Hoping to someday find M's brother adopted in the U.S. -
Myckola Oleksandrovych Markov - 8/26/2003

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

An Open Letter to the U.S. Department of Education

An Open Letter to the U.S. Department of Education on Why We Now Homeschool

Dear DOE,

You know me as complaint number 11-14-1261. I first had contact with you after a complaint I filed with the Department of Justice over our school district discriminating against my children was transferred to your Office of Civil Rights Division.

First I want to say that filing the complaint was not something I ever wanted to do.  No parent wants to admit that their child needs more than other children just to accomplish the same things.  No one wants to be “that parent” that everyone in the office knows and all the teachers whisper about in the hallways.  That was never my intention or my hope.  I had a rose colored view of the public school system before my children needed your special education services.  

I thought that the schools were supposed to want to help children.  I thought that if a school knew a child had a problem, they would do everything in their power to give that child the help they needed to succeed.  I thought that if a child had a disability the help would come automatically.  I thought that if a professional made a recommendation for a child then the school would do their best to provide what was needed.  

I never dreamed that I would have to fight to prove my child with cerebral palsy had brain damage and a learning disability.  I never could have imagined being in a position where I felt the need to sew a recording device into her pocket so I could listen to her day after she got home.  
I mean WHO does that?  
I did that.  
I guess that is what happens when a parent feels there is no other option to try to get to the bottom of what is happening with their child.

IEPs?  I’ve done them.  Last year I had 5 children with IEPs.  Do you know how many meetings that requires? Then throw in the little fact that the school did not want to find several of my children eligible for special education services or adequate services despite extremely obvious needs.  Factor in that I had to go through the entire eligibility process for several children only to get to the end of it and be told “Sorry.  Your child doesn’t qualify for that.”  I had to request outside evaluations that took months to have completed, then reconvene with the school to discuss those results.  Oh and I had to find an advocate because this process and the findings of those evaluations were met with great resistance from the school district.

After a disastrous experience at Moss-Nuckols elementary school, we moved to a different elementary school district in the same county in hopes that a different school with different staff would be more supportive and helpful to our family.  We are a single income family with (then) 6 children that was balancing two mortgages in a desperate attempt to give our kids what they needed.  I desperately wanted it to be worth it.  For a few blissful weeks I thought it would be.  Unfortunately, I realized very quickly that it was the same song to a different tune. I was lied to straight to my face by an administrator at Open House then realized it months later. The teachers either didn’t understand how to or chose not to properly implement their IEPs.  Despite massive amounts of data and very specific recommendations from a board certified neuropsychologist, the school chose not to provide the types of programs and accommodations my children needed for their severe dyslexia, PTSD, expressive receptive language disorders, processing deficits, math disorders, central auditory processing disorder, and other learning disabilities.  The hours I spent researching meant nothing in the IEP room.  I was the mom, but they were the “experts.”

I fought like hell to get what I could.  I did my best to explain what was needed for my children to be successful.  It was the longest hardest most frustrating battle of my life.

Even though I wasn’t happy that my children were not being given everything that they needed, we did reach some compromises. I was happy to continue working towards more if only the IEPs were followed.  At least once a day I was hearing from my children or discovering for myself at least one instance of an IEPs not being followed.  One memorable homework issue went on for months involving the teacher, the principal, and  finally the Special Ed director who was the one that finally told me to just not do the homework since her teachers couldn’t send it home in a form my kids could complete.  

A mother can only take so much.  I was labeled as combative, nit-picky, and always looking for problems.  I had my Facebook posts copied and sent to administrators in Central Office then passed on to the school board’s lawyer.  Members of our church that also worked at my children’s school participated in spying on and talking about me, and when we tried to explain what our struggle was to our pastor, he refused to talk with us about it.  We lost our church over trying to get our children the help they needed in your special education system.  I lost so much time with my children because I was always glued to a computer doing more research, trying to find a way around the most recent roadblock the school had thrown in my way.    

All of this would have been worth it if I had succeeded.  But you see, I didn’t.  I became pregnant last December and the IEP meetings had become so stressful for me that my midwife wrote a letter explaining that it was life threatening for me and my baby to continue attending.  I couldn’t sleep for days leading up to a meeting and was having anxiety attacks.  My life had been consumed with IEP meetings, evaluations, lawyers, advocates, emails, and phone calls.  
And then it wasn’t.  
I had to stop it all for the sake of my unborn child.  

The sudden pause gave me time to reflect.  What the hell was I fighting for?  The evaluations showed my children were not improving.  I had frustrated, angry, anxious kids that the school insisted were great!  I had fought to get special education services for my children for two years and after finally getting IEPs, they weren’t being complied with. I think the final straw for me was the day when I took my son to his pediatrician and found out that the school counselor even went so far as to lie about contacting my son’s doctor.   

We consulted a lawyer, and considered Due Process for each of our 5 kids with an IEP, but he said that there was no point to Due Process because for whatever we may gain, the school could continue to choose what they wanted to do or not do.  We have completed 2 international adoptions for 4 children.  We are ok with doing incredibly difficult things as long as there is a purpose to it, but this scenario left us with no positive ending.  Why fight a hellacious battle when even a win was a loss?

I found myself on a battleground with our school district.  Me on one side with limited time, money, and resources, and them on the other with their lawyer and a blank check.  The question became “Where do I want to focus my time?”  On fighting?  Or on my kids?

I chose my kids.  We sent our Notice of Intent to Homeschool for the 2015-2016 school year before school was out in May.  

Now I have 7 children at home ranging from newborn to 13.  I spend my night up with the baby and my days teaching.  I have no access to the resources that the public school system does.  I blogged about the Dyslexia curriculum I wanted so the author would send me the downloads for my children for free.  I joined used curriculum Facebook groups to save money, and I spend my “free” time researching ways to teach my kids that line up with what was recommended in their Neuropsychological Evaluations that the school blew off.  

If you asked me what I needed to help my children learn I could tell you.  I’d say that I homeschool on a shoe string budget, but that’d be a lie because we don’t even have a homeschool budget.  My husband works his butt off for us, but there is nothing left over to purchase the items I need for my special ed kids.  

I do not have a teaching degree, but I can tell you how each child learns.  I stretched myself to the limit for years trying to make the school system work for them and now I stretch myself to give them what the school never would.  There are times I have nothing left to give.  I go to my room to cry then somehow talk myself into finding a way to give just a little more for just a little longer.  What keeps me going is something the school could never show me: Progress.

My kids that couldn’t read are starting to read.  I realized I have two incredibly gifted artistic boys.  I’ve discovered how Dyslexic children learn, and its not how I learn.  I’ve had to teach myself how to teach them, but it is working.

What keeps me up at night is the ever present question of “Am I doing enough?”  We have 1 iPad, 1 ancient desktop, and 1 Laptop.  Where we moved, we no longer have access to DSL so we cannot stream or access many of the learning programs available on the internet.  It kills me that we find ourselves in this situation.  My children are 110% better off at home with me, but I lack so many of the resources that I need to teach them and it eats me alive.   

Constantly my mind wanders, making up possible scenarios of how I could try to get “x, y, or z” for my kids.  I am never not thinking of ways to do a better job.  I am not just doing my best, I am doing what is required and I will continue to do so until my last child graduates.     

I’ve been told that this is, “Just the way things are” for special needs kids in Louisa County, VA.  I know other parents in this same scenario.  My situation is exacerbated by the fact that I have not one, but five special needs children. Some have said that I deserve this because we adopted many of them, but the law tells me that they were entitled to better.  Our taxes go to both Louisa County and the Federal Government, yet we got a raw deal.  The system utterly and completely failed us and our children in every way possible leaving us with nothing.  In accordance with the state laws of VA, we are now in the position of having to prove “adequate progress” to the school district at the end of the school year in order to continue homeschooling.  Adequate progress is something that Louisa County Public Schools could never achieve with my children yet now I am expected to do just that without any of the resources they have.    
I’m not writing this letter to inform you of these things.  You already know.

My question to you is, “Why is this acceptable?” 



Emily said...

You nailed it! Well said. You're doing a great job, Momma.

Pirvin said...

You are doing a great job. We raised two adopted children here in Alberta, Canada, which is quite different from the States. I urge you not to be so hard on yourself, you are doing a great job. When we adopted our children from Peru over 25 years ago, the best advice we got was "just love them". That is what matters in the end.

LMarks19 said...

Hi! I read this post and I'd love to help. I have one iPad that I'd like to donate to your family, if you'd be willing to accept! It's an iPad 1, but hardly used and still works great! If it's something you'd be able to use, please email me: Lauren.marks2@gmail.com

We witness a miracle every time a child enters into life; but those who make their journey home across time and miles, growing within the hearts of those who wait to love them,are carried on the wings of destiny; and placed among us by God's very own hands. --Kristi Larson