Monday, January 6, 2014

Public versus private and my rage

The latest thing that I am tormenting myself about is the decision as to where to send CD for kindergarten.  My sons both went to a Jewish private school for their elementary years.  While the school is too religious for us, the parent body for the most part are just as non-observant as we are so it hasn't caused much of a problem. The school provides a really good education and has been, for the most part, a very nurturing environment.  For a while, I assumed that we would send CD there too.  Our local public school happens to be very good but the class sizes are much larger than the ones in the private school and they don't have all the technology and multi-sensory teaching tools that the private school does.

CD does not do well with new authority figures.  There are also some pretty predictable sets of circumstances that set off an act out/shut down (fight or flight) response in CD.  In pursuing the admissions process to the private school I have been not only unimpressed but extremely disappointed in the way the school has responded to me in my communications with them.  The admissions process includes having the child play with a couple of other children while being observed.  CD will likely do fine with that if she knows a parent is right outside the door.  She loves playing with new friends.  After the play, however, she will be expected to go with a learning specialist for a pre kindergarten academic evaluation.

Here is the summary of my interactions thus far:

Q: If my daughter has difficulties separating, can a parent come with her for the evaluation?
A: No.

Q: My daughter has some stranger anxiety.  Can I come in a couple of times with her so she can meet the learning specialists before the evaluation?
A: No.  We have many shy kids, the learning specialists are great.

Same Q to the principal (she knows my family for ten years):  Can I come with my daughter to visit a few times. . .
A: No. We can build in a few minutes beforehand for play.  We cannot allow you to bypass our admissions process as it is important that we get to know your daughter.

Q: If she doesn't do well with cooperating with the evaluation, will she be given another chance?
A: No.

I assure you, the emails have way lengthier attempts on my part to explain that I WANT them to get to know my child but it is not my child that they will get to know if they expect her to simply go to another room with an unknown adult and be expected to answer questions.  We have been in many evaluation situations.  Her rate of cooperation has been 0/0.  She won't answer questions.  She won't even tell the audiologist when she can hear something.  Not even while sitting on my lap.  We have also been at birthday parties where CD is expected to take a turn on a trampoline while a staff member of some kid gym place structures the turn taking.  We have been to CD's dance class presentation.  She can't participate.  Her anxiety levels are too high.  Her brain senses a threat, however not real, and her body responds in a protective way.  When the eyes of an unfamiliar adult are on her, she freezes.  If she is forced to interact she will become hostile.

I avoided labeling stuff to the admissions director and principal.  I don't need my daughter labeled as "PTSD" before she walks into the school.  Labels tend to stick. So I called it "stranger anxiety," it sounds less scary and it is something very common in preK kids.

After several attempts to be heard, I finally wrote an email to the principal and laid it out there.  My daughter is not a shy new applicant.  She is a trauma survivor.  If the goal is to get to know my child, my job as her parent is to help you understand how to best get to know her.  I explained that if you saw her in her current school you would see the real CD.  If her admissions is dependent on whether or not she can leave with a stranger and show them what she knows, we'd better discuss this. If this will lead to her rejection from the school, this is something we should know beforehand.  I think I made myself clear in that final email.  I have been trying to recover from the rage I have been experiencing surrounding this experience and not allow myself to hate the whole school over these communications.  I am having a hard time.  The principal has since left a message on my home number (after I specifically gave her my cell number) and said that she was a bit taken aback by my email, that she thought that she was being helpful and can we talk.

And then the public school system.  I wrote about my experience with the child study team.  They interacted with my daughter like they have children telling them that they are mean and ugly every day of the week.  Yesterday, now that the kids are back in session, I sent an email to the public school principal and asked her, if when she has a chance, could we talk.  I, maybe, spent three sentences on why I wanted to get to know the school better and wanted to know how we could work on a transition plan to minimize CD's anxiety.

She wrote me back, on a Sunday, within TWO HOURS.  She would be happy to meet with us, show us around the school and answer any questions that we have. She understands that the transition to kindergarten can be very difficult for many of the children. Oh, and how does January 17 work for you and your husband?

There is something I just can't shake about all this.  The private school preaches "Tikun Olam," the name I use as a blogger.  This is not a school that focuses on Jewish rituals and rabbinic law, it focuses more on humanism through a Jewish lens. Tikun Olam is a Hebrew term which refers to a belief that each person has an obligation to make the world a better place in his or her own way.  So here my husband and I go and try to do a little tikuning of our own, but low and behold, there is money to spend on a million dollar renovation of the school but apparently money ran out when it came to increasing the school's ability to work with children with anything outside of zero emotional challenges.

I hope that I fall in love with the public school.





15 comments:

  1. The attitude of our local yeshiva toward my child with mild special needs (let me repeat, that's mild) changed my attitude towards religion forever. Happily, that child and my younger kids are in public school to stay.

    ReplyDelete
  2. We chose a very expensive private preschool for our daughter due to how they act with her, and respond to her needs. When we explained she had epilepsy, not only did they pass around the literature we provided, but they had special training on how to deal with seizures when they were getting renewed in first aid. When I tell them we're changing medications (again), they watch her more closely so she doesn't bite other children. They spend time with us before and after drop off/pickup trying to find out those triggers my child has. That to me means more than the money I'm paying or the religion they may or may not be teaching.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It means everything. The school setting is where our children spend the majority of their waking hours. What happens there, how they are treated there is everything. I am so glad that you found the right one for your daughter.

      Delete
  3. I always knew that about most yeshivas. However this is not a "yeshiva." The tuition is higher at this school than any yeshiva outside of places like Ramaz and the school has a huge endowment. It is really unfortunate. My sons, now 15 and 12, don't think we should send her to the private school either. To me, that says a lot. There are other options once she hits 2nd or 3rd grade for private schools in our area. I wish there was a school available for her age right now that has the best of both schools.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have heard about similar issues in a Solomon Schechter with a very good reputation. Public schools have much more volume of kids with special needs. Not only do they have to deal with needs, they've had the experience.

      Delete
  4. It's all about what the school can and will do. Some public schools are much better at the needs of kids with either trauma history or disabilities, simply because they have much more practice. Some public schools are terrible at it, because they only do just enough to satisfy the legal requirements for FAPE. Some private schools have a niche market of kids that fit their "ideal student" profile and a deep enough applicant pool that they don't have to bend on that at all. Some private schools excel at creating an environment that helps kids who struggle elsewhere to thrive there. You don't know which one you have of either until you need it.

    The fact that the private school expects any pre-K student to happily go off alone with a stranger is worrying to me -- isn't that something most parents spend time teaching 2-4 year olds NOT to do? On the other hand, is it possible that they really thought they were just dealing with a hovering helicopter mom? And now that they know that this goes beyond "typical stranger anxiety", they might be able to work something out? It always bothers me when people call a different number than I left, but perhaps the principal simply pulled up their file on CD before calling you and used that to get the phone number.

    Keep in mind that where she goes to pre-K doesn't have to be where she goes forever -- you can reevaluate as her needs change.

    Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Reminds me of how when. I was in middle school and moved in with my aunt. She tried to enroll me in the catholic school they went to, but since I had low vision they couldn't accommodate me. The kinds of accommodations I needed were for instance to be able to move closer to the chalkboard ( would disrupt discipline) and not have my notes graded( was great auditory learner, but poor note taker) Private schools can pick and choose their students, but in my mind that goes against everything religion is about.

    ReplyDelete
  6. G,
    This is actually for kindergarten, not preK. So the kids are going on 5, not preschool age. They think that with a little coaxing, all the kids can go with the learning specialist and that has been their experience. CD has been in the same preschool/daycare since she was 18 months. It is her safe place. Of course we can switch her school later on but when you have a kid who has difficulties with transitions you want to try to make a choice that won't have to keep changing.

    This is also a small school. I have been a parent at this school for 10 years. They KNOW what kind of parent I am and it certainly isn't a helicopter parent. The principal has personally expressed an interest in how CD has been doing since day 1. They know how she joined our family. The whole community knows. It is not like they have a lot of families who foster children. There is us and a couple that has since left the school.

    I think, as I have since heard from some other, the principal really doesn't hear me because she doesn't understand.

    I was told by the admissions director that the screening was to keep kids from entering if they weren't cognitively ready, that otherwise they believe every Jewish child should have a place in their school. And no, they don't have a deep applicant pool. Unless there is a big reason to turn away a kid, all kids get in.

    My sons did not have to separate from me at their evaluations. This is relatively new. I do not know why they changed the process.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I feel concerned that the private school is too rigidly process oriented instead of being goal oriented . . . Even if their process is 99% of the time effective in achieving their goal of selecting students well, they don't seem to be willing to consider exceptions. This does not bode well for their educational approach either.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Anon, agreed. I have been doing a lot more research and with the help of 2 readers who know me in real life, I think I have found a third option that may actually work. I am visiting the school on Tuesday. I am cautiously optimistic.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I know your school, and as someone told me many years ago "It's a fabulous school, but as soon as your kids need extra help, get out." I'm sorry that's turning out to be true for you.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I enrolled my kid in my local religious school because I believed in religious education. Unfortunately my kid has been through some trauma. The school had zero idea how to deal with a kid who has been traumatized. The processes that they had set up for dealing with out-of-bounds behavior and circumstances did not serve my kid at all, and there was no one to figure things out with us when he acted out. He ended up in a wonderful public school where they have the knowledge, skills, resources and compassion to deal with whatever comes up--and he is doing very, very well. Unfortunately, our experience at the religious school further traumatized him AND put a wedge between me and my religion. I know I am personalizing your post here, but I see a lot of warning signs in what you've written and I hope that you find a public school that you fall in love with. They're typically much better equipped to handle kids who need extra support.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Since I wrote this post I have visited a nondenominational progressive school, our public school and gone further through the evaluation process at the Jewish school. I expect that we will be sending her to the public school. The required separation (which I should have refused) at the eval at the Jewish school left my daughter saying she doesn't want to go there. From the mouths of babes. . .

    ReplyDelete
  12. I don't know if it makes you feel any better, TO, but I think your Jewish school's problem is likely incompetence rather than malice or failure on some larger scale to practice Tikkun Olam. I went to a school like the one you are describing, and it was known that they were completely incapable of dealing with kids with any kind of special needs at all. A friend of mine (adopted, actually) had some learning disabilities but really excelled in acting, and the school's "learning specialist" told her that she should quit acting so as to have more time to do her homework. My friend's parents, fortunately, had a lot of resources, and they got her out of there and into a private school that had what she needed, including a great acting program. I hope you find a school that is right for CD.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't believe it's malice at all. It is incompetence due to their choice of how they order priorities. The kids who leave because of non-special ed issues to go to public school should be able to be retained by a school with this kind of endowment. I am hearing about decreasing enrollment as have been asked about my opinion as to why. Among other things, this is a reason why.

      Delete

Anonymous comments are welcome but please choose a moniker.