They do not see their job as serving the needs of students with special needs, they are happy in their role as fund holders, each family just another statistic, each questing parent just another dissenting voice to quash. A friend of mine recently described her conversation with a senior person at the Ministry as a ‘telling off’. So we all go away, feeling confused and frustrated….which is one thing. But what about the child ??? It’s all very well for the Ministry to treat carers and parents like this, but at the end of the day they are letting the children down. And it has to stop. These children need more, they cost more and the need more. It is time they got what they need to be able to attend school just like everyone else. If funding is truly limited, and only if this is absolutely true and not down to being thought of as low priority (Bill English has been quoted as saying that kids with special needs are not attractive to the government funding because the Gov will not see a return on their money), but if it is true, then the Ministry need to start getting creative. They need to work with what they’ve got. As families we don’t have unlimited money…but the welfare of our most vulnerable children is absolutely non negotiable. And we find ways to make it work. It’s time the MOE founds ways to make it work.

    • Well said. It is unacceptable, it is never-ending, and I don’t see things improving. This is so needlessly exhausting – it really doesn’t have to be this way. Better use of resources and more flexible and responsive funding, more meaningful categories and thoughtful targeting, and less money spent on gate-keepers salaries with more getting to the people who it’s actually meant for, would all be good starting points. I am so sick of dealing with people who are paid full time to keep funding from our kids; give me their salary to share out amongst the kids whose lives they are hurting – see how far it can go in the right hands.

      • ambhannah says:

        So true. If in the private sector you did not deliver what you were being paid to deliver, you would be sacked. But oh no, not in the job-for-life Government Ministry.
        I want to add some more things to be wary of for all those isolate parents out there:
        firstly, you must join the IHC campaign
        secondly, be aware of the following, they are designed to disempower you: “we care”; “we would love to have the funding”; “that is not how the Ministry works”; “you need to talk to the school”; “when a teacher is being negative, tell them “that’s pretty typical of x/y/z ” (in other words train yourself to interact effectively, it is down to you to do this).
        thirdly, do not fall victim to the Ministry’s ultimate trump card – an invitation to personally witness how they distribute their funds, just so you can understand that there are others who need more and that you are being unreasonable. My son has a moderate to severe Intellectual disability according to the many medical classification systems around. But somehow there is always someone who needs more….
        fourthly, your drama is just one of many that the Ministry ‘deal with’. Their is nothing unique about. The Ministry might ‘call crisis’ meetings and seem like they are mobilising themselves, but they are only doing exactly what they have always done. They firefight, they attend to the odd blaze and then they disappear. They are not interested in fire-prevention, they get paid to hold and attend meetings, so there is no incentive for them to be proactive and on they will continue in their reactive manner, with family after family suffering.
        finally, the Ministry work on a divide and rule basis – they rely on parents experiencing interactions with their schools and with the ministry IN ISOLATION. You need to get together with other parents if you want this awful system to change. And we all need to support IHC.

    • wife of jack says:

      Absolutely, sick of the excuses, sick of the same old lines trotted out. Recent information revealing a budget surplus in special needs funding just makes things more irritating.
      Sick of the moderate needs denial my son is stuck in. My son seems to be truly invisible to the Ministry of Education. Moderate needs kids have very little provided for them. He has slipped into some sort of black hole, thankfully at a good school. Thank goodness for his school because his real, challenging, life long issues don’t go away just because he loves going to school and can be on the mat first at bell time.

  3. Dearna says:

    Your story sounds so familiar, it is what we are dealing with too. I get so angry and frustrated, sad and just plain exhausted by how crap this is. I think we need to start making more noise, it needs to be public and it needs to be loud.

  4. nikki says:

    Hi. My son goes to a generic school…a school where lots of different children with lots of different disabilities attend. He’s been going since first years and is now in high school year 7. I have always felt that he was never really being learned anything and was just pacified throughout the day with a sensory or cause and effect toy. I’ve always felt enormous guilt leaving him there from day to day…He’s almost nine verbal. He can say words, but there is no conversation. But i know what he’s capable of
    Since high school he’s been getting very hard to cope with. Banging his head, or hurting other pupils. It’s a reaction to the environment he’s in. It’s totally unsuitable for him. He also has extreme audiology sensory problems that are triggering his “behaviour” (behaviour is communication in my opinion) They have him wear ear defenders ALL day and it’s made him worse! Despite them being advised that he should wear them for no longer than 20 minutes at a time and are a tool to help him cope when things get too hard to handle. So now when he needs them they are ineffective and already on his head!
    And now they’re applying for extra funding! I don’t agree that this is a positive step to help my son. All it does is give the school more money to employ an extra member of staff for everyone which in turn frees up more staff to supervise my son. (Or any other kid that needs it)
    He will still be passed about from one different teacher to the next, all with differing skills and relationships with my son . It infuriates me! Everything about this is unsuitable for an autistic person! I’ve found a school at is structured specifically for autistic pupils. It’s 40 min drive away and is not funded by the government which I find disgusting
    Why are our children being forced to fit into placements that are unsuitable for them like puzzle pieces being forced into the wrong place on a picture?
    They have rights!
    I’m currently fighting the long fight for my sins rights! And it’s not fair! His time in education is just as valuable as any other child’s and time is ticking away for him it’s just so unfair!

  5. Catherine says:

    Ok, commenting again, but this is an issue that is so important to our kids, and so frustrating to us parents. We need to realize that the point of the education system is train children to become good production units aka workers. When it becomes obvious they will not become good work units the funding is creatively withheld or used only for placating actions. Within that system is also mechanisms to move as much of the work onto the parent as possible while still making it look like something is being done (all those meetings). I have met some people in the Ministry who really do want to help but are bound by a lot of red tape. I have given up on the formal systems and just work with the individual teachers to get what my child needs, so far that has worked (probably by shear luck that we have had wonderful teachers). Not everyone can do that I realize, it depends on what the child’s needs are. I feel a PhD topic pending… (I’m currently doing my Masters).

    • ambhannah says:

      The wise old Government isn’t so wise… of the main obstacles to people with disabilities getting work is the fact that employers prefer to hire non-disabled (direct discrimination) or, just like so many schools, do not have an inclusive attitude or the systems in place to promote successful inclusion. As someone once said to me, if we can’t get inclusion right in education, we can’t get inclusion right for anything.
      And the wise old Government have rendered this Mum (me) less able to work when I too, could be contributing to the economy. My husband’s work, too has been affected by the poor systems provided for my son at school. AND the other kids in the class and their families… well they too have been affected by the poor systems provided for my son at school. So I would have thought that it was in the Government’s interest to invest in inclusive education….

      • ambhannah says:

        …oh and don’t forget the impact of stress on health – stress on parents, unavoidably trickling down to impact siblings, and the related health care cost of this, I’m sure the Government hasn’t put that in their ‘calculations’.

  6. Kiri says:

    The costs of not providing treatment and education to children with special needs are much higher than the cost of giving them what they need:
    Piuma, Mary F. Benefits and Costs of Integrating Students With Severe Disabilities Into Regular Public School Programs: A Study Summary of Money Well Spent. San Francisco: San Francisco State University, 1989.

  7. ambhannah says:

    Another good organization to join:

  8. Sara says:

    I thought that I had come up with a very creative solution as to how the New Zealand primary school that we had chosen for our son, and I his mother, could work together to give my wandering son, with only two aide hours per day, a chance to be at school, but also be safe from harm. This particular rural school is not fully enclosed, and doesn’t have anything close to resembling a safety fence. This was my solution: part-time mainstream school/part-time Te Kura Correspondence School.
    As a stay-at-home mom of two boys with autism, I would be more than willing to help support my son’s education, and I would be under the direction of a fully qualified teacher, and he would not lose his ORS funding. Having a structured and modified curriculum at home is equally as important to me as keeping my sons’ supports, so Te Kura felt like a good solution to me. My son could socially and educationally benefit from being in the mainstream school as the two aide hours would cover most of his time there, and he could also stay safe by missing the unsupervised school lunch hour in the afternoon. It is called “dual tuition,” and many students partake in this, but the school has to agree, and the school also has to be the one to initiate this type of enrollment according to Te Kura’s website. I also proposed that my son be enrolled under psychological/psycho-social grounds so that the tuition would be covered by the Ministry of Education. Well, you can imagine how well this idea was received. The principal of the primary school didn’t respond to my idea at all, and the Ministry of Education made it clear to me that they aren’t “trained to promote homeschooling.” I was also told that the psychological pathway was for “children being bullied at school.” It is apparently all or nothing with these people who say they have my child’s best interest at heart.
    This particular situation is regarding my first son, and he is not yet six. I have made it very clear to everyone working with my son that I am completely prepared to take nothing and home school my son myself if they don’t come up with an acceptable solution.
    As a matter of fact, I have found a perfectly legitimate and lovely homeschooling program that works with special needs children for a fraction of the price that Te Kura would charge ($6,144/year), if the Ministry of Education does not support my decision to enroll my child there full-time. The payments that I receive for my son’s disability, along with the payments that I would receive for homeschooling him, would more than cover the costs of this program per year. Here’s the irony: it’s an American program. Does it really come down to New Zealand dollars funding an American education? It does.
    After six months, I am still waiting for an outcome on our property modification report which could approve a safety fence for my child at school. In the last few days I have gotten some very vague emails regarding the need to have a meeting to discuss the outcome of this report, along with an admission from the occupational therapist who submitted the report that there was a meeting between her, the principal of the school, and a member of the deciding board of the school about “possible options” for my son, and that I really needed to seek my answer with the principal, who is once again, not responding to me. I think it is time to get the pen and exemption application out and begin….

  9. NX says:

    This is the same reason why I now Homeschool. It’s infinitely better for them to be learning the way they need and not at the mercy of what strangers with an agenda think is “best”. I’d do it soon if you haven’t already.
    Before he learns bad learning habits.
    Sorry your having to deal w this as well.
    It’s ridiculously easy to homeschool for us and all I had to do was formally withdraw boober from his elementary school (and of course they tried to say I had to have him enrolled in another publicly licensed school or they couldn’t do xyz *eyeroll*all lies.) and file an intent to homeschool w the superintendent of our district. I wrote up a statement releasing them from any responsibility to teach etc my kid and that was that. I got connected with edugreat which is a homeschooling support and they do the classes that I needed so I could “qualify” to homeschool w out a teacher showing up once a week which was the other way I could qualify. (having some odd number of collage credits was the other)
    So yeah, I got some really good info and references and handouts and then after Friday afternoon for 3 or 4 hrs and then again on Sat from 9am til 5pm and it was done and over!
    There is no single right way to homeschool and we use all three types as needed. Traditional least of all
    Unit study more and natural learning where necessary to make it stick. 🙂
    If you can be a stay at home parent and you have the drive is say do it right away. It’s worth the benefits!

  10. sewsable says:

    We had problems with our school when our youngest first started, it wasn’t until the deputy principal was removed from dealing with our team that things improved. We had reduced hours and roadblocks galore, we’ve been lucky though that things improved a huge amount when she was no longer involved. My son’s hours increased, he got full time support which was partly funded by the school (Christchurch earthquakes helped here surprisingly). He’s come a long way, rarely now disappears during the day and if he does they know where to find him on school property and he has learned a lot. We have lovely teachers and his teacher aide is wonderful. My concern is next year when we transition to the local High School which now does intermediate as well, I rather suspect he won’t have the support he needs; if he doesn’t have support then he doesn’t do school work and will instead read or if given the opportunity surf You Tube. It seems to be a neverending battle, even when things do go right there’s still stuff to sort. He wanted to join Cubs, but they said no, they couldn’t cope with him as well as the other kids they already had who were special needs – I’m hoping that’s really the case that they already have special needs kids and that it’s not simply that they’re trying to make us go away.
    I really do wish it was easier, and it should be easier!

  11. Aurora says:

    I have been following your blog (without commenting!) for a long time. My son has an intellectual disability, and I think is about one year younger than your oldest, so watching you all go through the system a few steps ahead has been enlightening. I am so sorry that all this has happened, I remember your excitement (and trepidation) when your oldest started mainstream school and to see that destroyed in this way is heartbreaking. Though we had some inclusion issues at daycare, I am very thankful that my son is now in a Special School with amazing support. I would be terrified if anyone proposed sending him to mainstream.

    Anyway, I just wanted to add to the messages of support and hope that the new situation will work out for you. I wish you strength in dealing with the added stress of the move, wish I could give more than virtual support!

  12. Heilie Scheepers says:

    My boy was diagnosed with being on the mild to moderate autism spectrum/Asbergers, with development dyspraxia, when he was 2.5 years old, the reason we went to the development paediatrician was his speech was just not progressing. After 4 blocks of speech therapy, my boy had made such a huge improvement, and his frustration meltdowns became less and less because he could verbally express himself.

    He was a happy quirky boy, loved daycare, and settled in really well, made friends at daycare, bonded with his teachers, and so when the time came for him to transition to school, his teachers at daycare said he will not have a problem, he likes rules, he will like the school environment.

    How wrong everyone was. He started school in Feb this year, we enrolled him into a mainstream school, and tried to setup meetings with the relevant people at the school, but they were just saying just send us all his assessment reports, etc. We thought nothing of it, and assumed the school does this on a daily basis, and they have it all under control.

    His 2 school visits went really well, and the first 2 weeks of school was the “honeymoon” period, and he seemed to settle in well. And then one day when I picked him up from school, the teacher said that my child had been horrible, and had thrown books, and they fear for the safety of the other kids. I asked her to please identify the triggers, because something must have happened for him to lash out like this. The teacher crossed her arms, and stepped away from me, and her body language just changed, she was no longer interested , I could see her attitude change, we asked did they not read the reports, that he is not a naughty boy, but just wants to be heard. My husband setup a meeting with the SENCO and deputy principal, and gave them all the reports again, he asked them to please get the necessary funding in place to support our child, he asked them to please let us know if they need anything else from us, they said no.

    The frustration meltdowns have now escalated to the point, where we have been threatened by the BOT that my 5 year old child will be stood down. Only a few weeks back did they call my husband and say O your child is autistic, which is just so disappointing, the school wanted my child labelled, and only then did they apply for emergency funding, which could have been done from the start.

    We had a meeting last week with the Ministry of Education,Educational Phycologist for severe and challenging behaviour and her supervisor, and they said that the school cannot cope with my boy, and they don’t have the resources, and are not willing to make adjustments for him to be able to successfully learn. We came away from the meeting feeling that yes the best would be for us to change schools, but after calling around, no school wants him, they all say they don’t have the resources, the MOE said that they would assist, but have now made it clear that until my boy is expelled they cannot force a school to take him. We are feeling hopeless, and I am really sad for my boy, he is just misunderstood by his teachers. He has now been physically restraint 3 times, and every time he came home with bruises on his wrists, and his left shoulder, and back, upon questioning, the Educ Phyd says they are not doing the physical restraint correctly, 9 of the schools teachers went on a course for non-violent intervention, and the day after my boy came back home with a bruise on his left shoulder, because they forced his hands behind his back, and made him walk like that, I cannot believe that teachers would hurt a 5 year old like they have. My boy comes home saying school does not put a smile on his face, he says his teacher is always angry at him, and he is excluded all the time from participating in class environment.

    This has been an emotional struggle for the whole family, and the principal of the school has gone as far to say, my child is just one of twenty one kids in the classroom, and that if we pay a private school enough, any school will take him.
    He is more out of the class than in, he gets picked on by the other kids, when he does enter the class, the kids make hurtful comments, why is he back, we don’t want him here…..

    We don’t know what to do, we do not know who to trust anymore, promises were made by the MOE that they would assist in the new placement, but they have now turned around saying we as parents needs to find a new placement, which we will do, but we can’t force a school to take him, we don’t even know what funding he would get.

    We have no other schools that are in the zone, and we are left with no options. My boy is a kind caring boy, yes sometimes quirky, and demanding, but he has never had these meltdowns at home, and I have seen him change, he is scared when you ask him how his school day was, he cowers like a scared little pup, he rarely talks about school, and is sad all the time. My boy is not the happy quirky self-confident boy that started school, the school has changed him, they have “broken” him, and we are left to pick up the pieces.

    I am just so unhappy, and sad the school and MOE does not want to help a 5 year old boy, he has a right to an education, but is excluded, and if we as parents question this, we are told we are childish because we are fighting and being cheerleaders for our boy.

    • I am so so sorry that your comment was left in my waiting-for-approval queue! Sometimes comments get lost in spam or just too many come in at once and I can’t get through them all and the new waiting-for-approval ones drown the others. Your story is so important, it doesn’t deserve to be lost in the archives.

      If you’re willing to come back and comment further, I would love to hear if you are talking about New Zealand? It sounds like you are from your terminology and experience. If so, I would like to encourage you to share your story with a couple of contacts I have who are collecting our stories and fighting for families like ours; just let me know if you are in NZ. I think I may have to do a post dedicated to encouraging others to contact these people so we make sure our stories are heard and not lost or ignored (which makes the wait for the approval of your comment so much more heinous!).

      Whether you ever get to read this reply or not, I want you to know I hear you, and everyone who reads what you’ve written here, we all hear you. You matter. Your child, your family matters. The way you’re all being treated is disgusting and unacceptable and so very far from anything close to OK. I want to help you if I can, but I’m not sure how. If you want to be heard, other than passing along some suitable contacts for you, maybe you’d be interested in writing a guest post on my blog about your journey? Anyway, let me know if you can. And either way, I wish your whole family the much-happier and peaceful future you need and deserve xxx

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