I’m extremely concerned that a parent may have to apply for permission to withdraw their child to home school, leaving them in school for up to 28 days unless the principal agrees it’s in the child’s best interest not to be there.
This parental right should not be taken away nor given to a principal or psychologist to decide on. They don’t always get it right – they didn’t in my son’s case.
I took my son out of school for the first time in Grade 2 with plans to do distance education and give him a break so I could work on improving his mental health before returning him to school. I had the full support of his main psychologist, his paediatrician and speech therapist. We all agreed it was in his best interests at the time.
However, the principal of the school was absolutely against the idea and refused to sign the distance education papers to start with. Disagreeing the with the psychologist, she contacted an intake psychologist at the hospital and discussed my son with her. Without having seen my son herself, the intake psychologist agreed with the principal that he should remain in school and she wrote a letter supporting principal. In the letter, she stated she strongly opposed any form of home schooling and that removal from school would only serve to perpetuate his anxiety. She also stated that she considered it to be of detriment to a young person to be removed from the rich developmental experiences and learning that a school environment provides and from her understanding (purely from speaking to the principal), she was confident in managing him and that she was well experienced and equipped to deal with the situation.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
My son’s main psychologist held firm to his recommendation and signed the papers for distance education. The principal reluctantly signed in the end but, whilst completing the paperwork, she lectured me on how I was ruining my son’s education and future.
At the time, I didn’t know home schooling was a possibility. If I had known, it would have saved me a lot of heartache and given me more time to focus on my son’s needs. I hate to imagine would could have happened if I had had to apply for permission and he had to stay in the environment that was causing him so much grief – he could not have coped for one more day.
This is my son’s story:
In kinder the teacher would smell the kids hands to see if they washed with soap “to kill the bad germs.” He started doing this at home and he soon developed a germ phobia. At school orientation, he discovered there was no soap in the bathrooms and as his phobia became severe, we sought help and he was diagnosed with anxiety OCD: he was five years old.
At school, he refused to eat or drink because he wanted to avoid using the bathrooms and he started wetting himself. With the help of his very supportive teacher, after a couple of months, he settled into school.
In the middle of Grade 1 we moved house and he started at a new school. He did well to start with but, after a few incidents – lockdowns, forgetting his hat and having to sit through his break not allowed to talk or play as punishment – things went downhill.
One day, he dropped his sandwich at recess and the teacher told him she would get another one in time for lunch. She did but it had butter on it and he doesn’t eat butter. He was told to eat the crusts if he was going to be fussy, I got a phone call at 2.30 that day because he was crying so much – he was hungry.
He started to feel unsafe at school and had sleeping problems, he started crying at drop off. One morning after I dropped him off, I heard screaming I went in and found his teacher had him in the glass office of his class, the door was locked and she was holding his arms behind his back pinning him to a table. I asked why and was told he was crying again. He was traumatised. He woke screaming for hours in the night and his OCD came back. It was close to Christmas holidays so I took him out of school and sought help from a psychologist, he was diagnosed with Autism.
He started a new school for Grade 2 (the one I had trouble with the principal). He didn’t settle. He started biting himself if the teacher got too close to him and he came home with bite marks and bruises. His sleeping problems came back and he cried the whole way to school and I had to force him out of the car and into school.
His meltdowns after school were severe. I spoke to the principal and she insisted he didn’t have anxiety at school and offered to film him to show me he was fine. She then implied something at home must be causing his meltdowns. As with most kids with anxiety or sensory issues, he holds on for as long as possible and has a meltdown after having to do so.
We put him on medication and his main psychologist reduced his school day to two hours to take some pressure off him. The plan was to work back up to full days once the medicine had a chance to work.
The principal wasn’t supportive of this approach; she took him into her office and wrote a timetable to show him the classes he would be there for and the ones he would miss. She told him he would fall behind. She also did drawings to show him to be a different me at school than at home referring to his stimming. She showed me the papers but refused to give me copies. He wanted to be a good student and that just aggravated his anxiety more. He started asking how he could die. His OCD was at a point his hands were bleeding.
He took a knife and was screaming he wanted to die. He was seven years old. I told the principal and the intake psychologist everything but they still thought it was best he stayed in school.
Taking him out was the best thing I could have done for him, it took months of therapy and support for him to be able to join the world again and nine months later by the start of grade three he returned to school. He lasted five months and then the vice principal blocked a door to the room he was in so he couldn’t get out. He felt trapped and scared and all his problems started all over again. This time the school agreed to sign the distance education papers but my son couldn’t do the work as it reminded him of school and caused too much anxiety. It took him three months to be able to draw a picture. I planned to buy the distance education work and do it at his pace without deadlines or teachers, but as of this year it is unavailable to home schooling families so, on top of having three sons all with Autism, I also have to make my own curriculum for him.