Thoughtful Thursday: A Fresh Start

A Fresh Start

Six and a half months into the school year, we are finally making some big changes to help Anna. This year has been the worst ever for her. She started at Canyon High School (CHS) as a freshman in August of 2016 and things were bad from the start. I’ve been saying since the second week of September that her placement was wrong. I knew it… I can tell. I’ve been through this twice with her where her behavior is so bad, it indicates a crisis. It’s her only way of communicating how unhappy she is. After last year in 8th grade, it took us until Thanksgiving to fix the problem (which was a teacher personality conflict) and we swore we would never allow that to happen again. This year, back in September, we told the district head of special education that we were not allowing our daughter to go through months of bureaucracy and suffer in order for them to check off their boxes. Both times when we made a placement change, things improved dramatically. I knew CHS wasn’t the right place, I knew it. It was too big, there were too many transitions, there were too many children in each of her classes, and they have had an extremely unfortunate staffing issue with keeping teachers and paraprofessionals hired and retained. But we kept getting the party line of “Well, let’s try this first.” “We haven’t exhausted all of our options here yet.” “We’re not ready to give up on her home campus yet.” And you know what happened? I allowed them to keep trying things instead of insisting on changing her placement.

We continually requested meetings and training sessions with the staff. We got one and that was in early November. When we gave them some tips, they were like, “Aaah, that’s so helpful!” I had written all of that out at the beginning of the year and had given it to the staff and school administration.

We had been requesting video of her meltdowns, rages, aggression, and room clearing events. They are still installing video equipment. Then we were told in the October ARD that we wouldn’t be allowed to view the video even when it was installed because of HIPPA issues and that the video was only to be pulled in cases of suspected abuse or neglect. Why the hell didn’t they say that in the first place? So then we asked that that a teacher (or a para) video Anna with a cell phone (of course with no other kids in the frame). That never happened. We were willing and wanting to help them problem solve Anna’s behavior.

We have been requesting that a district specialist observe her behavior and make recommendations. It took them four months to make that happen and another month for them to compile data and meet with us. More on that later.

We had continual issues with the bus. Anna had been kicked off the bus twice and it nearly came to getting lawyers involved because they wanted to put her in restraints. They claimed that Anna was a menace all the time but we only ever got two formal reports. We got her bus driver changed and voila, Anna’s behavior was fine. (By the way, that’s the same bus driver that was responsible for my knee injury in November which the district also refuses to take responsibility for because I didn’t file the complaint within 15 days. Grrr. I won’t even get started on that fiasco. That woman ruined our entire holiday season and my knee will never be the same. I am still SO angry about it.) We greatly respect her current bus driver and aide. They are wonderful and they were not only willing to meet us for training, they wanted to know how to help.

So far this school year, Anna has broken (irreparably) four sets of glasses. She wears a -8.5 prescription. Those glasses are not cheap. At the beginning of the year, Anna started with one teacher who was a first-year teacher. She was super sweet but Anna is so complicated, we knew she would behave better with a more established teacher. So we requested a different teacher, which they accommodated. Yet at that time, we didn’t realize Anna was moving classroom to classroom each and every class period. So really a different teacher didn’t make that much of a difference. And why the hell are they moving the kids so much??? These kids have been in one room since PPCD. Move the teachers, not the kids! Oy vey. Seems like common sense.

Then about mid-October, they moved Anna’s teacher to a new program and made one of the aides the main teacher. This was the para that was helping Anna cope with all the change and now she wasn’t as available. About a month after that, they hire a new para that’s also a nurse. Then there was Thanksgiving break and Christmas break. Having the nurse so readily available backfired and only increased Anna’s perseveration on her health and she has spent the last few months complaining of ailment after ailment to avoid work and get sympathetic attention. Visiting with the nurse became a crutch and now Anna’s hypochondriasis is the worst it’s ever been. We cannot actually tell anymore when she’s really sick because she complains so much every day about multiple things. Also after the New year, Anna’s teacher began missing a lot of school because she had a baby at home and had daycare issues. Then there was a death in her husband’s family so she was out again. Anna had to cope with a lot of substitutes. One positive change though was that they allowed Anna to do her math work in this teacher’s room but she ended up bringing a lot of it home because she refused to do it at school. Right after spring break (long breaks are very hard on Anna), Anna broke her fourth pair of glasses, then the following week called 911 on the way to school saying she was having a heart attack. The ambulance met them at the school and it took a lot of convincing the paramedics that they didn’t need to take her to the hospital. School administration was angry. We had to take away all of Anna’s electronics and she still doesn’t have her phone back. But wait, there’s more! The following week (which was about three weeks ago), Anna’s teacher up and quit on a Friday with no notice. Seriously.

I kinda went ballistic. I threatened to take her out of school. I asked about the FBA (functional behavioral analysis) which we had requested in October. I spoke with the BCBA that did the FBA, then spoke with the Low Incidence Disability Specialist, then spoke with the Coordinator of Behavioral Services, then finally with the Executive Director of Special Education and Student Support Services. Each of these ladies is lovely, as are each of Anna’s teachers. I have no complaint against any one person. The program is messed up. They are woefully understaffed and there is no consistency or routine. We had an informal meeting where again I stressed that Anna needs to be in an environment with a stable teacher (ONE teacher), fewer kids, one classroom, and a smaller campus. The same things I’ve said all year. The FBA clearly indicated that Anna’s behavior is motivated by negative attention. So we had another ARD. That took place two days ago, lasted nearly three hours, and had 14 people in attendance. We all agreed that with the new substitute in Anna’s room, and a new teacher to take her place within the month, and with a direct line of sight to the nurse in the unit, it would be incredibly difficult to make significant changes in Anna’s behavior.

We got Anna’s placement changed.

Hallelujah!

On Monday, April 17th (one week shy of seven months since school started), Anna will start at Canyon Lake High School (CLHS). It’s the same exact driving distance from our home. The campus is much smaller, about 1000 students compared to 2500 at CHS. Anna will be with one teacher (whom I got to meet on Tuesday and Anna will get to meet this afternoon) and I LOVED her. She is retired from the military and has a calm air of authority about her. There are six students in the classroom total and they only go out for electives. Anna’s schedule will stay the same, she will go to Dance for 6th period and Ag for 7th period. It could not be more ideal. They don’t have transportation lined up yet so I will be driving her and picking her up but I don’t mind… I just want my baby girl to be happy again.

I’ve titled this photo A Fresh Start to represent Anna’s chance to start over. There is something about a beautiful sunrise that offers hope, isn’t there? We’ve lost a whole academic year (she really made no progress this year so far) but she will be going to Extended School Year (ESY) this summer with a focus on math goals. The thirteen people that joined me in that ARD meeting on Tuesday are very committed to helping Anna succeed, I just wish it hadn’t taken so long for this change to happen.

New Braunfels nature sunrise landscape photographer

Nikon D750 | 20mm | f4.5 | 1/250 | ISO 250

Join me in wishing her luck. And thanks for reading. <3

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