Opening new doors

A few months ago, I said I would never blog about my kids again. I’m going to make an exception for this post. I also mentioned that it had to do with a legal dispute and how what I said on this blog was twisted and used against me.

Now the legal matter is over and I’d like to set the record straight about what I was talking about. I started this post at least 30 times, trying to find the right words to explain what happened once and for all. Part of me wants to maintain silence. Part of me wants to say what happened to serve as a warning to other parents of special needs children who may be considering due process.

Guess which part wins?

My daughter is a tough case. She has Asperger’s Syndrome, which can make her challenging to understand and educate. She has an above average IQ, yet most of what 12 year-olds know about relating to other people is a completely foreign concept to her that she has to learn step-by-step. In the public school over the course of 2 years (4th & 5th grade), I watched her erode in front of my eyes. I saw the district staff value my daughter less and less, and blame her (and me) more and more for her inability to focus and communicate effectively. They refused to understand what her disability was doing to her, and they were stabbing in the dark trying to find interventions that worked.

In January 2007, I was still hoping that we could find a way for Laini to be emotionally successful in the public school. I was becoming more vocal about my dissatisfaction at meetings and I started seeking private therapy services and evaluations, but I had not spoken to or hired an attorney, and at that point I wasn’t thinking for a moment that we would be sending Laini to a private school.

At that time, I still considered myself part of a team that included my daughter’s teachers, school-based therapists and child study team. I thought that despite our disagreements, everyone believed we would work it out. I brought in a lay advocate and outside experts not to contradict what the district was doing, but to help the team figure out what could be done. They weren’t offering to figure out what was really going on with Laini, so I needed to do that on my own. Over and over again they were telling me that they didn’t understand what motivated my child. They didn’t get her.

I thought I was helping the team. I was naive. Unbeknownst to me, school district personnel came to my blog in mid January 2007, searched out posts from 2005 and 2006 where I talked about my kids education, printed them out and placed them in a file somewhere. How do I know this? Because those very blog posts were taken out of context and presented as “evidence” against me in the hearing in December 2007/January 2008 where we sought to show that the district’s proposed program for Laini was inappropriate. I was able to tell from the sidebar of the printouts when they were printed.

We were seeking reimbursement for the private school, and we lost. We didn’t lose the decision because of the blog posts. There are other reasons that the hearing officer decided against us which aren’t necessary to elaborate. I have no idea if the hearing officer cared about the blog post because he never mentioned them in the decision, but I’m sure those words taken completely out of context didn’t help my case.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over the feeling of betrayal. I am not as upset about the blog posts being used in the hearing. That’s the chance you take when you expose parts of your personal life online. I am livid that those posts were printed out months before my disagreements with the school district turned ugly. Months before I found the private school that specializes in Asperger’s Syndrome that has made the most incredible difference in our entire family’s life. Months before I hired an attorney. I thought I was part of a team, and the truth was that they were building a case against me. I shudder to think of what may be in other “problem” parent files.

I may rag on technology, but I have never ever posted anything negative about people who are working with my children. In fact, that was exactly the problem. They printed out my positive comments as evidence that I was thrilled about my daughter’s education, when the truth is that I made the conscious decision to only post the positive which isn’t the same thing. No one can say that Paula Abdul loved an American Idol performance because she said the kid looked great in their outfit, but in fact that’s exactly what the attorney did to me.

I can understand them coming to my blog out of curiosity and seeking out the education-related posts. I can’t understand how they could watch me express my frustration at things that weren’t going right in early 2007, and then print out positive blog posts from 2006 “just in case” they needed to refer to it or use it against me later. I can’t get past it. I probably never will.

We have decided that West Windsor, New Jersey is not the community we want to live in anymore. This is not the school district we want to support with our taxes. In Stamford, I spent a lot of time and energy working with the school district and encouraging parents to find ways of resolving their differences. I have to live somewhere that I can believe that everyone is playing fair. I can’t be sending email to my daughter’s teachers trying to work through an issue and be worrying about how it will be used against me later. I want to support a district that believes in my kids no matter what their test scores or how they compare to others.

So, just 3 years nearly to the day after we moved here, we’re preparing to put our condo on the market and move closer to Laini’s school. Driving her 50 miles each way to school and back is killing us, $4/gallon of gas notwithstanding. It’s not a great time to sell and we’re going to take a large loss compared to the price we paid in 2005. Luckily we have plenty of equity and real estate is far more affordable where we’re going.

We’ll be fine. We’re looking forward to what lies ahead. I even promised the family we can get a dog once we have a house with a back yard again. Most of all, I’m looking forward to putting aside the anger I feel here, setting the last couple of rough years behind us, and starting over in a better place.

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10 thoughts on “Opening new doors

  1. Oh, Judi.

    Reading this makes my stomach do flip-flops. I’ve wanted to ask what was going on, but I felt that “exceeded the scope” of our friendship and I didn’t think it was appropriate to pry. Honestly, I never would have guessed it was something like this.

    One of the joys I have in working in IT for a public school district is that I get to help those folks who help kids just like yours. It’s indirect, and vicarious, but I feel like I’m making at least a little difference. I’m sure every organization has it’s zeroes, but I think the team we have are more towards the hero end of the spectrum.

    I’m so sad that your family has had to go through all this. I just don’t get why advocating for your child’s needs would ever make you the bad guy. I hope that somebody somewhere who can make a difference finds out about this and starts calling people on the carpet.

    Good luck and, of course, if there’s ever anything I can help you with, please let me know!

  2. Judy – I’m sorry to hear this story, and very sympathetic. We have a kid who doesn’t fit the public school mode, as well, and had a frustrating time working with our school district to try and address things. But we never had him in the public schools, and I never blogged about it, because I had reason to distrust them from the start.

    The short story is that their motivation for working with our son was strictly to get the special ed funding that came with him. When all of their lying, blackmailing and conniving to get us to enroll him failed, they forged our signatures and enrolled him anyway. How did we find out? When we were summoned to a truancy meeting with a Police Officer present and our (at the time) seven year old’s presence required. Mind you, we didn’t go – we sicced an attorney on them. But it’s all pretty pathetic. What we had asked them to do, much like you, was assist us in funding his enrollment at a $20k/yr state-funded academy (not private school, but outside of the district) that specialized in helping children of above average intelligence with challenging learning styles. They wouldn’t even speak with anyone at that school, much less consider approving the redirection of the funds.

    Our happy ending is that we homeschool Ethan (which is a far more elaborate and expensive enterprise than simply schooling at home, of course), and he has responded brilliantly. But education in this country looks like a racket to me, that places the welfare of our children very low on the list of objectives.

  3. Judi, Knowing some of what was going on and knowing how long you have struggled to get the best for Laini, I have ached for you through this time. I’m so proud of you for always putting your daughters’ needs first. I’ve said it before to you privately and I’ll say it now in a more public venue: As a teacher, I wish more parents were as informed and proactive as you are. I’d much rather deal with a parent who wants more for their child with Asperger’s than with a parent who denies their child has a problem as I am forced to watch said child fall apart and slip farther behind with no real options for helping. It makes me very angry that your school district took what SHOULD be a team and a partnership and destroyed it. I think you are so smart to move away to a better place for your family.

  4. Judi Sohn says:

    Thank you so much for the comments. Jack and Liza, I’ve cyber-known you both for a long time and your support means so much to me. Thank you. Peter, let’s talk. 🙂 Let’s just say I *wish* Laini’s school was only $20K.

  5. Wow…. this is stunning. School officials printed out parts of your personal blog and placed it in…. your child’s school files???

    It’s no wonder that I rage on about the massive and excessive power that we, the public, have given public schools. It is not an education issue (and hasn’t been for many years). They believe that THEY are the caretakers and representatives of any child within their grasp.

    Here we have, quite clearly, a case of a child with special needs. And while I’m glad that Judi has invested and is investing quite heavily, both in time and money, in her child by yanking them out of that school and putting them in a private school more suited to her child’s needs, it is unconscionable that public school employees keep thinking (and think to this day probably) that what Judi has done is the wrong thing. They think they know what is best and that you, the parent, are a fool.

    What is truly sad is all the many others left behind by otherwise good parents who just have no idea.

    This has happened and will continue to happen because we, as a society, give the public schools this power. I recently saw a short 2 minute news clip about the 17 girls who were pregnant up north. Guess who the media interviewed on the clip? One 16-year old girl who had a baby last year (and who warned how difficult it is) and… wait for it… some school officials! Apparently, our society believes, inherently, that it is the school’s job to ferret out whether or not there was a “pact” for the girls to get pregnant. Guess who was not interviewed on the clip? The parents of any of the 17 girls! Hilarious as much as it was tragic. Folks, read John Taylor Gatto’s stuff and ask yourselves – quite seriously – if you really think you are giving your child the best opportunity in life by leaving them in any public school.

    When you parents go to the school system and ask for them to take your kids for after school programs, for them to teach them sex ed, to create programs for special needs, to promote every cause known to man.. you are giving them power. And reducing your own to the point that, like Judi here, when you do need to make a stand on behalf of your children, you will find yourself up against a tyrannical regime with very little real support on your side.

    Thankfully, the public school system is dying. Private schools and homeschoolers have led the way and are once again returning authority to the homes of children. The tragedy will be the remaining children, particularly those like Judi’s daughter, who get left behind as the publik skool system dwindles over the next 20-30 years, and who don’t get the proper care and attention that one would otherwise expect (based off all its false self-proclamations).

    Judi, you must be a very nice person. Because I can tell you that if I had my children in public school and that school had printed out my personal blog and placed anything, anything at all, from it into my child’s file, those school “officials” (what a dumb word we use to describe these useless bureaucratic dolts) would literally have to go into the witness protection program.

  6. Rick says:

    Judi: I was hoping when the situation was resolved you would let us know. I’m glad your daughter is getting the education and help she needs and deserves.

    I don’t have kids, and I can understand your decision not to sue – at least at the moment – but has this situation been brought to light within the district? Because you have to think if this is happening to you it’s happening to others.

    And it doesn’t sound like you to let this lie – though I only know you through your blog 🙂

    Good luck with the move and I hope it goes as well as possible.

  7. Hey Judi,

    OMW, that so reminds me of how my former partner was stashing stuff that he tried to use as evidence against me in a (failed) lawsuit. I completely get the feeling of be trail – you have my deepest sympathy. And, I’m also glad that you’ve found a place for your daughter to get great assistance with her education and that you’re going to have a house again too 🙂 I still remember all the renovation pics from Stamford.

    Note: Lawrence. I’m a home-schooling dad (with two older siblings and a sister-in-law that all work in education), and while we’re doing everything we can to re-establish the parents as the proper guardians of of our children – the state, the Feds and even the UN are doing everything they can to say that the government is the authority over our kids. It is still a long road and one that most of us are fighting every day.

  8. Judi:

    That is awful, horrible, and disgusting. But I’m glad your daughter is getting what needs …

    This makes sick and angry and little paranoid. I have a child who doesn’t fit the public school mode either (gifted). I have not blogged it – but the thought that they were building a case against you and used your blog posts .. that really is disturbing.

  9. Judi,

    I came to this post by way of the BlogHer post by Leslie Madsen Brooks. I too have a child with Asperger’s (and Tourette’s) who is quite gifted.

    We are in a legal dispute with his former (private) school regarding what we believe to be discrimination based on his disabilities (illegal under the ADA, Title III).

    Although I have never mentioned the school’s name and blog “anonymously”, I have been cautious of how I discussed the situation on my blog.

    That said, as things have heated up on the legal front, I noticed in my stats that the school began reading my blog, going back through my posts–most likely printing them out. I actually “outed” them as a reader of my blog, still protecting their identity, but making them aware that I knew what they were doing.

    Fortunately, we’ve had an attorney involved and advising us, which has helped immensely. I was trying to do it all, and nearly had a breakdown in the process. We will see how it plays out. But, I’m sure my blog will come up either in mediation or court.

    I do feel strongly that I have provided them no ammunition (good or bad) regarding the case, but reading your post makes me wonder.

    Thank you for sharing an obviously painful experience. And, all the best to your daughter. It is wonderful to read that you have found a school that “gets” her. What a blessing.

    We have opted to homeschool (actually, unschool) our son, which has worked out beautifully. I only wish I could take away the horrid experience he and we had to endure to get here.

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