August 10, 2011

Why I Will Never Be Allowed in the PTA

Classic Slacker Mom situation. I just got off the phone with the secretary of the elementary school that my kids are going to be attending. School starts in 2 weeks and after searching the website I realized I can't actually register them today as I had planned. See, I still don't have my TX driver's license. I've been waiting to get it until I knew where we were going to be living. It looks like we may have found a rental house but we haven't signed a contract yet and have no move in date. But I thought I would at least talk to the school and find out what all I was going to need to take care of.

Here's how the conversation went:
Me: "Hi, I just moved to the area and I need to register my children for school."
Secretary: "OK, what is your address so I can find the right school for you?"
Me: "Um, I'm not really sure since we haven't moved in but I thinks it's 704 or 705 Sesame St."
Secretary: "Which one is it? Because that street is divided and it could be one of 2 schools."
Me: "I really don't know but I'll drive by it today and find out."
Secretary: "Oh...alright. Well, what grades are your children going into?"
Me: "I think they'll be going into 3rd and 5th but I'm not for sure. See, we've homeschooled for the last few years. In WA state."
Secretary: "What kind of program did you use?"
Me: "We didn't use a specific program. We used Unit Studies." (I say that because it sounds so much better than telling her we did whatever work I could come up with when we actually sat down to do school.)
Secretary: (Again, she's polite and doesn't press.) "Well, did you do any testing or evaluations in WA?"
Me: "Yes, we did." Once. "But I don't have the records. They are in storage in WA."
Secretary: "Were they ever in private school?"
Me: "My daughter has never attended a regular school but my 2 oldest did attend public school for a few years. Those records are in storage as well."
Secretary: (I can practically hear her collecting herself again.) "Those records would give us a place to start but that's okay. We'll just have you come by the school and pick up a packet of forms to fill out and then we can go from there."
Me: "Great. But while I have you on the line, I have a concern. My children are not up on their immunizations. In fact, in WA, we opted out of immunizing our children. Is that a problem?"
Secretary: (a momentary silence) "Well now, that's a whole 'nother ball of wax. You see, there's a special form for that. I'll need you to fill that out and then we have to send it off to the state of TX. They'll review it and then decide whether or not they'll allow the children in school."
Me: (mentally thinking, "It figures") "Can you add that to my packet?"
Secretary: "I'll have to see if I can find one. I may have to go to Admin and have them get one for you."
Me: "Thank you. Now, there's one more thing."

At this point, the secretary has been very polite and professional despite the things I keep throwing at her. In her pauses and silences, I can practically hear her cursing out idiot parents who call to dump all of this on the school 2 weeks before the first day. But I continue anyway because I have no choice.

Me: "My younger son has a diagnosis of high functioning Autism and had an IEP in WA." (That's an education/behavior plan for those with special needs.) "I don't think he's going to need that or the one-on-one para educator he had in WA but I'm thinking he might still need a 504 plan." (That allows for special help when it's needed.) "See, he was integrated in the regular classroom but I think we might want to have a plan in place in case he has a melt down in the middle of school."
Secretary: (no doubt reaching for the Advil at this point) "Special Ed would most likely need to be brought in to go over all that."

I'm shaking my head because I never do things the easy way. School starts in 2 weeks and we have no house and I'm not sure of the address of our possible rental. I know what grade my kids should be in based on age but not on skill. I haven't bought school supplies or the non-uniform outfits that have to conform to the dress codes. I haven't worked out the whole before/after school plan because I didn't know where we would be living and how far that would be from the schools. I have no school records because they weren't in school and no testing records because I assumed we would've already moved our stuff down here from storage so I didn't bring it with me. In order for me to feel comfortable and know that Bubba will be taken care of at school, I want to meet the principal, the director of Special Ed, his teacher and any speech therapists that might be involved with him and I'm just now finding out what school he will be attending. I have legitimate reasons why none of this has been done before now but that doesn't change the fact that I am left scrambling right before my kids are supposed to start school.

Me: (with a deep sigh of resignation at yet another hole I've dug myself into) "Can I come by and pick up the forms and at least get started on those?"
Secretary: "Yes. But we're leaving for lunch so you'll have to wait for 2 hours."
Me: (of course) "Alright."
Secretary: "You should probably know that the immunization issue is a really big deal. You're looking at at least a month before that comes back to us and we can't allow the kids in school until then."

With my head in my hand and my stomach curdling, I thank the secretary and hang up the phone. I start to wonder what the requirements are for homeschooling in TX.


  1. Hey, Sheri, I know just a little about this because I once wrote an article about vaccine exemptions and getting into school. I also had trouble convincing my pediatrician in Oregon to believe that Carissa had a seizure (the only one she's ever had before or since then) because of her MMR, not just randomly and coincidentally the same night. So I did a lot of research about the school system and vaccine exemptions in Oregon. (Luckily, I found a fantastic doctor in Arkansas who didn't think that a) I was a crazy female given to exaggeration and unable to understand my own child's symptoms, b) a crazed Jenny McCarthy fan just looking for an excuse to start a Whooping Cough epidemic, and/or c) think the one-time seizure was a total coincidence.)

    I learned at that time that most state health departments and school district officials make little or no effort to know or communicate vaccine exemption laws to their employees. I talked to some school officials in Oregon who were shockingly wrong in what they told me. I'd strongly advise against accepting what that secretary said without doing more digging. A lot of parents who are on the fence about vaccines simply cave in at that point, and I've gotten pressure before to get vaccines just to make it easier to get into school.

    Anyway, I found this and hope it's helpful:

    And this:

    It looks like Texas is actually pretty cool about it. Good luck!

    On the issue of starting school, please keep in mind that you can always start a little later in the year.

    I didn't enroll my kids in school in the fall of 2010 because I had planned to move to Arkansas a couple of weeks after the start of school. Then our car broke down, the service department kept telling us that it would be repaired "next week," and it took me another week to get to Arkansas and settled at my sister's house. I ended up unable to enroll Ariel in first grade until the beginning of the second quarter, toward the end of October. I was so worried about her because I hadn't home-schooled her and she hadn't learned anything new since kindergarten. It was hard, and her report card for that second quarter (her first) featured a grade in every letter (an A, a B, a C, a D, and an F). I worried like crazy, but encouraged her to ignore the grades and focus on how well she was doing, how smart she was, and how much fun school was. The next report card was better, but then we again had to change schools mid-way through the fourth quarter (it's a long story, but there was literally no way around it--I tried everything to avoid it that I and any person I asked could think of).

    I was sick with worry and guilt, but again kept pumping her full of encouragement and helping with homework. She got all A's on that last report card, and her reading level was much higher than expected for her age and grade-level!

    The moral of this story is that it's possible to start the year late, in an even harder situation, and still not only catch up but thrive.

    Try not to beat yourself up over getting to this so late. A move is one of life's most stressful experiences--I've seen studies that rate it right up there with divorce or death in the family--and you're doing the best you can. You and your family can and will get through it and thrive, even if you aren't perfect or don't have extra energy with everything you're handling so gracefully. Just hang in there and be kind to yourself. If we can thrive after last year (and I could toooootally give you a run for the slacker mom championship title), God is more than capable of getting you through this situation, too!

  2. LOL When my mom was homeschooling me and my siblings (almost 30 years total), she ignored school immunization requirements too!