If you’re a parent — or you know a parent — who is having trouble with your child’s school, there are other options.
My wife Jessica and I homeschool our daughter Namine, but that wasn’t always the plan. It seems like a lifetime ago, but for 3K and 4K preschool, we sent her to a public brick-and-mortar school. That changed for a few reasons.
Ignoring IEPs is not acceptable
Unless you have a child with special needs, you might not know what an IEP is, and that’s okay. “IEP” stands for Individualized Education Program; it’s a plan put together through a team effort — with parents, therapists, doctors, and teachers all contributing input — so that a child with a disability can still receive an education from a school attended by other physio- and neurotypical children.
Jessica and I, with Namine’s doctors’ and therapists’ help, set up an IEP with the teachers at the preschool where Namine attended. In it were provisions for things like doing therapy during school hours (which mainly consisted of spending time in her walker), bathroom accommodations, and so on.
Namine’s disability is physical; for many activities, she requires her wheelchair. Her teachers chose to ignore her IEP and did not allow her much, if any, time in her walker.
Children with special needs are not all the same
Not only did Namine’s teachers not follow her IEP, they also took it upon themselves to group her with learning-disabled students. As I mentioned, Namine is physically disabled, but she is neurotypical — she does not have learning disabilities. Her teachers chose to ignore this and treated her as mentally handicapped, despite our repeated protests. (They also taught her to spell her name wrong.)
This right here is the very reason for IEPs. I’m going to go one step further, actually, because in an ideal world, I believe every student deserves an IEP. Everyone learns differently, and the classroom setting is never going to benefit everyone equally. But I digress.
We obviously don’t live in a perfect world, but we did have an IEP, which said plenty about Namine’s physical needs but not a thing about her mental capabilities. Therefore, there was no reason whatsoever for her teachers to deny her the opportunity to learn with the rest of her class.
Teasing will not be tolerated
Up to this point, Jessica and I were exasperated and at our wits’ end. But Namine was happy with school, so we continued to fight with the teachers so that she had a place to learn where she was happy.
Then suddenly, Namine’s attitude toward school changed. She made excuses, even lied about being sick and said she had to be taken to the hospital. We found out that she was being teased, even physically bullied, by other students.
When we pursued the matter with the lead teacher, she said she didn’t see it, so it must not have happened. We then took the matter to the principal, who said (and this is a direct quote): “Four year olds will be four year olds.”
We went further up the chain and contacted the school superintendent. Jessica sent her a polite letter explaining the situation, but she refused to look into it and said instead that she trusted the teachers and principal.
The behavior of the so-called supervising adults in charge of the school were obviously not going to do anything that benefited Namine, so we pulled her out immediately, even though the year was not over. Better she repeat a grade, we thought, than be subjected to teasing and bullying one more day.
After we pulled Namine out of school, I picked up Namine’s supplies which had been left at the school. When I arrived, the teacher informed me that we were making a big mistake. Not as big a mistake as letting a child get bullied.
Jessica sent the superintendent one more email, this one less polite. The superintendent responded, saying we can still work something out. By this point, however, our minds were made up. We didn’t know what we were going to do, but we did know we’d never send Namine back to that school.
Enrollment in Rural Virtual Academy
It was at Namine’s therapy where another parent informed Jessica of the online school Rural Virtual Academy . Located in the city of Medford, Wisconsin, it is a public school which any child in Wisconsin can attend.
Because Namine attends virtually — Jessica teaches her with the materials the RVA sends us in the mail — there is no IEP. (That may change in the upper grades if she takes a physical education class, but for now her therapy is her physical education.)
Attending a virtual school really was the best solution for us because Namine has so many appointments. True, she’s now past her three major heart surgeries, and there are currently no further plans for more foot surgeries, but she still has plenty of follow-up appointments with her many doctors. On top of that, she has therapy once a week. In short, school at a schedule we can define ourselves has proven ideal.
The other side of that coin is that online school is not for every student — or parent. Not every child has the work ethic required to stay on task. Not every parent is cut out to be a teacher. (Jessica is a teacher by profession, which has definitely proven an advantage.) Not every family can flip that switch from “parent/child mode” to “teacher/student mode,” as I have come to think of it.
But if a typical brick-and-mortar school isn’t cutting it for your child, for whatever reason, there do exist alternatives like the RVA. When we enrolled Namine, we had no idea if it would pan out or not. As it happens, it did. Namine is now in fifth grade, and loving school.