I haven’t blogged in a while. Probably been over a month. Haven’t been too active on Facebook or Twitter, either. I guess it’s safe to say I’ve been a little preoccupied. If you haven’t been here before, there’s a couple of things I should outline first:
1. I’m a father of three and my middle child, 9-year-old Jack, is severely autistic. He’s the “Jack” in Operation Jack. I’ve done a lot of charity stuff in his name to fight autism. That’s the only reason I’m public about anything — I’m trying to make some good out of what he goes through. Click here to see how the Operation Jack Autism Foundation and the Operation Jack Marathon have brought in about $180,000 in the past three or so years.
2. We’ve been in a VERY long fight to try to get Jack into school. He’s been out this entire year. Here’s some backstory. It’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever been a part of and quite frankly, it’s sad to know how dirty some people in this world are. In a nutshell, we didn’t like the poor education he was receiving. We hoped the Boulder Valley School District could offer something better than what he was receiving at one of their schools he was attending and they sold us on some allegedly great autism program at a different school they had. Well not only was that program not any better for Jack than the program he was coming from — it was at an unsafe school. The playground he would have been on was 86 feet from a parking lot and UNFENCED! Jack elopes, which means he runs away when he gets a chance. The math of it is that he was less than a two-second lapse in supervision away from a potentially fatal incident at any given moment. So, he’s been out of school this entire school year.
Well, for those of you who have been following along and haven’t seen an update, we FINALLY have this situation resolved. FINALLY, he has a safe school to go to. He won’t be in school the rest of this school year, but he’ll start back up in the fall. That’s because we’re moving from Colorado to Pennsylvania.
The folks at the Boulder Valley School District who read my blog will be thrilled to read this today. I have to think their wish was to drive us out of town. And while they might think they won, in reality it’s my son who’s going to win. He’s going to get the education and services he deserves. Finally, Jack is going to stop being the big loser in this situation.
My wife Tiffany and I finally decided about a month ago that we needed to leave Colorado. We just relocated here a year ago from California, looking for a better life. The cost of living back there was too much for us and as we saw services starting to diminish, so we moved to Colorado. Cost of living is good here, there’s enough work for me, plus it’s a quick flight back home to see the family. Naively, we assumed no state could be much worse for kids with autism than California. Well, you know what they say about assuming.
We fought and fought and fought for our Jack. I have no regrets about that. I will never apologize for fighting for my kids or my wife. This year took a huge toll on Jack and Tiff, which trickled down to my other two kids, Benjamin and Ava, and ultimately me, too. As I’ve told everybody, I aged in dog years this past year. It’s been absolutely miserable.
I know we did nothing wrong other than want a good education for Jack. When we saw that he wasn’t getting an education at his first school, we wanted him to be moved. When he was moved and we saw that the school was incredibly unsafe for him, we wanted him moved back. Given the choice, we’d rather sacrifice his education than his safety. And really, given the qualifications of the person who would be teaching him (high school diploma, speaks English, interested in working with children a plus), he wasn’t going to be getting any kind of quality education at the unsafe school.
But, the district blocked the move back to the safe school. They never gave us a truthful reason (they said he couldn’t go back to the school we wanted him to go to because we didn’t want him to go there, even though we repeatedly asked for him to go there). The teacher and principal who made that decision would never sit down with me and have a face-to-face meeting to explain their decision or address the inconsistencies in what the principal told me. The only reasons I can imagine the teacher didn’t want Jack back is because we think she was mad at Tiff because Tiff (appropriately, in an IEP meeting) said she didn’t think Jack was getting pushed hard enough. Or maybe the teacher didn’t want to deal with a child as difficult as Jack? The school spent all last spring trying to convince us other schools could handle him better. I don’t think they wanted to deal with him.
The assistant superintendent who backed the decision of the principal also refused to have a face-to-face meeting with me to explain why he backed their decision, to address the inconsistencies in what he told me, or to tell me how he made a decision do deny what me and my wife asked for based on what he thought me and my wife said without talking to me or my wife! He did eventually refuse to respond to my questions. Tough to answer when there are no answers.
I’ll give the chief academic officer credit. She at least gave me an hour of her time. What she said conflicted what was said by virtually everybody else I dealt with on this, and despite my four-page written request to have Jack returned to the safe school, she refused to allow him to return to the safe school because she said I didn’t want him to return to the safe school.
The superintendent met with us, but didn’t really say much — he just let us talk — and never officially got back to us with any kind of decision. The school board deferred to the superintendent the first time I contacted them and ignored me the second time.
I had an offer of a donated fence for the district and they turned it down. I hired an advocate and we didn’t get anywhere. I hired a lawyer and we didn’t get anywhere. Our resources our finite, which is what I suspect the district was banking on.
I questioned the school district’s attorney and couldn’t get answers and eventually she told me she wasn’t going to respond to me any more. Other lawyers I talked to told me that lawyers stop talking when they don’t have answers. That makes sense. I told her, face-to-face, that the solution to all of this was to have me, Tiff, the principal and the teacher sit down at a table and hash out grown-up differences so the disabled kid could get back to school. When she told me that the safe school was not an option, I asked her if that was her decision or if she was given those marching orders. She just stared at me like I was a mirror. I’m pretty sure there was a lot of dirty stuff going on behind the scenes because nobody every gave me an honest answer to my simple question: Why can’t Jack go back?
The final part of my fight was a moderately lengthy letter to all the players involved in this at the district, asking for an explanation of how they planned to keep him safe if we took him to the unsafe school. It was my contention that they did not have a plan to keep him safe and that they had been acting illegally in how they handled the IEP meetings. I repeated my claim to them that they were not offering him the fair and appropriate public education he is entitled to.
The response I got was that they understood I disagreed with their position and they wouldn’t be responding to me any more. No answer to how they would keep him safe. Because they couldn’t.
So there you had it. We had nothing. We could fight and spend well over $10,000 to go to court and if we won, what was the prize? Returning him to a school where the teacher and principal didn’t want him and were willing to spite him and keep him out of school for a year? A school where the data collected in the observations was so terrible we didn’t bring it to the surface because we didn’t want to embarrass the teacher?
That was the prize, if we won and then won an inevitable appeal by the district. We have two other kids and we decided it was now or never to make a move. We rented out here for a year because we wanted to buy on the right street, in the right housing development, etc. Well, we had the opportunity to move, but we didn’t want the other two to be too settled in to their schools.
So we had to choose — uproot Ben and Ava, or anchor down and hope that we could win in court and that dealing with the Boulder Valley School District for the next seven years would get better. To me, it was apparent that those schools are a place for teachers, not for students, and all the way up their ladder they protect their own. If you ask me, anybody who is willing to spite a 9-year-old low-functioning autistic child has no business being in education. Those are not the people we wanted to surround our kids with. So we decided to move. Everywhere in the lower 48 was in play at that point.
I reached out to some pretty well-placed connections in the autism community I’ve made. We researched it this time. We made the decision to move to Pennsylvania. There’s more work for me on the Philadelphia side of the state than the Pittsburgh side, plus we talked to some people in the Philadelphia area who gave us a lot of good info. The first night I looked on Monster, I saw two jobs that screamed at me and I applied for them. I got a call at 8:10 a.m. Eastern time the next morning about one of them. Three weeks later, I got that job.
This has been a pretty rough year. All year long I prayed and prayed and prayed for this to get resolved. It seemed like there was no good solution here in Colorado and I didn’t know what to do. I don’t think BVSD can handle Jack and that’s why they were so willing to keep him out of school. I don’t know and I never really will.
But I know that he’s going to be so well off in Pennsylvania, it’s going to be amazing. I know that we would have never gone straight there from California last year. I know that we would have anchored down and stayed put if we were in someplace that was marginally acceptable. But we came here. We hit rock bottom. And I really think we’re getting it right this time. We’ve had to lean a lot on our faith this year, knowing we’re getting tested, not knowing why and not knowing what to do. But it’s clear to us that God wants us in Pennsylvania.
This transition happened fairly easily for us. I mean, I found a job halfway across the country in one night. I start work there March 18. This has been an ugly, ugly year for us. It’s been incredibly tough on Tiff and Jack. But it’s going to get better.
I have no clue what I’m doing in this world or how I’m doing it. I don’t know the right or wrong way. All I know is that I’m in the stage of my life where I’m raising children and nothing else matters but them and my wife. I will fight for them and sacrifice for them and do whatever it takes. And I will never apologize for that.
On March 15, I’m leaving Colorado to drive to Pennsylvania. I’m going to rip the rear-view mirror out of my car, because I’ll never look back.