In 2014, I was offered a full-time, tenure-track job in Wenatchee at the college there. It was the single career-goal I had been working towards for years. When I got the call, I hung up the phone and cried with relief. My current school had low enrollment; my job was very likely to be cut. We moved to Wenatchee in August of 2014, and haven’t looked back.
For Ivan, that has been the hardest, and all because of his schools and how they look at disability—a problem that is huge in the Wenatchee Valley.
This, too, is the single biggest reason I'm reviving my blog.
Last year was the worst year we’ve had in terms of school for Ivan. At Eastmont Junior High, several of his teachers just refused to follow his accommodations, and worse, he was bullied by students and a teacher. The students did things like attack him in the serpentine hallway between the locker room and the gym, or taunt him repeatedly in biology class, or grab him in band and try to get him to react. The teacher—who taught band—was much worse, asking Ivan in front of the class why he needed accommodations, then refusing to give him the accommodations, or judging Ivan’s disability and demanding to hear about it, and then finally screaming obscenities at Ivan, telling him he “Always starts shit” and lunging toward him in a threatening manner until the other adult in the room—the counselor—made him leave. But, of course, not before Ivan started sobbing and told him to get out.
That was life at Eastmont Junior High. It was so bad that getting Ivan out of bed was a daily chore. It was so bad that I jumped when I got a text message or phone call during the day, worried that something else had happened. As it turned out, Ivan only lasted until mid-February, and then the band teacher screamed at him, and I knew—I understood, finally—how truly unsafe the school was.
No adult told me what happened with the band teacher. No one said anything for over 24 hours, there was no report, there was nothing, until I said something.
Ivan spent the remainder of the academic year at home, doing online school. The online school was not truly adequate for a number of reasons. One was that the courses were generally harder, and Ivan struggled to get all the work done. Two was that the school district refused to give him credit for the month or so he had already completed of the semester, and given this, plus the time it took to get him set up online, he lost 6 weeks of the semester.
Ivan also has a processing disorder and executive function issues—something the district knew about—but getting accommodations within the online system was no easy feat, and the teacher in charge was somewhat of a joke: more of an administrator who sent letters and emails to students, but with no expertise in anything she was responsible for “teaching” online. Getting her to understand accommodations, and specifically what it meant to have a processing disorder and executive function issues, was frustrating and time-consuming. She said repeatedly, too, that she didn’t understand Ivan’s math work at all (Honors Algebra 2), and shrugged when we asked what he could do for help. Ivan finished three courses that semester, but lost credit then in 4 classes, putting him behind. He was an honors-student before coming here, and even during the worst of the bullying when he was at the physical school. He ended ninth grade behind in credits. No one at the school or the school district cared, even as I filed an OCR complaint and demanded some kind of restitution.
I had heard from a few people that Westside High School, Wenatchee’s “alternative” school would work for Ivan. No bullying, I heard. He can work at his own pace, I heard. Ivan had just re-qualified for an IEP—something I pushed before the teacher bullying got out of hand so that I could get teachers to take his accommodations and the student bullying more seriously. But to get Ivan into Westside, I had to decline any services under the IEP since the other school district refused to take an outside special education student. It was the only way I could see to get him back into the classroom with people.
And getting him back into the classroom was clearly necessary. Ivan was struggling with the online school in terms of trying to complete all the work, but worse he was also deeply lonely and starting to show signs of depression. He wanted to be around people, he wanted the chance to make friends here and to connect with others. He missed hearing the voice of a teacher explaining a concept, and he missed working on projects. Ivan had, since he was little, enjoyed school even though he had to work harder at it. In Eugene, he had done well in middle school, earning admission to the International High School program before we moved. The schools here were not as advanced academically, but he wanted to be in one anyway, wanted to try, wanted to be working in a classroom. School had become something he was good at, learning had become something he was good at, and he took pride in it, particularly in math and science, which he excelled in.
So I applied for him to attend Westside, hoping at least to get him back into the classroom. I knew it was an alternative school, but I strongly believe that all students can learn and I know from my experience as an educator that a lot of students get labeled as failures for reasons out of their control. I knew, too, that students generally did packet work, meaning packets that they filled out, and there wasn’t that much actual instruction going on. But, I thought, Ivan will be okay here. He will get the work done, and even make up those credits he lost in ninth grade. Maybe, I thought, he will recover from what had happened. He often talked about still feeling afraid of his band teacher, which, over time, morphed to anger.
I hoped that Westside would restore Ivan to his old self, the one who looked forward to school, who had friends, and who was happy. It was, perhaps, too much to hope for.