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Why I Want to Break Up With Public Education (and Can’t)

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I come from a public-school-educated family. Growing up, I only knew two kids who went to private school and that was in the Toronto area, far away from my hometown.

So, when it came time to enroll my kids, I never considered anything other than the public educational system.

That is until this system became the biggest hurdle to my child’s success. And I decided, like any bad relationship, it was time for a breakup.

Or at least a partial breakup. I now have a foot in each door — one kid in public school and the other in private school.

Action Not Words

As an advocate for kids with disabilities and diverse learners, it wasn’t an easy decision to pull my oldest out of the public school system. I’ve fought long and hard in this system to educate staff and administration on the gifts these kids bring to schools. I’ve advocated for my kids to get the (minimal) support they need. And I’ve spent countless hours in meetings with other families and administrators in hopes of making inclusion a reality instead of a word that gets thrown around.

And I’m continuing to fight. Hard.

But I also no longer trust the public system to keep my child safe – physically or mentally.  For us, the tipping point was years of bullying with very little preventative action.

Pink shirts and anti-bullying slogans don’t stop kids from coming home with trauma to their bodies and minds.

It was time to put my child’s safety first.

Fast forward to the orientation day at my child’s new private school. As the parents were mingling while their kids were on a tour, I struck up a conversation with a mom about her decision to enroll her child in private school. Turns out we had identical stories – our kids had been bullied for years, with little intervention or support. All while their self-esteem whittled away.

We chose a private school not just for their smaller class sizes (less room for bullies to hide) but also for their commitment to truly providing a safe and welcoming environment. From our new school’s website, to conversations with staff, to watching their interactions with our child, it’s clear they not only talk about kindness, but live it in their day-to-day actions.

My story about pulling my child from public education to keep them safe is not unique. Sadly, this story is playing out in homes across the country.

Cultural Shift

While I’m so grateful that one of my children is in a safe environment, I feel like I’ve had to make Sophie’s Choice. While I’d love to be able to afford to pay for both kids to go to a private school, that’s not possible.

Although my son has an educational assistant, and more in-classroom support, I still worry about his safety as he gets older. The supports he does have are the result of so many hours of meetings, emails, and working with his team to advocate for his needs.

Listen, I know that public education is limited in the supports provided to kids and that the system is stacked up against kids with disabilities and diverse learners. But what I don’t get, is why public education is unable to provide safe spaces for these kids. Or at the very least, show leadership in creating a culture where kindness is the norm, not bullying.

Through my professional work in strategic planning, I also realize it takes a long time to change the culture of organizations. But when a parent has to choose between having trauma inflicted on their child on a regular basis, or dipping into savings or a line of credit to ensure their child is safe, there’s something wrong with the system.

This is not the end, but rather the beginning of my breakup with public education. Like all breakups, I have mixed emotions, raw moments, and some teary eyes. I also see a brighter future than I ever could’ve imagined for my oldest child.

I will keep fighting for my youngest child who remains in public education, and for the health and safety of other kids. I’m hopeful one day the system will change. Until then, I will sleep better at night knowing my oldest is in a safe and nurturing environment.

Getty image by Fizkes.

Originally published: October 11, 2021
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