I started trying to get my daughter the help she needed when she was still in elementary school. She didn’t pass the SOLs, even after we hired a tutor for her. I initiated a child study from her school, but they said she didn’t need any help. No one cared that she was failing her tests. They passed her to the next grade anyway.
In middle school she became severely depressed. The guidance counselor told me to keep an eye on her at home. I was told other kids were teasing her and she would respond by running. She was bullied online, too.
By the time she got to high school, it seemed like things might be better. Her doctor diagnosed her with ADHD and depression, and he was the one who was able to force the school to provide her with what’s called a 504 plan. A 504 is a “plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives accommodations that will ensure their academic success and access to the learning environment,” according to the legal code. A child with a 504 cannot be suspended without a hearing to determine if the behavior resulted from the child’s disability. Finally, my daughter had some protection, or at least I thought she would.
The bullying continued, though, and my daughter had to fight to protect herself. Sometimes an administrator would call to warn me that I should go pick her up and bring her home early. The other kids were trying to get her riled up, and soon there would be a fight. They would have to suspend her even though they knew it wasn’t her fault. That was the rule.
In spite of calls like that, when she did fight again they expelled her. They did it without following the process of the 504, which is illegal.
She tried to commit suicide. The police came, guns drawn, and I have never been so terrified.
By then I had gotten involved with Virginia Organizing. They helped me understand our rights as a family and how to advocate for my daughter. When I was canvassing for my chapter to talk with other parents about their problems with the schools, I discovered that it was possible for a child to receive “homebound instruction.” No one had ever mentioned it to me.
I was able to demonstrate that my daughter needed it, and she stayed at home from then on. Teachers came to the house to help her learn, and she brought her grades up immediately. In the end she graduated early from high school, and now she’s looking at enrolling in the local college next year.
My daughter was willing for me to share her story. She’s proud of the way her mother fought for her. I’m so glad I did. I felt like I was drowning, but Virginia Organizing was my life jacket.
Our chapter of Virginia Organizing went on to work with the Superintendent of the Portsmouth schools and the school board to revise the code of conduct to bring down the rate of suspensions and keep kids in school. Read more about our work here.
Please support Virginia Organizing. I’m still in this fight because I know there are kids out there who need my help. Join us!