I owe dear Sara at the blog Wife-Mommy-Woman an enormous public apology. I completely forgot to update the RoundUp calendar to reflect that she wanted to host it this past week, and I therefore also completely failed to even put her topic up. I am very sorry, I never meant to neglect such a thing... I profusely apologize... please, please forgive me.
I've said before that if my blog (and Twitter, Facebook, etc.) go silent for a while, it's always because there's something terribly wrong. This time is no exception. I've held off writing about this for a little while because, in my rage and grief, I didn't know if I could handle writing in a responsible way. I probably still won't be able to write about this responsibly, but trust me when I say that whatever I end up putting up is NOTHING compared to what I would have said a few days ago.
Last you guys knew, my almost-17-year-old-son, Matthew, was registered as a homeschooler with a local school system and was taking an accelerated Chinese class there for two hours every day, since the school system allowed local homeschoolers to take up to two academic (non-elective) classes per school year.
Last week, literally at random, bureaucrats at the school system, which I will now publicly identify as Fairfax County Public Schools, audited my son's paperwork and inclusion in its Chinese class. Bureaucrats then decided that my son was actually not qualified to take part in this part-time-class program, and so, WITHOUT CONSULTING ME OR JAMES IN ANY WAY, called Matthew into an administrative office and unilaterally informed him that he was being forcibly withdrawn from the entire program effective immediately and was, therefore, no longer allowed to take Chinese.
Just. Like. That.
Their reasons are complicated and absurd (and are nothing but red tape), and are beyond my discussing. The ins and outs would become tedious were I to explain. But the bottom line is that my son, for no reason other than because of bureaucratic red tape, was thrown out of school last week.
He is devastated.
When his Chinese teacher realized that he was in the middle of a bureaucratic nightmare and was going to be administratively denied any further Chinese classes, she was horrified. She wrote me the most amazing email about Matthew (who has worked SO hard and has learned SO much and who LOVES his Chinese teacher and fellow students... and did I mention that he has an A in Chinese? And that he got a 96% on the final exam they just had in between semesters?), and I am putting it here, lest anyone reading this thinks in any way that he or the way he conducted himself was involved:
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Dear Mrs. (My Name),
I am very sorry to hear that Matthew has to be unenrolled from my class. It has been such a joy to have him in my class! Matthew always comes to class with great enthusiasm and readiness to learn; he makes my teaching job enjoyable. I understand that the transition from home school to public school is a big challenge, but he did it beautifully. He is a delightful young man who gets along well with everyone in the class. We will miss him!!
Thank you so much for all your support for my job, and for the opportunity to work with Matthew. I feel confident that he will do well in any Chinese program.
Best wishes for your family,
~ ~ ~
Matthew was summoned into the administrative offices and informed, cruelly, that he was being forcibly withdrawn because he was deemed unqualified for further Fairfax County instruction while James and I were at FSI. Matthew called me after after his meeting, while I was sitting in a break area in the Chinese section. I am horrified to say that, while surrounded by tons of State co-workers and students, I burst into LOUD, hysterical tears. I kept crying and crying, and someone even went to get James out of class. Talk about embarrassing.
I am now filled with utter rage and grief. I have appealed this bureaucratic nightmare all the way up the Fairfax County Public School bureaucratic chain, and all for naught. The higher up I go, the meaner the people are, and, finally, when I got about as far up to the top as one can get, I got a woman who not only DELIGHTED to tell me that my son was not qualified to continue to take classes there, but also stated that she felt that he probably should never have been allowed to begin in the first place. (The issues have to do with his being a homeschooler, with zoning and residential matters, and with a whole host of other things that make him a singular case. Like I said, it's complicated.)
NEVER MIND that Fairfax County Public Schools even has a mechanism for people to be able to pay tuition to take classes at their schools... THIS OPTION ISN'T OFFERED TO HOMESCHOOLERS (trust me, we would be THRILLED to pay tuition to keep Matthew in class!). NEVER MIND that he's been taking all year, that we're going to China, that there's no other program around like this, that he's getting an A, that his teacher adores him, that he's a model student, etc. No one cares. My son has been tossed aside like trash on the side of the road by the Fairfax County Public School system.
Matthew has done a lot of crying. I have done a lot of crying. James has even cried. We've all cried together. In a pitiful sight that I never want to repeat, Matthew and I huddled together on our living room couch. I put my arms around him and let him cry. He did, and then fell asleep. On me. On the couch. How often does a nearly-17-year-old-almost-man do something like that?
Thus ends this homeschooling family's first (and last) foray into any public school system. I do not for one SECOND believe that anyone there cares about the children individually, except for the teachers. But the teachers make up an extremely tiny percentage of the bureaucratic wheel, and they certainly aren't the ones that run the show.
What makes this even harder is all the upcoming plans that Matthew had with his Chinese class. Plans that will now never happen for him, such as making Chinese dumplings with his class next week, or going on a field trip to New York City's Chinatown next month, or the Chinese club after-school meetings (did I ever tell you that Matthew had even been elected as an officer in the school's Chinese Club?). All of that is gone, now, thanks to the unfeeling bureaucrats that really were delighted to inform me (I'm not making this up) that my son was no longer welcome at their school. They discriminate against homeschoolers. Of which my son is one. And it cannot be undone.
Our family is now lost, since Matthew and I are lost. What do I do with this child of mine who loves the Chinese language so much that he says he wants to major in it in college? His Chinese class was almost 90% native Chinese speakers, yet he got stellar grades and could hold his own among them.
I tried to reach out to FSI, but he can't go there, either. Only the children of AMBASSADORS are allowed to take classes at FSI. Well, heaven only knows that my son is only the child of a newish DS Agent who hasn't even been in long enough to be up for tenure, so that's out. Some would say to me that James and I should tutor him, but that's not happening, either. James and I are still struggling with our own tones and grammar and vocabulary; we would be nearly worthless as tutors. We might even harm more than help. We're frantically looking around and trying to patch an alternative plan together, while Matthew's former Chinese class goes on without him. The longer Matthew goes without practicing what he's already learned, the more Chinese he loses.
I spent last week sobbing, and am still sobbing today. I'm so wrapped up in rage and sorrow that I can't even focus on anything else. Damn you, Fairfax County Public Schools, DAMN YOU for your lack of humanity and for what you've done to my sons. You traumatized my younger son in the two weeks that he spent with you, and I was far too polite to say anything on my blog at the time, but he's still not over it. Well, the gloves are off now, because this is MY blog and MY family and you have traumatized my older son, now, far worse that what you did to my younger son.
I blame myself for thinking that anything good could have ever come out of you at all. Shame on me for not being more guarded and trusting my precious children to your bureaucratic nightmare of a hell on earth. Shame on me for thinking that homeschoolers could actually get a fair shake in your hallways. Shame on me for not being two steps ahead of you. Shame on me, shame on you... except I'm the only one sorrowing over the outcome. Because
In a first for me, I'm turning comments off on this particular blog post. This is because I wholeheartedly expect for someone, somewhere to say something hideous to me about how homeschooling is bad, or how public schools in general or Fairfax County Public Schools in particular are perfect, or how I'm a bitch or a horrible mother or heaven only knows what else. Most of the time, I welcome additional information and lively debate, but not today. Not about this. Our family is far too wounded and my I am so wrapped up in anger and sorrow that even one obnoxious comment would send me over the edge, and I don't deserve that. I'm already teetering on the edge.
So... to you all who otherwise would have left loving comments of support, thank you so very much. You know that I treasure each and every one of you. Please bear with me and I promise that I will get my groove back.
And to dear Sara at Wife-Mommy-Woman, please forgive me. I never meant to be such a horrible RoundUp calendar keeper. I am completely embarrassed and totally horrified and so very sorry. Please give me another chance. And for all of you who are waiting on email responses or pin placement on the State Blogger Map or what have you, please forgive me. I promise that I will catch up soon. But for now, I'm huddling with my son, and we're licking our collective wounds, trying to figure out where to go from here.
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UPDATE: I received a wonderful, supportive email from a reader, and I am reposting it here since I have closed comments:
Dear Daring Adventure,
I felt compelled to write after reading your blog about your family’s horrible experience with FCPS as it brought back my own horrible memories. I want to assure you that FCPS don’t just discriminate against homeschoolers, but foreign exchange students and anyone else they deem “unworthy of their superior education system.” As a junior in high school (many) years ago, I was in a high school here. (Our family hosted) a wonderful exchange student from Finland who lived with us for a year and kicked butt in school. Not only did she get all As in classes in her non-native language, but she did 3 sports (including participating in the state-champion gymnastics team), was on student council, and in general was a real asset to the school.
Nevertheless, they refused to give her a diploma or even let her WALK in graduation (as every other exchange student in the US gets to do – simply as part of a cultural experience and in acknowledgement of JUST HOW HARD it is to learn in a foreign language), because having not gone to their school for 4 years they couldn’t be sure she was “worthy” of a FCPS diploma.
I was sure that it was just a misunderstanding and, like you, went as high up the chain as I could – counselors, principals, other administrators. Until I read your blog, I had almost forgotten how absolutely humiliated and terrible I felt sitting in the principal’s office with tears streaming down my face BEGGING him to let her at least walk in graduation for all her hard work and having him smirk back at me explaining to me as if I was an idiot how they couldn’t just let anyway participate in such an important ceremony. I still remember that asshole’s name.
I was eventually told that if I didn’t stop advocating for her they would consider disciplinary action against me. Your blog brought it all back and all I can say is how sorry I am that the school system is still treating students so terribly so many years later. The good news is that I left after that year, moved with my family abroad and went to a small international school that embraced diverse backgrounds and learning experiences and almost erased the experiences I had in FCPS. In fact, the principal there went out of her way to make it work that I could take Russian classes off campus (for credit!) as I was heading off to Russia the next year for an exchange experience of my own (where I did get to participate in a graduation ceremony)...
This is all probably of not comfort to you all in your situation right now, but I have no doubt your son will go on to kick some butt in his schooling now and in the future, proving once again that those most worthy are... open to creative solutions and diversity! I wish you all the best of luck. So many FS people will come to this area and end up in the FCPS system and will run into these things (especially in terms of getting credits transferred, getting their kids in appropriate classes, etc), and I hope that your post will help them feel like they are not the only one facing these challenges.