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To the U.S. Department of Education, From Complaint Number 11-14-1261

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Dear Department of Education (DOE),

You know me as complaint number 11-14-1261. I first had contact with you after a complaint I filed with the Department of Justice over our school district discriminating against my children was transferred to your Office of Civil Rights Division.

First I want to say that filing the complaint was not something I ever wanted to do. I had a rose-colored view of the public school system before my children needed your special education services.

I thought that if a school knew a child had a problem, they would do everything in their power to give that child the help they needed to succeed. I thought if a child had a disability, the help would come automatically. I thought if a professional made a recommendation for a child, the school would do their best to provide what was needed.

I never dreamed I would have to fight to prove my child with cerebral palsy had brain damage and a learning disability.

I never could’ve imagined being in a position where I felt the need to sew a recording device into her pocket so I could listen to her day after she got home. I mean, who does that?

I did that.

I guess that’s what happens when a parent feels there is no other option to try to get to the bottom of what’s happening with their child.

IEPs? I’ve done them. Last year I had five children with IEPs. Do you know how many meetings that requires? Then throw in the little fact that the school did not want to find several of my children eligible for special education services or adequate services despite extremely obvious needs. Factor in that I had to go through the entire eligibility process for several children only to get to the end of it and be told “Sorry. Your child doesn’t qualify for that.” I had to request outside evaluations that took months to have completed, then reconvene with the school to discuss those results.

We moved to a different elementary school district in the same county in hopes that a different school with different staff would be more supportive and helpful to our family. Unfortunately, many teachers either didn’t understand how to or chose not to properly implement their IEPs, and the school chose not to provide the types of programs and accommodations my children needed for their severe dyslexia, PTSD, expressive receptive language disorders, processing deficits, math disorders, central auditory processing disorder and other learning disabilities. The hours I spent researching meant nothing in the IEP room. I was the mom, but they were the “experts.”

I became pregnant last December, and the IEP meetings had become so stressful for me that my midwife wrote a letter explaining it was life-threatening for me and my baby to continue attending. My life had been consumed with IEP meetings, evaluations, lawyers, advocates, emails and phone calls. And then it wasn’t.

I had to stop it all for the sake of my unborn child.

The sudden pause gave me time to reflect. What was I fighting for? Evaluations showed my children were not improving. I had frustrated, angry, anxious kids the school insisted were great!  I fought to get special education services for my children for two years, and after finally getting IEPs, they weren’t being complied with. The question became, “Where do I want to focus my time? On fighting? Or on my kids?”

Erin’s children studying at the table.

I chose my kids. We sent our Notice of Intent to Homeschool for the 2015-2016 school year before school was out in May.

Now I have seven children at home ranging from newborn to 13. I spend my nights up with the baby and my days teaching. If you asked me what I needed to help my children learn, I could tell you. I’d say I homeschool on a shoestring budget, but that’d be a lie because we don’t even have a homeschool budget. My husband works his butt off for us, but there is nothing left over to purchase the items I need for my special ed kids.

I don’t have a teaching degree, but I can tell you how each child learns. I stretched myself to the limit for years trying to make the school system work for them, and now I stretch myself to give them what the school never would. There are times I have nothing left to give. What keeps me going is something the school could never show me: progress.

My kids who couldn’t read are starting to read. I realized I have two incredibly gifted, artistic boys. I’ve discovered how children with dyslexia learn, and it’s not how I learn. I’ve had to teach myself how to teach them, but it’s working. But what keeps me up at night is the ever present question of, “Am I doing enough?”

Erin’s son holding up a word hunt puzzle. Erin’s daughter coloring at the table.

I’ve been told that this is “just the way things are” for kids with special needs in Louisa County, Virginia. I know other parents in this same scenario.  My situation is exacerbated by the fact that I have not one but five children with special needs. I believe the system utterly and completely failed us and our children in every way possible. In accordance with state laws, we are now in the position of having to prove “adequate progress” to the school district at the end of the school year in order to continue homeschooling. Adequate progress is something that Louisa County public schools could never achieve with my children, yet now I am expected to do just that without any of the resources they have.

I’m not writing this letter to inform you of these things. You already know.

My question to you is, “Why is this acceptable?”

Follow this journey on The Johnson Journals.

Originally published: December 16, 2015
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