Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Principal of the Thing

"If you want your kids to eat, have them bring a bag lunch," offers the principal of H middle school–- then pauses, as we all stare at him.

"Look, we've got over 250 sixth graders comin' into the cafeteria and only two lunch lines-- and they move real slow. There's just too many choices.

"Though," he says with a laugh, "most of the kids end up eating three slices of pizza or a pile of french fries. But again, that's if they get up there. I know. I did it once-- stood in line just like the kids -- and even movin' quick, I had only like four minutes to
eat . . . "

Oh no.

Scanning the crowded room, I see a hint of my growing anxiety mirrored in the faces of its occupants-- parents, like me, who've come here to learn more about the middle schools in our area.

To listen to three principals talk about the merits of their schools.

" . . . we used to have a lot of dances, but not anymore," he continues, "the kids just take advantage-- they're smackin' up against each other.

"We set up games-- you know, like air hockey -- and they like those, but," he says, casting a big, dopey grin around the room, "ya' add music and a disco ball and somethin' happens."

"Excuse me," calls out a mom with a tentatively raised hand, "my son transferred into his elementary school -- we live in another district -- I'm assuming he'll go to H middle school with his classmates since- "

"We stopped taking transfers this year."

"But all of his elementary school friends will be going to H middle school," she tells him in a voice edged with panic.

"Nope. No transfers-- no exceptions," he responds in a dismissive tone.

I begin to squirm.

The speaker is the principal of our district's middle school-- where Joseph and the majority of his neighborhood friends will go next year.

On my way to this meeting, I was feeling hopeful-- though it's a big school (800 kids, total) with very little ethnic diversity (unlike Joseph's elementary school), I'd heard great things about its teachers and academic programs.

But right now, I want to cry.

I'm just so damned tired of it.

Tired of people like Joseph's current principal-- who didn't want a classmate to go with him to the nurse's office when he was low because getting help (if say, Joseph should pass out) was "too much responsibility" for the other student.

At the same time, she didn't want Joseph to test his blood sugars in the classroom for fear of the "sharps."

It took over a year-- and a lot of skirting around that principal -- to get the nursing staff, teachers, bus attendants, and cafeteria workers completely on board with what needed to happen for Joseph to be safe at school.

And now, I'm sitting here listening to this man with his confident smirk.

Thinking about all of those new teachers, new staff.

So many more kids...

And already, I'm exhausted.


Shannon said...

I feel for you Sandra. A whole new school with a whole new way of doing things and trying to get EVERYONE on board with the same plan.

You're paving the way for me, so I wish I could give you advice.

The only thing I could suggest is to talk to the middle school nurse now to see how she'd do things and work with her now so that you don't have to wade through everything at the last minute.

It might put you mind at ease to have things put in place now and have a dialogue with the nurse.
Good luck with everything.

MileMasterSarah said...

This makes me exhausted even thinking about it. I hope things work out for you. I can't believe that about the lunch line. What a way to not take responsibility for the problem and look for a solution.

Oh, The Joys said...

I feel for you too. It's a ways off for me, but even the current fight against the TV on at daycare is exhausting... I just can't imagine what it's going to be like when they are older and things are more complicated.

Vivian said...

Sandra, I know this is hard. Every year more battles. Just when you think you have them where they need to be, it all changes up.
The lunch thing is hard, Taylor's school is like that too. Most of the kids don't eat because it takes too long to get through the line and it just is no longer cool to bring your lunch.
If you have a nurse coordinator for your district, she can definitely come in handy when trying to get everyone trained. She is usually a nurse herself and she knows the legal problems with not having people on board.
Middle school is where they start trying to get them to be responsible for themselves so the school often tends to prefer to deal with the student instead of the parent. Just stand your ground and make them listen and try to remember that they deal with a lot of hormonal preteens so they get a bit jaded.=) We will be cheering you on, you can do this. Big Hugs.

Nicole P said...

Sandra - Although I can't understand how you much be feeling - because I've never been exactly where you are myself, I am hoping the best for you and Joseph.

I just KNOW that you'll handle all the curves that get thrown you this year. And I KNOW that no matter how tired you are, you'll help Joseph to be well - and succeed - to overcome the challenges with a positive attitude.

Plus, you've got a whole community of us who'll do anything we can - long distance - to offer the best possible advice and lots of support. I hope it helps a little to know that.

Hugs - N

Scott K. Johnson said...

Yeah, I'm tired just thinking about it too.

I wish I remembered more about what my mom did in term of school stuff when I was growing up.

George said...

I wish I had some wise words about this subject but I am so angry about that Principal's comments that all I can think of is probably not very contructive.

I will offer this, Sandra you are one of those awesome moms that can pull something like this off. Especially with such a great kid!

We are here for you!

Anne Glamore said...

Way to go on the award. Good luck with the fight. i can't imagine, and it makes me frustrated just "hearing" what that principal had to say.

BetterCell said...

What does ethnic diversity have to do w/anything? Priorities instead should be given to the Academic programs rather than the social programs that the school offers. Focus on Character Development and Integrity w/ the ability for your son to be able to make his own decisions.

julia said...

Does the school have its own nurse? If so, get on the phone with her now and get her on your side. Bribe her with cookies or Dunkin Donuts gift cards or whatever it takes, but get her on your side. Hopefully she'll have some backbone and will help you when you have to go in and state what you want.

Do you have a 504 in place right now? If not, get one. Now. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Good luck with this. Boneheaded principals are a pain in the arse, but they can be gotten around.

julia said...

Oh, and Felix, ethnic diversity is something that many people like. It means that they're going to school with people who aren't exactly like themselves, who have different ideas and beliefs and cultures. It broadens the mind and expands horizons. School isn't solely about academics and you can learn just as much from your classmates as you can out of a book. Open minds are wonderful things.

Jamie said...

Oh Sandra - I don't blame you for feeling exhausted. I get exhausted just THINKING about my kid going to school.

I don't have any advice for you - but I know, when the time comes, you will be up front for Joseph with the school and you will do what is necessary to keep him safe. It's scary, it's horrible that we (Parents) have to do this to ensure our kid is safe at school, but I know you'll do well with it all.

Sandra Miller said...

Thanks for the encouraging words.

When I wrote this post-- hell, pretty much since attending that meeting early last week -- I've been in a funk.

I was just really looking forward to working with a new principal next year... sigh.


I'm with you on getting in touch with the school nurse (oh yeah, they've got one).

In fact, I need to drag myself out of this funk and call that nurse tomorrow...

As far as a 504 goes-- they're extremely rare in this area, even among diabetic kids. Instead, the majority of families use an "Individualized Health Management Plan" (IHMP).

Because I've been able to get all of Joseph's needs met to this point, I've felt the IHMP was enough.

I don't feel that way about middle school.

I started the process of putting a 504 in place a couple of months ago (at the time, thinking it would be easier to work with folks from his current school rather than start from scratch with the new staff).

After what I heard at last week's meeting, we will not pass go until we get one.

And finally, Bettercell-

Julia's response illustrates exactly my concerns about a lack of ethnic diversity.

From pre-school through fifth grade, my son has gone to school with kids who are black, white, Hispanic, Chinese, Hmong... kids who come from money and kids who don't.

In other words, he's been going to schools that reflect the real world, not just one segment of it.

As a result, Joseph sees and appreciates different cultures, different perspectives, while at the same time, has learned to find common ground -- because in a cooperative learning environment, he's had no choice.

In terms of character development and integrity-- I can't see how this experience wouldn't influence both.

In fact, I am certain it's been for the better.

Jess Riley said...

Hang in there!!! Middle school can be the pits for many reasons, and dealing with such a situation compounds it. Also, it sounds like this principal needs to remember why he entered the education field to begin with.

maureen said...

Sandra: Have been thru lots of the same stuff that you are talking about. My son (11 today) has had nothing but walls to break down since he was 7. Private schools do not have to comply with federal mandates, HOWEVER, if they get $1 from the government for lunches or books, they HAVE to comply with a 504. Our part time nurses come from the public school and take very good care of him..even set up the 504 for us.
His school principal would rather that we take him out and put him where he would be "better cared for". You know that this is a 24/7 thing, no one tells you that when you get to the top of the mountain, someone knocks you back down.. Good luck, we're behind you feeling your pain..

Michelle Freedman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michelle Freedman said...

Wow...I am so frustrated when I read/hear this. It is so important that your child has someone to go with him to the nurse's office. It is very dangerous to go alone. Additionally, it takes about an hour to recover mentally from a low blood sugar. I just learned this at an ADA seminar. We need a national overhaul for public school protocall for type 1 kids.

Minnesota Nice said...

Sandra, I've got a perfect solution - have all of those people who deem themselves to "be in charge" go and stick their heads into a snowbank - preferably this week, while it's still cold.

Anonymous said...

I feel for you. We are gearing up for our fight with the middle school which we know is pending. Gonna start early next year when she starts 5th grade. Our school nurse already warned us we would be facing recalcitrance on the part of the middle school nurse. Yes, we have a 504 Plan and an IEP. We have the IEP so we can be flexible about changes in routine, they work hand in hand. In our 504 Plan, we have demanded she go to the head of the lunch room line if buying lunch. I don't know if this would cause resentment on the part of classmates... she very rarely will buy lunch so we have not been able to test student reaction. She HAS gotten flack from other students, not the driver, if she eats something on the bus, so I make sure her breakfast is completely finished before she boards the bus. If she carries on a quarter of her muffin or whatever on the bus, she is sure to be chastised by the other students. She does not want to give "The Talk" to her whole bus, just her class. You can firmly explain to the principal that it is not an OPTION that a child with JD eats lunch timely. A letter of medical necessity from the endo can back you up here. I do not think the lunch room issue will be hard to resolve, it's the other things.... Do they have First Responders trained for the administration of Glucagon? That is going to have to be our fight, as the middle school nurse refuses to cooperate in allowing First Responders to be trained. Our elementary school nurse has just trained six First Responders. The other elementary school in town has no First Responders and is still bringing in untrained agency nurses if the nurse is absent. On more than one occasion, a substitute nurse simply did not show up! As far as not allowing another student to accompany Joseph to the nurses' office when he is feeling low because it is "too much responsibility for the other student," tell them you agree! That you want an ADULT to accompany Joseph to the nurses office when he is low or for the nurse to come to him. If the school has to park an Aide in every class he attends, have the Teacher accompany him, or have the nurse trot up to whereever he is, I'll bet they'll change their tune pronto. Demand that common sense protocols to keep him safe be put into effect, get it in writing and get it signed. Good luck! I'm sure you are well up to this task! P.S. The schools go out of their way to ensure children with peanut allergies get appropriate care, i.e., banning products with peanuts, training all teachers in the use of the Epi-Pen. A mother fought for this on the federal level, but her child had to die first before laws were instituted. School administrators should and do understand the issue. I cannot fathom why so many of them resist providing safe care while these kids are at school, leaving their school districts legally liable.