by Basilisa Perkins, mother of 2 and public health educator in Broward County, FL. Advocate for her girls and, at times, homeschool teacher to her daughter with special needs.
We found an at-home early intervention program just after she started chemotherapy. Outside of her medical needs, we knew Katie would need a lot of help. Unlike her older sister who was home with me and went on occasional play dates and visits to the library before starting preschool at age four, her path was going to require, as they say, a village.
When she turned three we were able to get her into a special preschool program for children with developmental delays. Despite being in treatment she went regularly and only missed school when she wasn’t feeling well or had appointments. It was close by and convenient.
She loved school, her teachers and her classmates. School was fun. School was an extension of her family. School was an essential part of dealing with life while in medical treatment. It was not just a distraction, but something that added a level of normalcy to our lives.
Then First Grade Happened
We began attending IEP (Individual Education Plan) meetings and working with our neighborhood public school to create the plan to help with her learning needs. And, in first grade, the problems began.
It all centered around our insisting they give her time to learn at her own pace; that grade levels shouldn’t apply to kids like her. She struggled to make progress as she “should” and we couldn’t opt out of testing. Even though we put her in tutoring sessions after school, we were continually being told she was falling more and more behind. Yet still, the school would not change their approach.
Imagine our added frustration when she started complaining of tummy aches to avoid going to school.
Done with advocating
Everything in me wanted my child to have the federal protections provided to special education in public schools. But after a few years, I realized that all I had to show for all those meetings was a whole lot of paperwork that I had organized into a two-inch binder.
School was not fun. In fact, school just reinforced the message that she was behind; that she was less than her peers.
So, one day I decided I was done advocating with her school.
In Florida parents have the choice of private school through the McKay Scholarship if we feel our special education needs are not being met. The initial search we didn’t reveal any options close to home.
So we decided to take matters into our own hands and try homeschooling Kate the following school year. This was never an option we had considered, but we also didn’t consider that our school would let us down so magnificently.
Truth be told, I was deeply conflicted and furious. I knew how hard this kid fought to be here; to go to school; to just to be a kid.
I believe in public education and the necessary accommodations they must afford to those who need it. And, there were some special people. Like Ms. Dawson, her special education teacher, who we met in kindergarten and worked with her through first grade. She was an amazing woman who not only taught our daughter skills, but made her feel good about herself.
And, there were some benefits. I gained tremendous knowledge about my child’s needs and her strengths, as well as her weaknesses, after years of advocating.
But, it was important to take control of our lives. There were tougher decisions we had faced head-on about her medical treatments. This was nothing in comparison. So, though it was a disappointment, it was time to brush it off and forge ahead. School would not cause us to feel stressed and powerless anymore. We would do it our way, like we had to do so many times before.
*Photo cred: Top-Keith Spencer, portrait- Susan Alvarez.