(Written: April 30, 2018)
My husband and I frequently discuss the battle for proper services for dyslexia. Thanks to the now very public educational denial in Texas for services for our children, it’s become a frequent conversation of ours. What continues to surprise me even within our own school, is the difference in treatment from one family to another, how our son has so much more than his peers.
Why was I able to get more for our son than other parents get for theirs?
This question isn’t meant to sound egotistical. I know this is the case because of conversations I have with other parents within our school. I try to bolster those that I know and reach out to me up prior to their meetings, share what I’ve done, what sources I’ve referenced, etc. so their end result will be the same as mine. They share their results with me and I am always surprised that the manipulations and in some cases lies, continue to pervade. The censure by the Department of Education, while creating enormous discussion in Austin, has yet to reach our districts, despite the DOE stating the districts need not and should not wait for the TEA to take action.
But again why? Why, at least for today, does our negotiation have a different result than some others?
It’s hard to fight against a school / district. It can be intimidating and daunting. Because of this it’s hard to have the courage to stand up and demand more, to demand better. It’s easy to believe what the schools tell us. Depending on the chosen tactics, it’s easy to give in, or, in the inverse of that statement, it’s very hard to win. We believe our schools want what’s best for our children. Many fear confrontation. Some aren’t fighters or “feather rufflers.” Some schools use harsh tactics. I’ve heard a lot of varying stories of 504 and IEP meetings and many are awful and include intimidation and shouting. My advocate told me she’s walked into many 504 and IEP meetings where the parents were deemed “challenging” just to find the district’s attorney present to press the district’s agenda and to ensure the parent didn’t win.
Over a glass of wine on a recent fine evening, as my husband paced back and forth, the answer, my why, at least for me, became quite clear.
Because of my mother.
My mother is a lady in every sense of the word. She is small and graceful. She’s a very loving, God fearing woman who raised her children to have manners and believe in the sanctity of family, among many other things. She is a mother I both adored and feared as a child, and the only reason I feared her was because when angered she was a force to be reckoned with.
God forbid anyone messed with her children. If you did mess with one of us you would witness the small, graceful lady’s eyes widen slightly, her soft face harden, her head tilt just so and then hell would be unleashed. She never raised her voice unless she had to. She demanded respect and she received it. My teachers rarely challenged her because when they did they never liked the outcome.
One time when I was in 2nd grade, attending public school, my mother found out that for a few months I had been tutoring ESL children in my class instead of doing actual class work. When my mother appeared at the school the next morning to demand an explanation, the schools reasoning was that I was so far ahead of everyone else that I had the time to spare. She said then advance my daughter a grade. They said no. She informed them they didn’t have her permission to use me in this way and to stop immediately and teach me something. They again said no. She said fine then my daughter no longer attends your school. They said you can’t do that. She said watch me! They said if you choose to withdraw her this will take several weeks to process. She said wrong, it will happen this very second! They said you can’t do that. She said watch me! She charged through to the records room to the filing cabinet with my paperwork and said “hand it to me now or I will take it!” They again said you can’t do that. She counted down from 10. They handed her my file and she marched out of their office and into my classroom where she took me by the hand, grabbed my belongings and walked us both out of the school, forever. In less than a week I was a student at a private school where I remained through 6th grade.
There are several other highly entertaining stories, but this one above is my favorite, primarily because it’s mine. The others have to do with my brother’s and sister’s school adventures.
The long and short of it is, regardless of what happened to the three of us in school, my parents would sell their house and move, rip us out of one school and put us in another, go in and meet with whomever they had to and achieve what needed to be achieved.
And all of this instilled gumption in me.
As an example of my blossoming gumption, in my senior year of high school I got called into the principal’s office. There stood the Principal, all 3 Vice Principals and my school counselor. They informed me I had failed a standardized test and as a result I was being removed from all of my honor’s classes. I quickly laughed and asked them why they told us that this particular standardized test didn’t mean anything? They said they never said that and I quickly said “Really? Then let’s pull in and ask all of my classmates what you said because I’ll wager good money they will say the same thing I did.” I informed them that if they hadn’t told us it didn’t mean anything then I would have actually taken the test instead of drawing pictures in the bubbles. If it didn’t mean anything then why were they telling me and not my parents when, after all, I wasn’t yet 18 when we had this meeting. I informed them that because of their lie they had essentially sabotaged me and that my parents would take issue with their lie and these so-called consequences. I promised them that in no uncertain terms, they didn’t want my parents to find out what they were doing because I could guarantee them they would not like what would follow. They continued to hold onto their position, although a bit shakier, when I asked to be handed the phone. I said I had to call my mother. They said no. I said ok then, they could just deal with my mother in the morning. Within the next few minutes I was reinstated to my honors classes and my mother never had to say a word.
So I am very grateful to the fierce woman my mother was and still is today. I am grateful that she showed me that at least as far as a school was concerned (among other things as well), that it was her way or none at all, that nothing trumped her parental rights and authority. I am grateful that she taught me that when right was on my side, I had an obligation to my child to never back down. I am grateful to have been a witness to her fighting for all three of us. I am grateful that her fights for us are now good family tales we still talk about and share. I am grateful for her example as a woman and a mother. It’s her example that makes me not hold back from my son, which is the basis of my desire for him to see me fight for him and share the outcome, whatever it may be. I hope that like her battles for us that my battle for my son will translate into his willingness, desire and gumption to battle for his own children.
I am grateful to her because I doubt I could do this if she hadn’t fought first. My brother and sister can tell you I hate confrontation and that I do my best to avoid it, but this is different. My heart races when I think about the battle for dyslexia. My breath quickens when I hear of poor treatment, red pen marks and being called out or shamed within a school. I cry for every dyslexic child on the brink of depression, engulfed in anxiety, struggling to get out of bed in the morning. I pray for the parents who are trying to keep their children alive.
All of the reasons why we find ourselves here are just reasons, and none of it means it has to stay this way. We are all just parents doing everything we can for our children. We don’t need money or fancy lobbyists or anything like that, but we do need our voices, our collective voices, crying out for change. This is too important to stay silent even if they try to intimidate us into being so.
For those struggling, reach down inside yourselves and find your gumption. For those afraid of confrontation or challenging the status quo I promise you your gumption will become your best friend who will see you through many hard meetings. Gumption is fun! My gumption puts a smile on my face when fear and doubt threaten to overwhelm me, it keeps me moving forward.
Thank you, Mom! I wouldn’t be who I am if it weren’t for you. I love you!