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Warshaw Law Firm, advocating for the educational rights of special needs children, is dedicated to protecting the rights of children with disabilities and children who are the victims of or accused of bullying, and assisting families in crisis through mediation and collaborative divorce.
It was Lee’s first day of school, senior year. I’d dropped her off and just arrived home when the first three texts came in.
“They gave me Peters for math again!”
Over my dead body, I said to myself. How many anxiety attacks had Lee suffered sophomore year trying to keep up with his unrealistic demands? How many IEP meetings had I gone to, asking for more accommodations so she could survive? It took most of the school year and a lot of therapy for Lee before a Special Education Coordinator for the district got involved and moved her to another class.
“New school counselor,” she texted.
“Doesn’t know anything about me.”
As I drove to the high school, I thought back to when Lee was nine years old, and her elementary school posted the teachers’ class lists. I found Lee’s name under a third-grade teacher who had a reputation of being great with the honor kids, but terrible for the ones who struggled. I felt tears sting my eyes. The mom standing next to me said, “Don’t take it so hard. Some teachers are good; some are bad. You just have to roll with it.”
I turned away, feeling my face burn. It’s not her fault. She has a typical child and doesn’t understand. But as any mom of a child with ADHD, anxiety, and SPD knows, a teacher can make or break our kids.
At the end of third grade, Lee’s self-confidence had plummeted, and even though she hadn’t failed the grade, she felt like a failure. I’d had enough, and knowing next year’s teacher at this school would be no better for Lee, I took action. With Lee by my side, I visited different schools in our district, interviewing teachers, trying to find the right one.
Mrs. Rose was our dream come true, tucked into a room with colorful medieval flags flying from the ceiling, children’s self-portraits lining the walls, and tropical fish floating on screens in time to peaceful music that welcomed us in. When Lee and I told her about the last year, she gave us a hug. “You’re home now,” she said.
In the years that followed, I never learned “to roll with it.” Instead, I learned how to fight, getting to know the diplomacy of advocacy, pushing for solutions. And much to my relief, Lee started to follow in my footsteps, taking over as her own advocate.
When I arrived at the school, Lee was waiting for me in front of the new counselor’s office. He waved us in and asked, “So, what seems to be the problem?”
Lee said, “I’m sure there are students who like Mr. Peters as a teacher and find his class interesting, but, sadly, I’m not one of them.”
“Why is that?”
“I have bad anxiety disorder, and his classroom environment and expectations cause my sensory processing to go crazy, which makes me nauseous and dizzy. When I was in his class before, I missed a lot of school.”
The counselor said, “I’m sorry, but he’s the only teacher we have for that class right now.”
“I have an idea,” Lee said. “Let’s see if my study hall teacher from last year, who also teaches math, is teaching that class.”
Yikes. I was all for creative, out-of-the-box answers, but the study hall teacher was college-prep level. Even though Lee had a great relationship with him, the pace and homework load would likely be too much. The new counselor left to check with a senior counselor, who sent us to Lee’s case manager to figure things out. It turned out to be an easy fix in the form of an online math class.
As we left the office, I could see that Lee’s hands were shaking. I put my arm around her. “You’re remembering being in Mr. Peter’s class, right?”
Lee nodded. “I wasn’t ever going back, Mom.”
I looked into her determined brown eyes and saw the young adult taking flight. A shiver ran through me as I realized that even though senior year had only started, this moment could be her biggest milestone. I really was backup now, and she was way out in front.