We worked hard on re-wording our complaints in a formal grievance process. The principal and other supportive staff finally understood the issue at hand, and then they got creative about how to meet it. Long story short: my kiddo is starting on Thursday with the new teacher and in the classroom that we parents and our child's psychologist was requesr. WOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOO!
I will also be meeting with a school board member in a few weeks to discuss how we can improve access and accommodations for kids affected by trauma throughout our district schools, and we'll see what comes from that! I'm a stubborn Mama Bear for our children but I'm also a fierce advocate for all kids. This isn't a win until it's a win.
Hi. I'm Shannon. My husband Lee and I have six kids, some by birth and some by adoption and all fiercely loved.
Part of how we came to adopt is our belief that every child deserves an advocate. Ideally, that advocate comes from the family or community a child is born into. Given my own experiences with childhood abuse, we knew the ideal isn't always the real.
We don't deserve any kudos for advocating for any of our children. They are all ours. They are all worthy. Growing inside me doesn't make two deserving and the other four charity.
No, I am Mama Bear to each of our six.
Usually, I'm successful. I have an undergrad degree in communication and a graduate one in education (specifically special education, so I know the legal pathways we can take). We've had the gift of passionate, child-focused teachers and administrators.
Until now, unfortunately.
I do think it can be different. I have hope. I think the principal we're facing wants to do the right thing for our child. The issue at hand is both simple and complicated:
We have a child with PTSD.
This WCPSS principal isn't treating PTSD as if it's real.
She treats our kids as if their smiles mean they're not affected by the past. This principal even ends each email with "smiles," followed by her name. But we need her to look beyond the smiles and believe PTSD is real.
Our child's diagnosis is well documented. The story is not mine to share, though. I won't use our child's name or pronouns throughout this piece to protect their identity. Some adoptive parents tell their child's stories, including the deepest trauma and struggles, as if they're the center of the story. We aren't.
Hear. This. Clearly: We never were meant to be the star of our child's show.
What can I share with you the trauma this child survived, though? Here's a story: This is a child who asked, "you no beat me?" whenever caught in trouble in the first two years in our family. Let me say that again: this is a child who asked "you no beat me?" to any adult. Again, this child didn't expect the answer to be "no, sweetheart, I won't beat you" each time because they had received the opposite in the past.
Miraculously, this child knows safety now and trusts us. Beyond us, few are trusted. Our child has known that previous teachers weren't going to physically beat them, but that's as close to trust as they got. Because our child didn't feel safe in those previous classes, academic performance and overall motivation has always been challenging.
Simply put, because of PTSD, this kiddo is below grade level in reading and math.
We were all looking forward to this school year. For the first time ever, our child could have a trusted teacher and an optimal environment for learning. As a child who has shut down in every other classroom, this year would be different. They only trust five adults, including me and my husband. One teacher is on that short list, teaching in the same grade our child should have entered with fellow classmates two weeks ago. We expected our child to flourish in that classroom.
We took all the possible steps. We submitted a parent input form on May 11, 2018, asking for this child to be in the trusted teacher's class. I emailed the principal on May 18 to make sure she got it, but because she routinely doesn't reply to emails, I didn't consider it concerning when I didn't hear back.
Then our child was assigned to a different teacher with no explanation.
Unfortunately, now the principal insists that I never turned in a form on May 11, despite two parents being in the office as I did so who remember seeing me turn it in. One parent remembers because we chatted about how this was the first time in a long time that she wouldn't submit an input form for the next year because she wouldn't have any elementary school students in the coming year. The other parent was submitting her input forms at the same time I did.
What happened to my form? I don't know. I won't speculate. I don't know if it was lost or misplaced or discarded, so I am not accusing this principal of anything. Meanwhile, this principal says I'm lying about turning in the form.
We emailed and left phone messages through the two weeks leading up to school starting. The principal only responded once we involved her boss. By then, school was about to start. She offered to meet with us on the first day of school after school had already started; only one of us could attend that meeting because we couldn't put our child in the position of seeing friends enter classrooms while not having no place to go. I was sick, so I was the one who stayed home. I ended up meeting with the principal the next day.
Her second argument emerged in those meetings: "That class is now full. It wouldn't be fair to move a child from that teacher's class because school has already started."
Again, she chose to ignore us until we escalated our communication to her boss. This is a key point. Had she cared to respond before then, in May or even in early to mid-August, our child could have been moved easily. The barrier the principal stands by is one of her own making. She can make the change, but she doesn't. She can even request permission to add one more child to the desired teacher's classroom, as the average class size for each grade is the primary concern. I don't care how she solves the problem she created, but it's up to her to solve it.
But this is about more than a desired teacher. We aren't throwing some fit because we want or prefer something but could accept something else. At this one school, we have had 22 different teacher assignments (including one that was changed right before school started a few years ago). We have accepted 21 of those assignments with no fuss. This one is different.
Our child's diagnosis is not being treated as if it's real. But PTSD is real, WCPSS.
Our child's psychologist is licensed and has her doctorate in psychology. She wrote a supporting letter for our request. I won't share all of it, but here are some pertinent details:
In summary, the basic treatment goal is for our child to trust big people. That's why this teacher assignment isn't a mere preference. It's a need, based in a real diagnosis that impacts every facet of life, especially learning.
The letter from the psychologist continues,
Note that May 11 bit? That form, that I completed with psychologist input, is the one our principal says I never submitted. We did. Accusing us of lying, this principal is bold enough to insist confidently that that I didn't submit the form.
(In her last email to us, she claims I didn't turn in the form on time, so I wonder if they found my form after all and have changed their story to say it was submitted late when it was not.)
If you don't understand why this principal won't provide a suitable learning environment, you're not alone. It doesn't make sense. It isn't logical.
This principal action's and WCPSS's support of her shows us that they don't consider PTSD to be a real and serious condition. Science says they're wrong. Psychology says they're wrong. Historical reports and research says they're wrong.
In fact, I asked our photographer not to edit out the tombstone in the background of our first family picture. Some things that have died from our pasts live on because trauma's tentacles hang on to us tightly. Trauma - mine. theirs. ours. - is like a ninth member of our family. We have hope, yes, but we also carry trauma. The trick is simply to work toward the hope being greater than the trauma.
We have documented everything painstakingly.
But, in our state, the principal has final say on teacher assignments. So, here we are. WCPSS won't help. Everyone else in the district, other than this principal, has conceded that this is not ideal but repeated the party line that the principal is the only one who can change student placements with teachers.
WCPSS, PTSD is real.
On today of all days - World Suicide Prevention Day - it would make good sense to recognize mental health diagnoses as necessary in educating the child. After all, adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide than nonadoptees. Why? It's a toxic combination of trauma, grief, and more. That toxic combo includes schools saying no to reasonable accommodations because they don't think PTSD is real.
I don't want to be writing this. I don't want to be fighting this fight. I don't want to be calling out the principal and school system.
But I'm a Mama Bear. I fiercely love and advocate for each of my children. For my children and for all the families lacking the privileges I have to persevere through this, including the privilege of time to keep our child out of school (and, if necessary, homeschool). But every family isn't able to do that. WCPSS needs to treat PTSD seriously for the sake of all students and ensure schools are trauma-informed.
It really is.