The hits keep coming. And I’m quite sad.
This may seem like something small to some people reading this post. But to me, it’s big. And it’s important.
I love traditions. I love pomp and circumstance. I love ceremonies. It’s just who I am and it’s ingrained into me. Madi is the same way. She embraced her university graduation weekend wholeheartedly and enjoyed each and every moment. When she graduated from high school, there was a pre-graduation assembly, then there was graduation, and then a celebratory dinner cruise on the Chao Praya River in Bangkok. She experienced the satisfaction of completing one part of her life and the thrill of transitioning into the next phase.
Braden? Nope. Our boy is 21 years old, and he has never…I repeat…NEVER participated in any sort of graduation or moving on ceremony. Although our school in Bangkok opened a program for students with intensive needs, Braden was unable to be part of that, so while one day there will be a graduate with intensive needs walking across that stage at ISB, it didn’t happen for him.
Next week Braden will graduate from his transition program. This is a program that is through the school district to help individuals transition to adulthood. Although I’ve never understood how they are magically ready at the age of 21, it is what it is, and he is finishing next week. A quick reminder, we love this program. His teachers and aides and support workers of all sorts are all wonderful people who work incredibly hard. He has had a year full of ups and downs, and when he’s had his downs, they rolled right along with them and helped support him however they could. Good. Solid. People.
I reached out to them two weeks ago to ask if there was going to be any sort of ceremony for Braden and the other student graduating. They responded with, “Yes. But due to district guidelines, parents are unable to attend.”
Okay. Yeah, I get it. COVID. But then I discovered that they are holding high school graduation ceremonies for the multiple high schools in the area. The graduations are in person and each graduate is allowed to bring four guests.
Hmmm…wait. What? How is this possible? Why is it different for Braden’s group? Please tell me it’s not because they special needs. Please.
So I emailed his teacher and said I understand she didn’t make this decision and could she point me to someone who did. I reached out to the person yesterday. Got his secretary. Was told he’d call me back at 1:30. He didn’t call. When I called and left a message. received a call from a different secretary, saying he didn’t know he needed to call me and would call me the following day in the late afternoon.
Cue scene. I’m in the post office today trying to send a Priority Mail envelope with more of Braden’s paperwork, etc. when he suddenly calls back. The woman was just about to ring me up when I had to tell her I had to take the call and would return. She, of course, looked at me like I was stealing her first child, but I knew if I didn’t answer I might never. It is Friday after all.
So I head outside. I tell this gentleman that this was Braden’s first year in the program, how much we loved it and appreciated the stellar staff, and that we basically would not have survived the year without them. I then proceed to say, “I’m excited for Braden’s graduation next week and have heard that we cannot come. Can you please explain to me the reasoning behind this decision?”
He responds by saying that each year, they hold an event after hours to celebrate their graduates. But this year, they decided to have it during the school day, and due to district guidelines, parents are not allowed to attend the event during the school day.
“My understanding,” I reply, “is that it is being held outdoors and not at the actual transition center.”
“Yes, but it doesn’t depend on location. It’s an event during the school day. So parents can’t attend, and besides that, the venue is too small to have that many people there.”
“Okay. There is just Braden and one other graduate,” I say. “Not so many extra people.”
“Well, the point is we can’t have parents come during the school day.”
Of course, at this point, my mind is reeling. How can USC hold an event of thousands of graduates in the LA Coliseum, but this very small program can’t have something for him after school hours? And, as Mike pointed out, if these kids could speak up and say, “Wait a minute, this isn’t fair,” then I’m sure someone would have listened. How could they really be doing this?
And then Mama Bear came out.
“I do have to say, this isn’t right. My son has watched his sister graduate. He knows his family is supposed to be there. All this will signal to him is that we don’t care enough to be there for him.”
And then the tears started flowing because #1 I don’t do conflict. I despise it. And #2 When people get in the way of me doing what is right for my children, I lose it.
So then I’m crying and I say, “Parents of special needs kids have to fight and advocate for their kids every step of the way. This really shouldn’t be something we have to fight for. I’m having a hard time understanding why you can’t hold it after school hours if it’s something you’ve done every single other year.”
“Well not last year, because of COVID,” he says.
“Yes, but this isn’t last year. And I have to say this is wrong. It’s just wrong, sob, hiccup, sob.”
So that’s pretty much how it ended. He basically said that they had to plan this fast and this is the plan they came up with and he’s sorry it’s not what I wanted to hear.
No. Of course, it’s not what I wanted to hear. He did, in the end, say he would take my concerns back to the team.
I hung up the phone and with tears streaming down my face, returned to the post office to pay for the mail, surprising the poor woman behind the counter who must have been wondering what happened on this phone call.
But there you have it, folks. Just another day in the life of a special needs parent. The hits keep on coming.
About two hours after this call, the person from the district called me back to say they were able to change the policy and now two people from a graduate’s family can attend.
It turns out that there are eight graduates in total. They are going to have us parents wait outside of the venue until it’s our child’s turn to walk. Makes sense, yes? We only need two tickets, but just so you’re aware, high school graduates get four tickets each. Hmmm…another discrepancy. But this is not a battle I’ll fight.
We then got an email from Braden’s teachers who said the policy was changed due to their advocating with the district admin. And you know what, I bet those teachers advocated like hell for our kids. As a former special educator, advocating for our students is in our DNA. But as many of us know, sometimes teachers can advocate and advocate, but until the administration hears the same complaint from a parent, nothing is done. After all, what could a teacher possibly know? Yes, I know I’m salty today.
But I’m sure it actually all came down to the fact that this district realized that this was wrong. They originally took the path of least resistance because our kids couldn’t advocate for themselves and they possibly made an assumption that this ceremony didn’t really matter. They probably didn’t think through what the possible inequity of this situation meant either, especially today as their first high school had their in-person graduation ceremony.
Ultimately, I’m thankful to Braden’s team for advocating for him. And I’m thankful that we get to see Braden cross that stage. I’m delighted that other families get to watch their children take this next step into their future as well.
Yes, the hits do keep coming, but this time I swung back.
Mama Bear for the Win!