Children are unique individuals and education is not one-size-fits-all. This is one reason why many families turn to home education, to provide a customized learning opportunity for their children. It may be even more applicable to children who are bullied, or have medical concerns or learning differences. Public schools are not always effective at handling bullying situations. They also must work with families if they want to pursue testing, but even services through the district are not always a good "fit" or meet a child's needs.
We respectfully share Sophia's story about her experience in her local public school and transition to home education. This is written by her mom and shared with permission. Identifying information was removed to preserve their privacy. We hope this is encouraging to others who may be struggling to support their children in their local schools and considering home education.
Basic timeline. For reference, she is in 9th grade now:
5th grade - first year at the local middle school. About halfway through the year, I noticed a cut on Sophia's wrist as I was brushing her hair. Come to find out she’d been bullied by a young man, especially during gym class. He repeatedly called her fat and asked if the refrigerator is the only thing she runs to. For reference, she has a genetic condition that causes severe laxity and she dislocates her kneecaps every time she runs. This causes her to fall. Evidently she was taking a full spill onto the ground in front of the whole class every single time she had gym. And this boy was bullying her. She went to the principal, SRO, guidance counselor and gym teacher many times over 3 months and expressed concern without me being informed at all. I pulled her from the district immediately and had a meeting with the principal and another administrator. They informed me that they withheld the information from me because they felt she was being manipulative in order to be homeschooled. I feel that even if this were the case, I should have been informed, as her parent. That’s not acceptable behavior if that’s what was happening. But it’s not. She was being bullied and humiliated in gym class.
6th grade - due to custodial issues, I was forced to put her back into the school district. I expressed grave concerns to the district that social issues would persist. Sure enough, about halfway through the year, self harm began again. I believe we pulled her and utilized the district for electives. I say “I believe” because she attempted suicide 3 times that year. One time she came quite close to succeeding. We discovered she was being sex trafficked online.
7th grade - due to custodial issues, I was forced again to put her back in the school district. I requested a full IEP evaluation. They placed her in the social and emotional learning program and tried to tell me an IEP wasn’t necessary. I insisted and testing did reveal such severe anxiety that she could not access the curriculum. She ended up on a medical withdrawal toward the end of that grade as this was when we discovered her genetic disorder and several other severe medical conditions- one of which is exacerbated severely by stress. It took most of the year for me to negotiate the IEP to a place where I was remotely comfortable that my daughter’s needs were being met there.
8th grade - She continued in the same SEL program with the same main teacher. Her conditions at this point were significant enough that they could not mainstream her for anything but math (she wasn’t really mainstreamed for that either. It was on pace, but small group). Once Covid hit, and we went remote, they wanted me to mainstream her for everything. I said no. They asked me to try. I consented to try. In the very first mainstream class, ELA, during the very first lecture she’s ever had by this teacher, the teacher says “open up to chapter 17”. My daughter went into a full blown panic attack. She didn’t even know what novel. And didn’t know how she could catch up on 17 chapters immediately. Or why she should as she’d been doing her independent studies in all her classes but math all year long. Her teacher and I negotiated and came up with some projects to do that would fulfill the requirements for attendance and grades. But, she went from 4 hours a day in SEL with 30 min a week with her social worker to 25 min check ins per week with her teacher and 30 min a week with her social worker. During this time, I was continuing to see patients face-to-face and her anxiety around Covid was immense. She’d wake up daily and cry asking if I was going to work. I asked for additional support from her social worker and was told I was utilizing the school services inappropriately. Now, if she’d shown up to the brick and mortar school a hot mess, they’d have given her an extra session with someone - a social worker or counselor. Anyone.
Present - I reached out to the school asking for a team meeting because I was unclear how remote learning would work for a high schooler with an IEP. I was granted a meeting. I asked if it was possible to get the curriculum with the competencies in order to try to make a creative mechanism for this non-typical learner to demonstrate competence in an immersive, integrated, project-based manner for all core subjects but math and to mainstream math only. I was told it might be best to homeschool by the head of special ed department. She explained that what I wanted was not possible and the most they’d entertain is approaching each individual teacher to determine what they’d allow for demonstrating competence - for each competence that needs to be demonstrated. So basically they want this child who has severe anxiety and several severe medical conditions to have to negotiate her education with each teacher every 4 weeks for the whole year. How does that seem right to anyone? So, I took the district’s own advice and am homeschooling. This means I’ve lost the IEP I worked so hard to get. It means the school will lose her additional funding. And it means I don’t get the funding to help her. In the 2 days I’ve homeschooled her, this child has completed 1/3 of a year of 10th grade geometry, 1/8 year of algebra 1, 3% of a year of biology, and is starting a comprehensive research paper on HIV. I am happy to provide proof of my academic claims if needed. She is clearly more than capable, and in my opinion, is the perfect example of a child failed by a school district.
Many thanks for reading this far.
-- Sophia's mom