I firmly believe that school administrators mean well. They have to balance the needs of the individual child against the needs of the entire student population. Like parents, however, school administrators are sometimes wrong. They sometimes have incorrect information available to them. They sometimes lack all the information available on a topic. And yes, on occasion, they’re stuck in their opinions and not open to changing them, regardless of the evidence presented to them.
We received the following heartbreaking email from reader Gayle.
I need help. My fraternal boys were separated for their 2 years of pre K. It was very hard.
One is a little more spirited and had a tougher teacher. We wanted them together, and they wanted to be together for their 2nd year of pre K but were met with resistance and told to wait for kindergarten. They could be together then.
So I swallowed that gut feeling and saw my spirited son develop a facial motor tic and now also a vocal tic.
I am seeing anxiety in him. We found out at the end of the year conference he was calling himself a bad boy and saying he was bad! That broke my heart!!! He has never said that at home.
Then they told us the boys need different Kindergarten teachers “because they have different learning styles and would respond better to different teachers”. They truly don’t know if they have the same learning style because they’ve never been given the chance to have the same teacher. I want them together so I know they have the same rules and more equal treatment. And when M feels nervous or feels he has no friends he can look over and see his brother.
I am fearful for him. The superintendent took almost a month to “review all the data and info” but yet would accept none from us.
We have a meeting to “discuss placement” – I am quite sure its not going to be to put them together. 2 other sets of twins going to Kindergarten have been allowed to be together. So why not give ours the chance? I don’t want to always wonder “what if”.
I spoke to a local mother of 6, including several children with special needs, asking her advice on successfully advocating for our children in the schools. Her response? “Documentation, documentation, documentation. And never stop advocating.”
- Get all communication from the school in writing. Print out emails and texts and keep them in one place. If you hear something that a school official is unwilling to commit to paper or an email, then you can email them saying, “I would like to confirm that when we discussed W, you said X, I said Y, and we agreed to Z.” Invite them to respond with corrections to your statement and give them a deadline by which to respond. End with, “If I don’t hear back, I’ll assume that I’ve correctly represented your position.” Copy anyone you think needs to be informed of what was discussed.
- Commit to writing all your communication with school officials and related professionals. Document your discussions in email as described above. Also, I strongly recommend preparing for every meeting with school officials by writing down all your arguments and bringing those notes with you. It’s easy, in the heat of the moment, to forget everything you wanted to communicate. Trust me. I’ve done it.
- Seek out support from professionals who know your children as individuals. Don’t be afraid to confer with your pediatrician, speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, psychologist/counselor, or even friends and family who know your children. Get them to write down their thoughts and recommendations. I know that it can feel like you’re imposing when you ask for supporting documentation from these people, but remember that your child’s wellbeing is at stake. It’s also okay to seek out a second opinion. For example, if the school speech therapist doesn’t think your child needs services, but you’re certain that she does, get an independent therapist to evaluate your child. We had to get a second opinion for my daughter M.
- Keep copies of everything. On occasion, you’ll have to hand out copies of your documentation. Make sure you keep a copy of everything. Everything. I submitted my twins’ kindergarten year school records to their new school… and they lost them. I still don’t have copies.
- Be aware that you may have to fight the same fight over and over. A new teacher, principal, counselor, or even school year may necessitate you making the same argument for your child all over again. I was fortunate that the second time I had to argue that my daughters be taught at their level regardless of their grade placement, I had the school counselor in our corner… and my arguments were practiced and polished.
- Seek out existing advocacy documentation. For those of us who need to advocate for twin-specific issues, know that there are tools out there to explain the variation and commonalities of multiples’ experiences in school. At this year’s Multiples of American convention, I picked up a copy of the NOMOTC guide titled Placement of Multiple Birth Children in School. This is a resource I highly recommend, and can be purchased from Multiples of America. I am so convinced of its effectiveness in helping us advocate for our children that I will commit to lending my copy to any HDYDI reader who wishes to borrow it. I will mail my copy to you at my expense and ask you to return it to me or pass it along to the next person in line at your expense. For other issues, I recommend that you seek out organizations specific to the issue. They may have documentation available to you.
- Seek out proponents within the system. Sometimes, having a friend within the system who knows you and your children can be the difference between smooth sailing and a fight. Be polite to everyone you meet and help our where you can. The friends you make can help you navigate school system politics.
Now, a few thoughts specific to Gayle’s very difficult situations.
- You are not alone. We are behind you and support you in your efforts to do what’s right for your sons. We are angry and sad right with you.
- Find out whether your state has a Twins Law. Many states and countries have laws in place that protect a parent’s right to make classroom placement decisions for their multiples.
- You are the expert when it comes to your children. You. Not the school administration, regardless of what they think they know from the classroom or their general assumptions about twins.
- We would recommend getting an evaluation from a child psychologist. I predict that a professional outside the school system would back you up.
- Contact your local mothers of multiples club and find out whether there’s another mom or two who can testify to the importance of treating twin sets in a way that acknowledges each child’s needs.
- The “different learning styles” argument has big holes in it. Any decent teacher is capable of teaching a group of children, each with his own learning style.
- Point out, by email, that you have documentation that needs to be considered by the superintendent. If you receive no response, you can turn to local news outlets to help you put pressure on the school district.
- Do what you can to tease apart what part of the negative experience may have come from having a poor teacher as compared to being separated.
- Ask your boys what they want as far as classroom placement, and why.
- If all else fails, be open to switching school districts. I bought a house that would us at the school I wanted for my girls.
What advice do you have when it comes to being an advocate for twins?
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 8-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She is the newly minted Single Parent Coordinator for Multiples of America, also known as the National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs (NOMOTC). She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.