I grit my teeth and wait. I know what’s coming and I’m so sleepless! I just can’t today. Not today. And away she goes.
What follows is a long lecture about how incompetent I am to educate my own son. She barely flips through the binder in front of her. I wait for her to pause. “This is his curriculum,” I say instead of responding to something that is actually not legal for her to say to me. I begin flipping through the binder, showing her recent photographs of Mu doing activities, the comprehensive grade report from his online school complete with time spent on each subject lesson, dated, and accompanying worksheets. I start showing his microscope, science lab equipment, apps, books, music and art curriculum, language reports. She finally starts looking at the books and comparing the worksheets to the lesson reports. “Um, well.” “His name should be on the grade report.” “I can’t print anyone else’s grade report out but his, that is the way the online reporting system works.” “Would you like to see the grade report from the online site directly?” (I begin searching for the website on my cell phone. I have only slept two hours. I am trying to hang on to my patience.)
“How old will he be again this coming year?” she asks. “He’ll be 18,” I answer, knowing she knows when he will turn 18 from his portfolio in front of her. I know what’s coming. She answers “18 is a big year.” “We can do a lot more for him you know. He can attend school until he is 21.”
I wanted to shout “Let’s go over what public special education has done for him until the moment it nearly killed him!” Instead I patiently, painfully, again, repeat the story of how I, a staunch believer in public schools, a product of the public school and DoDDs school systems, decided to give up my job, stay home, and home-educate my disabled Black son.
Her smug expression paled, then blanched, then she gasped. Tears came unintended to my face, but I went on, discussing all the harm that led up to the day they “lost” him at school, in the most restricted education environment. How he was “found” by a stranger, an anonymous “member of the local community” who caught him wandering in traffic, a seven-year-old boy who used a wheelchair because of his unsteady gait, who supposedly did not have the OT skills to open a child safety gate, who at the time he went “missing” was in a classroom with a special education teacher, two paraprofessionals, one paraprofessional directly responsible for only him, two classroom aides, and a speech pathologist. A non-speaking autistic little boy who was impossible to miss because he was then in the 98th percentile in height and weight compared to his peers. The school’s story that changed from the telling to retelling, of how long he was missing before they notified us, of why the police weren’t called to search for him, of who found him, of where he had been found [he was found at a nearby pond/ no wandering in traffic] of why he had been washed and redressed and fed grape juice before calling us, of why he was wandering outside on a rainy and windy February day with no shoes or coat, of why he had no shoes or socks on in his classroom in the first place.
I had to repeat to this thoughtless, horrible, ableist woman who decided she knew the story of my son’s life, what it feels like when you are a mother with a heart condition who gets a call that your only son is missing and has been missing for an undetermined length of time and your daughter hears a sound come from your mouth that cannot possibly be human, and you don’t remember but suddenly you have called your husband and told him they have lost your baby and your husband grabs his coat and begins running, he runs out the door of his office at Johns Hopkins, runs to Camden Yards station, runs for the train and calls the head of PGCPS and roars that if a hair on his disabled son’s head is out of place, if they don’t find our boy, he would ensure that he won’t be qualified to be so much as a janitor of PGCPS, he will haunt the man the rest of his miserable life and they had better find our boy now and tell us why we weren’t told when this happened.
And I tell this arrogant woman how my daughter picked me up from the floor and we grabbed our coats and ran, ran for a taxi and told the man driving hurry, hurry our boy they had lost our boy, and how the police shuffled us from one phone to another and hung up on us and then I asked her if she knew what it felt like to call your son’s pediatrician crying and have the man tell you that it was best if he did an exam for signs of rape, and when he says your son is okay you hug your daughter and son and cry and cry and now the nurses and staff who stayed late to wait for the outcome are crying and saying “no copay today” and now the woman has blanched chalk white and remains quiet.
She finally begins really reviewing his portfolio. “You've done an amazing job here, “ she says, her voice breaking. “How..” “My daughter,” I reply. “After the final school incident, she changed her major.” “Went back to school and got a master's in special education specializing in complex support needs and low incidence disability.” “She helps with curriculum and supports my instruction.” “My husband provides the technology and finds things like the microscope that displays on his computer screen. “ He is also the support for my son’s adaptive P.E. work. “
She writes approval for the portfolio silently. She says, “we aren’t that county.” “This would never have happened in our school system.“ “I have been told this,” I answer. “But he is my only son. The last child I will ever have. I risked my life to give birth to him. I can’t take the risk he’ll be harmed again. “
Another brutal portfolio review is over. I leave, fighting back tears, thinking, “don’t worry son, we’ve got this. “