Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas

August 13, 2007

Only principals have the authority to know what is in the best interest of the child

Filed under: education — texased @ 7:00 pm

The story is about special needs but I think one of the cases is just the perfect example of what a difference a teacher makes.

Star-Telegram.com | 08/13/2007 | Parents, schools are often at odds

Ryan’s classroom was down the hall from the restroom. Life as an incontinent 9-year-old is hard enough, but being so far from the restroom made it terrifying.

He needed to drink water in the classroom to fend off dehydration. He got in trouble for not holding his pencil “at the ready” and for fidgeting in his seat because of the chronic pain. His teacher left him in the hallway while the rest of the class participated in gym class. His mother came to the school to tutor her son during that time.

When the school’s elevator broke and two janitors were carrying her son up and down the stairs, MacKechnie had had enough.

“He was so embarrassed, he was crying, and he was red,” MacKechnie said. “I said, ‘This is unacceptable and inappropriate.’

“With Ryan, it’s just about dignity. He’s had everything else taken away.”

Three weeks into the school year, MacKechnie was still struggling to set up an admission, review and dismissal meeting. Such a meeting involves a child’s teacher, parents, and other educators or administrators to establish how to address the needs of a child in special education.

After the elevator incident, MacKechnie went up the chain of authority, calling the director of special education for the Fort Worth schools.

“Here these people are supposed to be helping my child, and I’m feeling like a bad guy for having to go over people’s heads,” she said. “But it’s my job to protect him.”

Small victory, big difference

Ryan was moved to a classroom across the hall from the restroom. MacKechnie sings the praises of Lori Taylor, Ryan’s second fourth-grade teacher, who was supportive of Ryan and his family, even visiting him in the hospital.

Taylor understood Ryan’s illness and watched for signs that he felt sick, but didn’t treat him differently from any other student in her class, MacKechnie said.

How hard could it have been for the school to use a little common sense? Why keep him in a room where a teacher punishes the kid for not having his pencil at the ready position? Could it be that the word might get out and other parents might want to get their kids out of that teacher’s classroom as well?

Star-Telegram.com | 08/13/2007 | Parents, schools are often at odds

Tanglewood Principal Connie Smith said dealing with Ryan’s illness was as difficult for the school as it has been for his family. He has an obscure illness, and teachers don’t have much training in dealing with it.

“His mom was our best source,” said Smith, who praised MacKechnie’s involvement and positive attitude in advocating for Ryan. “I don’t know how a child acts when they’re at home. [Ryan’s] a tough kid. He puts up a good front. We weren’t seeing any of the things at school that Jennifer was describing at home.”

Smith said that in most cases, switching classrooms is not the best solution for a child. In Ryan’s case, she said, it worked out well, but it was not an easy decision and was made only after she was sure there was no other way to meet his needs.

I can’t believe that the principal actually said that to a reporter. Let’s see, since it’s an “obscure illness” the teacher couldn’t see her way to not punish the kid for fidgeting. Since Ryan put up “a good front” it was only natural for the teachers not to trust the parent.

And switching classrooms is not the best solution for the child? Give me a break. What is the reasoning behind that? Oh, I know, “children must learn to deal with a variety of personality types and that they can not always expect to be in a pleasant learning environment.” Maybe the teacher should be held accountable for creating a “hostile” learning environment.

How pathetic that the principal could only make the decision after she was sure that she couldn’t convince the first teacher to stop punishing the student for fidgeting that there was no other way to meet his needs.

Of course there are parents of children who demand services that may not be warranted. This doesn’t appear to be such a case. Given that the principal had the political cover of special needs, why didn’t she just make the switch as soon as she realized the teacher was a bad match for the student? If any other parents requested a change of classrooms, she could just have claimed that is was only made to accommodate the child’s unique conditions. I have a feeling that parents in general at her school don’t have much standing with her.

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