Schools Gotta Get It Together

In Opinion, Opinion/Personal, Personal, Random on May 5, 2014 at 7:05 pm

I just wanted to share this experience my family has been dealing with regarding my cousin and her high school education.  It’s been difficult and really eye opening and made me realize even more so than I already knew that school systems have a lot of catching up to do with how teens are these days.  It also made me realize that often, the problem is that the decision makers have no clue how it really is down the totem pole, nor do they care, and have no interest in trying to help in unusual situations.

My cousin was on home bound, which is where the school system sends a teacher to her home instead of her attending regular classes.  Not only was she dealing with bullying at the school, she has a history of high anxiety, depression, self harm, and a thyroid disorder that does have an affect on her moods.  With 6 weeks left in the school year, which she has been on home bound for the entirety of, my aunt received a letter stating that she had to return to school in less than a week’s time to finish the year because her home bound was no longer approved.  There were multiple different reasons as to why, but it all boiled down to an initial paperwork error that was never noted prior to this and regulations that were never made known to my family in the beginning.  Regulations, that in my opinion, are ridiculous, such as sating that because her doctor put her on medication to treat her thyroid disorder, this is considered a “non-issue” or changes in the way the paperwork must be completed depending on her progress that the family was completely unaware of.

Because I feel I am much better with written word than verbal conversations (which I also tried and got nowhere with), I decided to write a letter to the Board of Education in my hometown where my cousin is currently enrolled in school to bring attention to the issues I discovered during this process.  I feel that a change need to take place in the way things are handled and the way the schools are run there, and all it takes sometimes is one person shining a light on it to get that ball rolling.  So I decided I would also post this letter on my blog.  Other teens and families may be dealing with trouble within their school systems, as well, and I really wanted to put this out there in the world for people to see because of my dissatisfaction with the way this has been handled.  So here was the letter I wrote to the Pike County Board of Education, my cousin’s full name are not included since I did not ask her if I could openly put her on my blog.

To whom it may concern:

I am writing this letter on behalf of a family member to call to light the improper guidance and handling of very serious situations, specifically the epidemic of bullying in school systems and the education – or lack thereof – being offered to teenagers.

My family member, N., was a student at Shelby Valley High School. With pre-existing emotional concerns, the fact that she was subjected to bullying on a daily basis made her come to despise attending school. I am also aware of multiple other students who, due to emotional distress stemming from bullying, have transitioned to homebound schooling to avoid actually attending SVHS. I am well aware that teachers are underpaid, many schools are overfilled, and the majority of activities of the students can somehow slip under the radar. However, I find it very hard to believe that an entire group of teenagers can sit on the opposite side of the classroom snickering, talking, and plastering slander all over social media sites via their personal cell phones targeting another student, whom in this situation was only a mere couple of desk chairs away from them. I was under the assumption that personal cell phones were not allowed in classrooms, or at least had to be put away and silenced if they were permitted to be turned on at all. It’s been a few years since I attended this very same school and I am aware of how strained some of the rules have become with frivolous law suits and boisterous parents, but surely a teacher still has the option to confiscate devices or materials that are against school policy at least until the end of that specific class period. Not only is this a disruption for other students in the classroom, but this will also undoubtedly cause a decrease in the amount of information and knowledge that these children are processing or taking with them. Correct me if I’m wrong, but schools were meant to teach and focus on academics and preparing these children for a future. Because I do not like to make assumptions or statements without being able to back them up, I attempted to do a little research on the policy manual for Pike County Schools. I found a link online through the Board’s website, but it took me nowhere and the policy manual was not actually available so I was unable to determine what the current policies are for bullying or cell phones. However, I doubt they are much different than other school systems or the very same school system a few short years ago when I was there.

Yes, this is quite concerning, but even more so is the lack of assistance and guidance my family has received. N. was placed on homebound due to hypothyroidism. As stated above, she already suffered from emotional problems, enhanced by bullying, and now compounded with a medical diagnosis that directly affects depression and anxiety. When the homebound application was originally done, an MD filled out and signed the paperwork based on the hypothyroidism affecting her health, moods, etc. After this, the nurse practitioner within that same office completed the paperwork. Now, with maybe 6 weeks left in the school year and completely unexpected, my family receive a letter stating that the application has been denied and N. must return to school. This is where my true frustrations lie.

I spoke with Tammy G. at the Board of Education, who is in charge of approving homebound applications. While vague and lacking in details, Tammy did clarify that the board has “guidelines” and “qualifications” that they must follow set by the state. I am aware of how the politics of this sort of things work, as I am a college graduate working in the mental health field and deal daily with qualifications and guidelines put in place by the state. However, in my line of work, when a qualification or guideline changes from what the family is used to or has been doing for several months, I give them advanced notice. I give them the opportunity to get their things in order so services can continue and the child can be provided the best opportunity for growth and learning. In the case with my family, we were given no notice. Additionally, when a concern or issue is brought to my attention, I address it with the family to ensure that I can make them as happy as possible with the services I am assisting them with. No questions were asked and no support was offered when it was brought to the school’s attention that N. no longer wished to attend regular classes. Tammy was nice enough to explain that because N. was put on medication for hypothyroidism, this medical diagnosis was considered under control. Because the MD did not include information regarding how hypothyroidism can affect mood and emotional disorders in the original paperwork, the fact that N. has depression, anxiety, and a history of self harm when in stressful situations does not apply to her homebound case. I will admit that it does seem a little concerning to me that a condition is considered a “non-issue” because the person decides to medically treat said condition. It is not a “non-issue” or an invalid diagnosis and it is unreasonable that the message being pushed here seems to be that for N. to be offered the best situation for her, which would be to continue homebound, then she shouldn’t have begun treating her medical condition.

Tammy made a point several times to explain that the paperwork given to a family when homebound is approved clearly states an end date. I am also aware of that. Obviously, my family had things in order and turned in the application prior to the end date. However, we were not told in advance that being put on medication made the reason for homebound become invalid. Originally, we were told that the application was denied because the nurse practitioner had filled it out, which was confusing because we had the nurse practitioner do it last time with no issues. However, upon speaking with Tammy, I discovered that this was not the case. It had nothing to do with who filled out the paperwork because the diagnosis of hypothyroidism was no longer considered a viable reason for homebound now that N. was on medication.

Tammy informed me that one option would be for the psychiatrist to fill out the paperwork based on her depression and anxiety and we have already made arrangements and scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist. N. has already been seeing a licensed therapist, but those qualifications are no longer accepted as enough for her situation. She is scheduled to see a counselor through Mountain Comprehensive Care who will in turn schedule her with a psychiatrist, but the office is too booked to see her any time before the end of this month so all we can do is wait. I asked Tammy how to go about requesting an extension on the paperwork and she informed me that the psychiatrist had to request it. I explained that I would attempt this, but that it may not be likely since N. is not yet an established patient with the psychiatrist. Tammy was understanding and agreeable, but then informed me after 10 more minutes of conversation that for the psychiatrist to request an extension on the homebound deadline, they actually have to see N. in their office. As you can see, we are currently stuck in an unending loop due to the fact that we had none of this knowledge before it was already too late and our hands are tied by the system of busy doctors with not enough hours in their day to see all the patients that need seen. Tammy also apologized, stating that all these facts about the way homebound is approved should have been explained when it was initially set up and approved. My key words in that statements are should have, because information regarding these guidelines and changes in how paperwork is handled based on the progress that the student is making was most definitely not provided initially nor in a timely manner for the benefit of N.

My main concern is how N. will be integrated back into the regular school system. She has been on homebound for months, undoubtedly not learning the same things at the same times as her peers in the regular classroom setting. Please, explain to me what the plan is for this situation to be most beneficial to N.’s education, as that is the sole purpose of the Board of Education and school systems in general. How will it benefit her, educationally or emotionally, to be thrust back into a classroom setting, having no idea where these classes are in terms of material and learning matter, for the remaining several weeks that school is in session? Is this how the system thinks children learn these days? Pulled in and out at random intervals, all the while being distracted by technology or aversive peers? I would like answers. I would like an outline of a plan in which this scenario we are being forced to participate in is going to do any good for N. I would also like to remind you that the first thing present on the Board of Education website is a lovely banner at the top stating “Focus on the Students.” How is this situation maintaining the focus on this student and both her education and well-being?

Overall, I am greatly disappointed with the way this situation has been handled and with the Pike County school system in general. I chose to attempt to contact someone within the organization over writing an open letter to any news source that would listen to express this disappointment and call attention to the way things are being handled, but I will do what I deem necessary for the best outcome for this child. I thank you for taking the time to read this letter and consider my concerns. A return letter, a phone call, or an email response would be very greatly appreciated. I do hope that a plan can be agreed upon that is in the best interest of the student and I look forward to hearing from you.

I included my personal contact information and sent a copy of this letter addressed to the board of education in general, the superintendent, the assistant superintendent, Tammy, and the supervisor of extended school services.  I have not heard back from any of them.  However, my aunt received a phone call last week from Tammy.  Tammy did not give a reason as to why she called, she did not provide any new information or answers to any questions, but did inform my aunt that she had received my letter.  She then took the time to read the entire letter to my aunt and apparently expected some sort of response from it.  My aunt’s only response was to support the letter, stating that it hit the nail on the head with the entire family’s concerns.  This was essentially the end of the conversation with Tammy and no one in the family has heard back from the board of education.  Since this letter was written and sent, N. did get established with her psychiatrist.  The comp care center she is going through offered one suggestion: The doctor could write an excuse for the days of school that she’s missed so far.  You see, N. declined to resume regular classes.  Knowing that she could end up repeating an entire year of school, my aunt knowing she could be called in to question for truancy, this was the decision made because attending school has been so difficult for her.

Because of the lack of cooperation and support from the Pike County School system, the family is looking at the possibility of N. moving to my current town, living with me, and attending school in my county.  At 27, I will be assuming full responsibility of daily life and major decisions relating to school, medical, and mental health for a 17 year old.  And I will do so with every intention to prevent any further issues like the ones she has gone through with her current school.  I will do so with every intention to get her back to a safe and consistent place both with her schooling and with her mental health so she has a solid and stable foundation to be an adult and be prepared upon her graduation from high school.

There are so many organizations now for help with bullying and depression and self harm, etc.  But it seems even as widespread and far reaching as these organizations and this information is, it is still hard to break through the tall mountains and thick forests into the smaller rural towns.  Somebody has to bring attention to it, right?  So why not me.  Though I disagree with many ideals that are common in small rural towns, I do stand by one of the biggest.  Family comes first, and you do what you have to to make that happen.


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