I knew going into this thing that we were getting in over our heads. I knew when there were all these meetings, events, galas and auctions that required large “donations” and formal-wear. I knew when my work inbox was inundated with calendar invites for various committees that I hadn’t actually joined, but had been added to because new “members” were required to volunteer a certain number of hours each school year. It didn’t matter that these obligations (requirements) always happened during my work day requiring me to use PTO or make up the hours late into the night. This was the cost of doing business, along with the sky-high tuition, to take part in our new school community.
Yes, we opted into this. I never imagined I would have a private school kid, but our oldest child needed the programs this new school offered and we were willing to pay for it. We had tried the IEP route at our neighborhood school, and we had even applied for a transfer to a different public school to see if there program would work better, but he was struggling. Because he was struggling academically, he was also really struggling mentally and emotionally. We were willing to do whatever we could to help.
I was venting to a friend over coffee, and she told me about the school her neighbor’s kids attended. They had specialized programs for kids with ODD, Dyslexia, etc and while they didn’t do accommodations in the same way as public schools, they were able to offer smaller class sizes, personalized tutoring, and specialized curriculums catered to each students needs. It sounded like a dream.
In many ways it was, besides the cost and having to our kids split among two separate schools. My salary basically became a wash, as I worked to pay the tuition and fees. But, we figured we would give it a try for a year, and if it could provide our son the tools and support he needed to thrive, then it would be worth it. We would take it one step at a time.
The demands on our time were something we weren’t adequately prepared for, and even outside of the required hours, many parents seemed to just literally live at the school. They seemed like they were very helpful to the teachers and staff, but it also became very clear that the more time you spent at the school, the more social capital and favor you gained. I tried to keep up, but juggling my other school-aged kids, my full-time job, and the needs of my oldest child didn’t leave me with much free time to ‘hang out’ in the hallway.
My oldest did seem to thrive in many ways, and benefited from the 1:1 bi-weekly tutoring sessions. The sessions would build upon each other, and then we were able to connect with the tutor to decide what (if anything) we should work on at home between sessions. It was intense, but my son didn’t seem overwhelmed. He seemed to be doing great.
His teacher told me he was a “joy” to have in class, and that he seemed to be making some friends, and enjoying his time at recess with the other classes. This made my heart soar.
The issues started out small. He was having a hard time connecting with another student in the class, who would occasionally tease him at recess, or do annoying things like hide his pencil box or make fart noises when he stood up. The teacher informed me this was going on, but assured me they could work through it, and I chalked it up to kid stuff.
After a month, the behavior seemed to be getting worse, not better. My son was crying before school. The teacher acknowledged that she had reached out for additional support from the Head of School, and that they would be working the counselor to address the behavior, as well as working with each boy individually. At no point was my son seen as the aggressor. If anything, he was being viewed as passive, and they were going to work on tools to help him advocate for himself.
I was comfortable with this plan. But, as it turns out, the parents of the other child were not. And that’s when things changed.
This child, let’s call him Caden, had attended the school since pre-K. His older siblings also attended the school. His parents had money, like real money, and paying the tuition for 3 kids to attend a school that took all of my yearly salary seemed to be no sweat. They felt like their son was being singled out unfairly, and they wanted to speak with the teacher, myself and my husband. The Head of School set up this meeting, and she attended as well.
During this meeting, the teacher (bless her) outlined the timeline of events, what actions had been taken so far, and what the recommendations were for moving forward and resolving the issues. The dad was angry. He stood up from his chair and aggressively slammed it back into its place, saying “I cannot believe this shit!” The mom stayed seated, but responded about how much time she spent at the school and how she had never seen this behavior from her son. Literally nobody, including myself, had been angry before this. They had called the meeting after all, and we were just wanting to stop the bullying behaviors and move on.
The Head of School seemed aloof after the meeting and said that she would follow up with me soon. My son’s teacher assured me that everything was fine and apologized for how awkward the meeting was.
The following week, the Head of School called me and threw me for a loop. She said she thought my son’s learning needs were not being met at the school, and that he would be better served elsewhere. She assured me, before I could even ask, that this had nothing to do with the meeting from the week before. But, of course, I knew better. My son was doing great, his teacher loved him, and he was making great strides academically and socially. He presented no behavior issues. And now he was being asked to leave.
I was heartbroken and furious. I asked if this had to do with the fact that the other parents were threatening to pull their kids out, and the Head of School had asked where I had heard that information. I hadn’t heard it, I had just assumed. I had also asked if this had to do with the fact that Caden’s mom was available to the school 24/7 to do whatever was needed. She clearly had built relationships within the school that I had not. The Head of School denied this. I knew better.
My son was allowed to finish the week, but I wasn’t comfortable sending him back. I let him go the next day to say goodbye to his friends and teacher. I was angry then, and I’m angry now at the unfairness of it all. Even his teacher was emotional when he left, and called me on the phone to apologize and say that she’d be happy to connect with/work with my son until he settled into a new school. She also offered to talk to his new teacher to help him transition. She apologized profusely. She is, two years later, no longer employed at that school, and still an acquaintance of ours.
My son’s self-esteem, and subsequently his progress, took a major hit. He has since bounced back, but he expresses sadness and anger and shock at what happened. He still doesn’t fully understand it. Neither do I. I wrote let letters, had multiple phone calls, spoke with the board members, and my husband and I made it crystal clear how we felt about their actions and the harm it was doing to our child. Many folks had suggested we sue, but we don’t have the time or resources for that. And to what end? If we “won”, our child would still need to go to a different school, so our focus needed to remain on him.
My husband and I both feel like if we had more money, or more free time, we wouldn’t have been faced with this. Our child was punished because we couldn’t afford to send our other kids to this school, or donate more time and money in addition to his tuition. It is really devastating to see someone in a position of authority choose an indignant parent with a big wallet over the needs of a student. A student who was thriving, and a student who fit the definition of why the school was founded in the first place. This has left a bad taste in my mouth, and yes I know “not all private schools,” but it has really given me a new appreciation for public school teachers and staff. The public school system is not perfect, and neither are the people working inside of them, but I respect them now more than ever before. That’s an important lesson I’ve learned through all of this, that’s for sure.