When Rain Hurts by Mary Evelyn Greene

April 19, 2010


Swinging with his Weighted Vest (Spring 2009)

April 19, 2010.  There is something seriously wrong when a 3rd grade math teacher tells us during our perfunctory CSE meeting that Peter understands the concept of angles and we counter that he can’t order a stack of playing cards, numbers 2 thru 10, from highest to lowest.  With heavy prompts and cues, Lindy helps Peter get through a practice State Mathematics Test, which will be administered to him in a few weeks.  It takes them two hours to work through 32 problems that are supposed to be representative of what he should have learned in public school to date.  Despite significant hand-holding, Peter only gets 3 problems correct (one of which was a guess).  No one wishes to discuss this, however, and they quickly move on to the next subject, reading.  The meeting, where the “team” rejects with little fanfare our request for a different placement, takes place an hour before school lets out so the kids are surprised to see Daddy with me at parent pickup.  On the drive home Peter announces, as though on cue, that he learned something new today -“obtuse”.  I know from the CSE meeting that he must mean obtuse angle.  I tell him that I’m impressed because obtuse is a big word for a little boy and he replies, “Mom, you learn different languages in 3rd grade.  I know Spanish and Australia, too, where I got borned.  Want to try with me?  Come on, Mom, its fun!”  I smile weakly as I think about asking him what an angle is but quickly change my mind.  I also decide to skip pointing out for the thousandth time that he was born in Russia, not Australia.  And because I don’t even know how to explain that Australians speak English, I don’t.  None of this is Peter’s fault and I don’t need to highlight his perpetual state of confusion to validate our point.  We know Peter doesn’t understand 95% of what he’s exposed to in his 3rd grade curriculum, which is why it’s ridiculous that the school insists on perpetuating this charade of progress.  Pat and I are so aggravated at the CSE meeting that we spend most of the time deleting emails on our IPhones to whittle away the time as each “team” member drones on about Peter’s respective academic accomplishments.  The reading specialist, who is dedicated and fair, struggles to meet her obvious directive to find progress where little empirical evidence exists.  Despite the extra daily reading instruction, Peter has failed to progress a single level since the school year began.  She has explained why he hasn’t progressed on paper but has given us detailed information regarding some “real” progress, especially with comprehension, which is vitally important.  We’ve accepted this – we know she’s a gifted teacher, but the school must be pressuring her to show “paper” progress.  The problem is a child must attain a certain reading rate and degree of fluency and comprehension, this time when reading both aloud and silently, to progress to this next tier.  Peter can’t read silently at all – he either can’t understand what he’s reading if he can’t hear himself or he literally can’t read silently.  This is virtually a direct quote from the reading specialist. So in order to show “progress” the school simply takes the conditions away.  Because illustrations distract Peter, and the physical act of turning pages is laborious for him, his reading teacher eliminates those criteria by typing out the words on a single sheet.  A bit of a cheat, but forgivable.  The part I can’t stomach is that she also eliminates the half of the test that requires Peter to read silently and demonstrate comprehension.  She let him read the whole thing out loud.  Voila!  Throw away the parameters and Peter magically progresses just in time for his annual review, which any way you slice it still indicates he’s reading two years behind his grade level.  After that magic trick, another teacher concludes the mercifully short show by solemnly admitting our son continues to struggle with written tasks, including speed of production, letter formation, spelling, spacing and punctuation.  But overall, the CSE team ensures us, Peter’s made tremendous progress and is completely prepared to charge full speed ahead into the adventures that 4th grade offers.  To add insult to an already injurious situation, a letter from the district superintendent, in part chastising me for addressing our dissatisfaction with the school via the vehicle of these journal entries, awaits me when I get home.  We live in this community, we raise our children here, pay exorbitant taxes, attend school meetings, contribute to PTA fundraisers, buy unneeded books at book fairs and contribute in a thousand other ways but this man has the gall to request us to sit back and suffer quietly as the school, with taxpayer dollars, proceeds to squash us like a bug?  Is he serious?  We’re running out of options, and when we’re out of options, so is our son.  When a school and those who represent it are more interested in building a false record that’s easily and consistently proven invalid by outside evaluators, including those the school itself hires, to save a penny instead of a child, all involved deserve to be outed.  What the school’s done to our family, in particular our son, is inexcusable and reprehensible.  And now the herd has circled and is protecting its own.  We have challenged them individually and we have questioned their wisdom collectively.  That much seems clear.  But don’t expect us to roll over and play dead just because they draw a pistol at a sword fight.  We’re the ones who are raising Peter, who are responsible for his future, his happiness, his very ability to navigate what for him is a confusing, scary, and enormously complex world.  We’re the ones whose reputations are being sullied because the school would rather dig in its heels than admit a mistake.  And what about Peter?  Do they really think they’re helping him by staying this course?  We’re not perfect by any stretch, but we have given everything to this boy, to his cure, to his future, to his heart.  How dare this man reprimand me like an errant school girl for expressing my outrage while he sits in his office and basks in the safety and immutability of small town politics and next to zero accountability.  Until someone offers our son an educational option that embraces his incredibly complex mix of disabilities and strengths, as well as accommodates his unique learning style, my advocacy, and when warranted, criticism and public revelation, will continue, undeterred.

18 Comments »

  1. I heartily agree with you in all you’ve said. A school that is more concerned with changing the rules so your child can “pass” than working with your child to understand how to teach him when he obviously cannot pass is not really schooling him at all. I am amazed at how difficult it is to deal with the education system as we have created it here in America. So many people with adopted children seem to have thrown up their hands in frustration and switched to home schooling.

    We put restrictions on sugar food and toys as an incentive for our child because they were counterproductive not to mention unhealthy. We were called to a meeting where we were asked to get out child evaluated by a child psychiatrist because we asked these rewards be modified. After meeting with the psychiatrist twice we were thrilled to be told our son is doing extremely well, that our approach is working and she didnt’ need to see him again! The teacher who started the whole thing was none too pleased. Instead of being happy our son is doing so well she is clearly annoyed that her plans have been disrupted. Ugh. At least the school year is almost over.

    Hang in there and keep doing what you’re doing. You know your son best and I am so impressed by the loving fight you fight for him every day.

    Comment by Ronda — April 23, 2010 @ 12:11 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks Ronda – and thanks for sharing one of your experiences too – no doubt there are others. The whole thing is so terribly frustrating, as I’m sure you appreciate – because we work so hard to get him regulated and in good shape at home, and after 7 hrs in school every day, he comes home a mess and we have to start all over again. It’s like Groundhog Day . . . but without the humor!

    Comment by whenrainhurts — April 23, 2010 @ 1:08 pm | Reply

  3. Hi Mary-
    What a challenge you are experiencing. As a parent of a child with ASD as well as being a local special education teacher, I am curious what “other placement” you and your husband had requested at your child’s annual review meeting. There are a number of local special education programs (Dutchess BOCES, Astor, The Center for Spectrum Services (formerly known as the Children’s Annex))that may be appropriate for your son, and the Red Hook School District has children in many of these programs. Do you have an independent evaluation that suggests that the district is not meeting Peter’s needs?

    Comment by Cindy Kirtland — April 23, 2010 @ 6:14 pm | Reply

    • This is our 2nd year in a row requesting a referral to the Children’s Annex. We have also requested referrals to Green Chimneys, which has a day program. Astor is a rough crowd and our psychiatrist (who is with Astor) does not think he fits the criteria (and this is the only place Joe DeCaro referred him as per last year’s settlement agreement even though he knew he wouldn’t qualify and we didn’t want him there). Peter was in a BOCES PEACCE class the first semester of first grade (imbedded in the Mill Rd School) and it was nothing more than daycare. The program (esp. the teacher) was so bad the school discontinued the lease of the space. And we do have 3 independent evaluations, one from the Children’s Annex, one from Jim Feeney (college of St. Rose) and one from Ronald Federici (we did this one privately – he is the world’s expert on eastern european adoptees and FAS). All 3 report similar findings and say Peter needs an autistic intervention program (TEACCH, ABA/VB, etc.) to address frontal lobe dysfunction (poor executive functioning) and one on one educational instruction. The other two private evaluations were a result of our filing for hearing when they didn’t accept Dr. Federici’s determinations – so they funded the IEEs, which said the same thing, and the school ignored those as well. I sure hope you have had more success with your child. Our experience, and thus our son’s education, has been disastrous. You know something has gone terribly wrong when CPS is called in a desperate, unforgivable move to subdue us.

      Comment by whenrainhurts — April 23, 2010 @ 9:33 pm | Reply

  4. Something doesn’t make sense here. I know that Red Hook has kids over at the Annex, as well as Dutchess BOCES PEACCE. I am the BOCES PEACCE teacher at Linden Ave Middle School in Red Hook, and I am aware that the program never really got off the ground when they tried it at Mill Rd.for a number of reasons. That teacher has since retired. (It isn’t a “lease”, by the way, that provides BOCES with the space, but that’s beside the point.) There are a number of other elementary age PEACCE classes within the BOCES, and I can assure you that they are solid programs with skilled staff. It doesn’t add up that the district would refuse to try an alternative placement, especially when you have all of this documentation.

    Comment by Cindy Kirtland — April 24, 2010 @ 8:40 am | Reply

  5. Mary-
    I FEEL YOUR PAIN! Just know you are doing what is BEST for Peter. We dealt with major ignorance when our son (now 19) was in high school. He has a diagnosis of childhood onset schizophrenia (not common) which the school system said they deal with all the time- HA- anyway, long story but they were passing him along grade to grade with him FAILING most of the classes- until I fought to actually have him place non-diploma just so he wouldn’t quit school. We ended up pulling him out and he live in a residential setting for 2 years. We sued the school system for compensation- I actually enjoyed the process (sick I know…) of fighting with them because they finally settled the suit- I know it’s not an admission of guilt but to me it is-

    They are denying you a referral to an alternative placement based upon the fact that they “document” progression- right? You can just pull him out and place him where you want… then sue them for the tuition. Just be careful because there is a clause in the “rights” documents they always hand out at all IEP meetings- you have to give them notice prior to pulling him and give them a chance to come up with a solution. That might not be a bad idea, send them a letter saying you are considering transferring him to what ever program you choose, give them a chance to “make it right” in the classroom which they obviously can’t do. And once they prove that they can’t provide the appropriate services you have a case for them paying for alternative placement.

    I would speak to a lawyer experienced in special ed law first- you might want to contact one anyway since they are not using their own documentation!!

    And as far as the superintendent harassing you over your blog… that seems a bit illegal!! What happened to free speech???

    Good luck and know that all of us parents are on your side!!! You are an awesome mom.

    Comment by ZoeAnn — April 24, 2010 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

  6. Mary, You show amazing restraint at these impossible meetings. Your listings of their failings seem to echo complaints and frustrations I hear from practically everyone who has to deal with the Feds or State entities that receive Federal money. It’s positively abusive…and Peter ends up being the big loser.

    I’m curious, what with all you’ve been through, what you think about woman who gave her adopted child the one-way ticket back to Russia. Personally, I condemn her method, but since I don’t know her or her situation, I can’t say that felt she had no other option. I read your postings here and wonder if I would have the ability to work through problem after problem after problem. I’m impressed with your strength and determination. And I wonder if the woman’s action will bring much-needed light on a very real problem. I posted a comment on some blog back when the

    As for your writing, it’s clear, engaging…and while the “enjoy” is sort of an odd choice given the sobering seriousness of your stories, I do enjoy reading your posts. Maybe because each time, I’m looking for that glimmer of evidence that Peter is making positive strides. When I go back and read your earliest posts it seems that even though you continue to have issues that would challenge Job, Peter has made very real strides. Thank you for sharing, Mary.

    Comment by Kendra Bonnett — April 25, 2010 @ 7:19 am | Reply

  7. I posted a comment on some blog back when the…

    Sorry, I got distracted in the middle of this comment and forgot to finish my thought. I had read several blogs/articles about the child being given the one-way ticket. The comments on those posts were typical…made by people who didn’t know what families like your go through to help these children, the terribly taxing day-in-and-day-out challenges or anything about the woman’s personal situation. In my comment, I pointed people to your blog so they could learn something rather than just spout opinion. As I said before, I don’t like what she did/how she did it, but reading your posts and understanding that your lives have changed 24-7 makes me believe that no one can say what they would do when faced with these challenges. I’d like to believe that we’d all be as strong as you and Pat, but who knows.

    Comment by Kendra Bonnett — April 25, 2010 @ 7:35 am | Reply

  8. My friend finally got her son in the FACE school. I know it’s not easy to relocate, but maybe they know of a school closer to you?

    http://www.faceprogram.org/

    Comment by 4Kids4karen — April 25, 2010 @ 7:57 pm | Reply

  9. Hello,
    My experience goes something like this. If you ask for a special program before the school district proposes it, then it likely won’t happen. However, the law says that all children must be receiving educational benefit. It sounds as if you could prove your son is not. However, our experience also is that with out an attorney the school district will not give you anything special (which could mean expensive or troublesome for them. (I have to go now, but I’ll be back and write more.)
    Christopher Duncan (Hudson Valley Education Advocates)

    Comment by Christopher Duncan — April 26, 2010 @ 6:43 am | Reply

  10. I’m back from taking my younger daughter to school. I;ve taken on the role of being a special education parent advocate. Below is the flyer I’ve developed that says a little about me, my experiences, and my services. I think a central thing that most parents do not know is that the law the regulations are written from the point of view of the “unique needs of the individual” (a quote from the law) and schools think in terms of groups, classes, and programs. This means that no parent has to put up with the school not addressing their child’s educational needs. There is in the Hudson Valley free, competent advocacy and legal representation. I live in the Town of Poughkeepsie. I would be happy to exchange emails, talk with you, or meet with you.

    Here’s the flyer (without bolding and so on that I seem unable to transfer to this comment page.)

    Hudson Valley Education Advocates

    Christopher Duncan M.S., M.Ed.

    “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” – Frederick Douglass
    (who certainly would have added “and women” were he alive today.)

    Christopher Duncan, Hudson Valley Education Advocates, provides education advocacy services in the Hudson Valley to parents of children and teens with special needs and disabilities at no charge. He is a certified teacher with 22 years experience as an educator. For eight years he has worked with the school district to get his older daughter the education she needs. In the process he has collaborated with educational evaluators, therapists, and social workers, and hired attorneys. After much effort she is now in a residential therapeutic school entirely paid for by the district. His younger daughter is also in special education. Her issues are not as complex, but it is still a complex process to secure the right program for her.

    In addition to his work on behalf of his children and his work as an educator, Christopher has participated in workshops on parent advocacy and special education and met with a number of advocates to learn more about the field.

    Christopher Duncan provides one on one services at no charge to parents as they navigate the special education system to ensure their child receives the right educational program. These include:
    Guidance and informational consultations to help the parent as they work on behalf of their child.
    Review of all reports, testings, and evaluations.
    Support in letter writing and communication with the school and school district
    Explanation of the law, regulations, and procedural rules for special education
    Participate in CSE meetings.
    Additional consultation services that would help meet the needs of the child.

    Christopher also presents workshops and trainings to groups. These trainings are designed to inform guide, support, and empower the parents.

    Christopher Duncan can be contacted at:

    845-489-3435 and hudsonvalleyeducationadvocates@gmail.com

    Hudson Valley Education Advocates is on Facebook

    Neither Christopher Duncan nor Hudson Valley Education Advocates provide legal services or advice.

    csd 4/15/2010

    Comment by Christopher Duncan — April 26, 2010 @ 7:43 am | Reply

  11. Press on, steady… Powerful story…

    Comment by marycoxpace — April 26, 2010 @ 4:01 pm | Reply

  12. A very inspiring entry. The ferocity with which we, as parents, will fight to get adequate provision for our children should not be underestimated.

    I am simply stupified that someone from the school district should chastise you for your writing here. (As if you wouldn’t write about the letter of chastisement!)

    They must be terribly embarassed at this chain of events being made public, particularly the child protection debacle. As you say, there is no accountability on their part, they think they are invincible and you have punctured that fortress here on your blog and that must be somewhat disconcerting to their usual blase approach to delivering substandard or even shockingly poor provision…

    Comment by Darla — April 28, 2010 @ 1:28 pm | Reply

  13. GET THE ADVOCATE!
    We experienced the same dismissing of my son’s issues, and endured being told that I needed therapy (!). I laughed out loud at that one…anyway, after years of trying, they did an about face when the advocate brought in all her recording equipment and took control of the meetings. Funny how official everything got after that…

    He is now thriving in a special school. For the first time EVER I don’t have the feeling that i am taking my regulated child and sticking him someplace that will dysregulate him then send him back home then blame ME for the ensuing meltdown.

    DON’T give up the fight!! And of course go after COMPENSATORY educational services, for all this mess they’ve put your sweetie through.

    FWIW, nothing you SAY matters. Everything you WRITE does. Start writing them letters, copy everyone and document EVERYTHING.

    Comment by Elizabeth — April 28, 2010 @ 9:47 pm | Reply

  14. Okay, this past summer I finally signed up for a special ed. law course at the university where I’m working on my doctorate, after teaching college for awhile now. It was my understanding from the course that the reason a school district might not want a child to be placed outside of district at a special needs education facility, is because they lose the state and/or federal funding. Also, the school district is responsible for the continued monitoring of the child when they are placed at another educational facility specific to special needs of the child. It’s about losing money. It’s about they will still be responsible, by law, in some fashion for the continued appropriate education of your child. At least that is how it was presented for Texas. Selfish motives plain and simple. I was advised to obtain outside testing for my daughter to counter the purported expertise of the school district. If I could prove that the qualified expert who tested my child and suggests she needs a specialized education setting outside of the school district, the school district would have to comply. If you need the name of the expert, please let me know. I would assume she knows comparable colleagues in other areas of the country. I obtained the specialist’s information from my adoption agency director, who now runs ATTACh. She’s a great resource. You can find her on the web. I’m sure she’d help you. She is a great resource of knowledge. She knows all sorts of people in the adoption/special needs field. Just trying to help here. I do wish you the best. You show amazing patience with your son’s educators. I’m experiencing a similar scenario now, newly refreshed, as it is every year with this school district. I am exploring other educational settings for my child right now.

    Comment by Lori — April 28, 2010 @ 10:19 pm | Reply

  15. Also, before you might pull your child from the school district, you would want to speak with an Education attorney. There is legislation that if you pull the child, before the school district is aware of the testing you have already had done on Peter (sorry I didn’t note that before, just started typing in an attempt to help) that proves he needs to be placed in a specialized educational setting, they can prove they are not liable for the transfer of the government funding to pay for the tuition. Proceed with legal advice. Private education is very expensive, and your family deserves it funded properly.

    I am so sorry that others are not kind about your blog. Guilty conscience I would imagine…lol Superintendent really thinks they are special ‘huh? lol Glad to hear CPS hasn’t turned into a rabid dog, and it’s the school district that is being a pain. In my case, CPS is the overzealous group here in Texas. School personnel here tend to be apathetic, just as the general population. As a midwesterner, the culture or lack there of, if quite wearing at times for me. It is a very definite drain on my daughter. Along with the apathetic teaching, there is subversive/malicious behavior from teachers toward my child. She’s from Russia don’t you know?! lol That’s what they don’t like. Yes, national origin discrimination is alive and well in the country of Texas!! Okay, I need to sign off, being unkind here…

    I think we all need Superwoman/parent/etc. t-shirts. Kiddos need matching. Maybe everyone would just let these little ones do the best they can and support them, if they were notified by the t-shirts. :)

    Comment by Lori — April 28, 2010 @ 10:30 pm | Reply

  16. No, never give up.

    Comment by marycoxpace — April 29, 2010 @ 10:35 am | Reply

  17. Please research your options well. You need to decide what you are trying to accomplish, as far as education is concerned.(Academics vs life skills) Some people love the Center for Spectrum Services and they do a great job with children. With that being said, please make sure you aren’t looking for a more academic based program, as they are not a strong academic program. If your child need services such as OT and counseling, know there are program maximums in place, which they will not surpass. There is almost no integration possibilities, unless your district has the ability to create them. CSS has some wonderful qualities but depending on your child’s functioning level, the program needs to be researched and questions need to be asked.

    We have our child traveling almost 2 hrs each way on a bus for his current program. We found out this year that he has made no progress academically while at his current placement. He went in his program in the 4th grade working at a 3rd grade level in reading, we are not entering 7th grade still working on a 3rd grade level. The district did educational testing and it was eye opening. We are now seeking a neuro psych eval.

    Orange County has a Wrightslaw conference in November. Please consider attending. http://www.orangecountynyddconnection.com

    Comment by triparoundthesun — August 9, 2010 @ 8:26 am | Reply


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