The No Child Left Behind law actually turned into the No Child Left law. As soon as the law passed, special needs children’s permits were dropped like flowers chopped with a sickle. Teachers wanted nothing to do with children who struggled to learn for fear of being accountable for them—my two autistic sons included.
My oldest son, Sparky, was forced back to his home school in the fourth grade without an appropriate autism program and with a very inexperienced principal. Sparky’s road was difficult. He was placed in a main stream class. Students had to line up outside of the school building before classes began. It proved the perfect time to tease and bully Sparky. After school, kids would hold the doors shut so he couldn’t get outside to be picked up. Complaints were made, but little was done.
Despite the fact that Sparky was being bullied, he was the one who got suspended for getting angry. Finally, we had a meeting with the principal and he decided that Sparky would be allowed into the school through the front doors instead of waiting with the rest of the students, as long as he went directly to his classroom. The principal said he would handle the arrangements.
The next day I got called to the school to meet with him. I received a royal chewing out for Sparky’s behavior toward a teacher that morning and told Sparky was suspended again. I was furious—furious at the repeated trips to the school, furious about the constant calls, furious at Sparky’s behavior, furious at the principal. Later, I found out that Sparky had entered the school and headed for his classroom as planned. The teachers monitoring the halls had not been informed that Sparky should be allowed to enter the building and therefore ordered him to leave. Sparky knew he was supposed to go straight to his classroom and continued down the hall. A sixth grade teacher yelled and threatened him and tried to stop him physically.
Most autistic children do not like to be touched or cornered. He struggled and fought with the teacher and escaped to the classroom because he knew that was where he was supposed to be. Yes, he was suspended for this despite it being the principal’s fault for not informing his staff of the situation.
Events like this continued to the point that I jumped every time the phone rang. One day, I received a call to come to the school immediately that Sparky had brought a weapon to school and would be suspended again. I slammed the phone down, growling behind clenched teeth, and stomped out to the truck. My head throbbed and my stomach tightened.
It turned out that Sparky had found a straight pin in the hall (they said he brought it from home) and he had stuck it in his shoe as a weapon. He hadn’t threatened anyone with it, but they considered it a weapon and the principal suspended him again. Unbelievable!
I was sick to death of being called to the school to deal with an ego-ridden principal that knew nothing about special needs children. Before I could get the district involved, Parent Teacher Conference occurred. My husband and I rounded up Sparky, who hated going back to school after being there all day, and met with his teacher and the principal. Sparky’s teacher began with his test scores. He had 98% in math.
The principal whipped around the paper with his scores on it. “You mean he’s actually intelligent?”
My husband and I stared at each in total shock. Had he really just said that? And in front of Sparky? I couldn’t believe it. How dare he? Why was he even allowed around children?
Sparky’s shoulders slumped. I wanted to kill that principal with my bare hands.
With much difficulty, we moved Sparky to a much better school with a loving, understanding principal and teacher with a program designed for special needs children. Fighting for my son’s rights and well-being is something I have learned to do, because when I was going through school and was confronted with a difficult teacher, my parents told me that I would have to learn to deal with a lot of different types of people in my life. They never transferred me to a different class or school.
Through my son’s school years, I learned to see that the right or wrong teacher can greatly impact his self-esteem, his relationships, his life, and even his future. He needs to love learning as much as anyone, and….he has the right.
“Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.” —Kofi Annan
Cindy A. Christiansen
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