Landmark Decision for Special Education

I wrote about Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District for the Atlantic in January. At that time, the case was under review by Supreme Court. The justices were debating whether or not children with special needs were entitled to an education that provided them with de minimus benefits — basically no benefits – or whether they were entitled an education that enabled them to make progress.

Today, SCOTUS ruled in favor of Endew F. and all special ed kids. Yahoo!

And this happened just as Judge Neil Gorsuch was being questioned by the Senate. He was forced to explain to Congress why he ruled against special education students in several cases. He was forced to admit that he was wrong.

Oh, life is very, very good today.

Trump’s Budget Isn’t a Surprise

I’m reading commentary on Donald Trump’s budget with a certain amount of dread. It’s exactly what he promised. We shouldn’t be surprised, but still I’m depressed.

Let me just focus for a minute on the funding for special education and services, because it’s very much on my mind today. I put aside the rest of the day to find appropriate programs for Ian for the 2-1/2 months of summer.

Ian’s public school will take care of him for a half day through July, but that’s all I have. Without lots of stimulating activity during the summer, he’ll retreat to his computer and have no socialization. He’ll be mute by the time we get to September. There are no state sponsored activities that are appropriate for him, so it’s going to be lots of out-of-pocket expenses with me not working at all, so I can drive him around.

I’ve been calling the financial aid offices at several colleges if see they’ll take into consideration our special education expenses when putting together a financial aid package for Jonah. They won’t. They also don’t care that we wasted too many years in graduate school and didn’t get started on new careers until our mid-30s.

When things get tighter for the special education community, we go into isolationist mode. We take care of our kids first, and we stop advocating for the greater community.  I know very well that as tough as things get for us, it is NOTHING compared to families with less means and with kids with more severe problems. (I have horror stories.) But the responsibility of a parent to care for his/her kid first. I can’t advocate for others, if I’m scrounging around for my kid.

Things are going to get tighter for families like ours. For families with less means and more severely disabled kids, situations will become dire.

I need a little more time to read everything and figure out specific details.

How will the cuts in the budget impact you and your family?

UPDATE: What to be depressed? Look at this chart.

 

Blizzard Fun

While Steve and Jonah attempt to extricate our cars from two feet of snow (with some minor assistance from Ian), I’ve been nesting inside, because back pain. We’ve done some minor useful activities today, but mostly it’s been sheer laziness around here.

There’s been some music listening.

and

And some online shopping. I’m really into feminine, delicate jewelry right now.

And some cooking. I’m making Anthony Boudain’s meatloaf with a mushroom gravy. Meatloaf has been a bust in my family in the past. I’m trying to convince Ian that a meatloaf is really a rectangular meatball and, thus, it should be delicious. He’s not entirely buying this framing device.

Jersey Towns

New Jersey is a strange place. Sandwiched in between New York City and Philadelphia, New Jersey doesn’t have its own culture or personality. In the North, we know more about the traffic patterns of Cross Bronx expressway than what’s going on around the Meadowlands; South Jersey cheers for the Phillies. People here self-identify based on their towns, not the state. People will say that they’re from Secaucus or Paterson, not from Jersey.

If all politics are local, Jersey takes it a step further. All life is local here. People grow up in their towns and never leave. They coach their kid’s little league games on the same fields that they played on as kids. They gradually will open up to new people who land in their towns and will be friendly enough, but their loyalties always remain with the long standing locals and their relatives who all live about ten minutes away. Sundays mean huge extended families and a large pasta dinner.

We moved to our first home in a New Jersey town, when Jonah was five. We needed a backyard and nearby schools. We embraced our new lives and planned on staying for the long haul. But then, things started falling apart. Our youngest son didn’t attend school in the town, because of his disability, so we only had one kid involved in the town life, which centered around the kids’ sports leagues. Our property value kept dropping, because new zoning laws put our home just a few yards from a commercial district. The test scores for the school put the town on a NCLB watchlist, and nobody seemed to care.

We put the house – a home that we had lovingly restored – on the market and moved six years ago to a new town. It  was a big deal. Some of our old friends stopped talking to us. Jonah was in middle school at the time and he had a rough transition. We went from a 15-year to a 30-year mortgage. But we were desperate. We needed a change.

It was a gamble. We didn’t really know that the new town would provide our kids with a better education. We didn’t really know if the house would be a good investment. We didn’t really know if we would fit into this new community.

This town has more people who have lived elsewhere, more professionals, higher school test scores, sports teams that win everything, and is much, much bigger. But that’s just stats on a wikipedia page. What about the intangibles?

Friends asked me last week, if we did the right thing. I had a few glasses of wine in me at the time, and didn’t have a great answer ready. I’ve been thinking about this question all week.

This town is different from a lot of other Jersey towns, because it is so atypically Jersey. It’s not based on tribal family ties, but on a tradition of social capital. There are a million different clubs and activities. I’ve been at meetings for the school or politics every night this week. People volunteer like crazy. And they have super high skill levels. The presidents of the PTA have MBA’s from Harvard or ran the publicity department of a Fortune 500 company before becoming a stay at home mother.

The Newcomers club has hundreds of members. There are genealogy societies at the library. The Presbyterian church hosted the West Point marching band. The Catholic church runs a food kitchen. There’s the League of Women Voters, a historical society, tech classes, cooking classes, amateur birding clubs, dozens of book groups, free movies.

Since I spend so many hours in front of a computer during the day, it’s nice to have those social outlets in the evening. With only one kid in the local public school, I’m much less plugged in than others, but I get by.

With all the intensity in town, I can’t say for certain that the move was great for our kids. Somethings they do get lost in shuffle. There have been pros and cons, for sure. Steve and myself benefitted in more obvious ways though we still bat around the idea of moving back to Manhattan when Ian finishes school.

I suppose I still don’t have a great answer about whether or not our gamble paid off. For the present, it did.

Selling Out

Let’s not talk about Donald Trump today. Because unlike the federal government, things at home are clicking together rather nicely.

I’m now juggling three writing gigs that together add up to adequate compensation and interesting work that is super flexible. I’ve got the green light to do some necessary repairs on the house. Hello, white subway tile in the kitchen! I’ve got the kids mostly set for schools for next year. Well, we have an excellent Plan B for Jonah in case his Plan A doesn’t work out. Ian’s new school is great and will take care of him until he’s 21. I do have to figure out the summer special ed camp situation, but that’s a small potatoes worry.

What’s a neurotic girl to do when things are working out nicely? Not a damn thing. Find a corner to read a book and sip a glass of wine, maybe. And cook big vats of food for people. Last night, there were twelve for meatballs and pasta. We’ve done pizza and beer. Spontaneous stew night was good, too.

I’m in between work projects right now. It probably won’t last more than a day or two, but right now, I’m enjoying the fact that I know that there will be work coming soon, but it’s not here yet.

I never planned on becoming a freelance writer. It sort of landed on my lap when my Plan A fell apart. And it’s not entirely one thing. There’s the serious writing work that isn’t too far off from academic writing. That’s not a shocker. But then there have been other job offers that have absolutely nothing to do with my training. Last summer, I got a call from a huge advertising company that needed help with their toilet paper client. That one didn’t work out. Drat. I enjoyed feeling like Peggy Olsen for a week or two.

Now, it’s a hugely privileged thing to take on these jobs. Steve’s got the health insurance and the proper salary. My job will buy the white subway tile and the wine for the spontaneous stew parties. My friends who depend on their freelance gigs to pay the rent are stressed by the instability of work. For me, it’s fine.

A few months ago, a teacher in town told me that her brother was one of James Patterson’s ghost writers. I guess there’s a small cottage industry of ghostwriting best sellers. The teacher said that her brother had a great lifestyle. He has a good contract that brings him a huge chunk of the royalties. So, he lives in a big house in Connecticut, writes for five hours a day, and then play golf and rides his ponies for the rest of the day.

The guy must be pretty talented to do this job. I can’t imagine that anybody could walk off the street and pump out a best seller. I’m sure that he started off with dreams of having his own name on a serious novel, rather than writing formulaic flippery that is sold in airport gift shops. But ghostwriting is working out for him. If he wanted to, he could still work on his own projects in the afternoon.

I’m not there yet, but with the kids settled for the time being, I’m piecing together a new career.

The Timer Went Off

Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors; How a Filibuster Works; Hard Work Matters More than Brains

Jonah’s college acceptance letter has triggered the reality that he’s going to be gone in six months. I have six months left to parent, before he’s gone. He’ll be on his own. And there’s so much left to teach him.

Why Smart Girls Are Better Than Cheerleaders; Why You Should Never Rinse Pasta After You Finish Boiling It

There’s still so much that he doesn’t know, and I don’t have much time. The ten minute drive to his high school is the only time where he’s captive, strapped in the car, forced to listen. I babble using the morning news as the entry into topics that we never talked about before. I have to give him a crash course on life. How did I forget to teach him the difference between the House and the Senate?

The House Writes the Budget Because the Founders Thought that the Branch That Was Closest to the People Should Have the Most Say Over Money and Taxes

Yes, he’ll have to figure out a lot of this on his own, but I could have taught him this earlier. I wasted time. We were too caught up in the details of life — the homework and the soccer practice. And then his friends and cellphone shouted me out.

Your Great-great Grandfather Was a Famous Oboist; Was Napolean Really Short?; Never Put a Red Sweatshirt in the Washing Machine With White Undershirts

He’s undercooked. How is going to fare on a college campus that first semester without this information? This is what happens when a neurotic parent and former college professor starts to panic. She lectures.

Are the Kids Alright?

While the rest of the world is falling apart, the kids — at least here in this suburb — seem to be struggling, too.

We got a five page e-mail from our superintendent yesterday about drug use in our town. They did two major Xanax busts in the school last week. One girl, an honor student, OD-ed after taking ten Xanax this month. We’re going to have a major, emergency meeting at the school next week to talk about the abuse of drugs in town. I’m hearing rumors about good kids from good families getting into major trouble.

I’m supremely grateful that my kid is kept super busy at track practice. There’s little way, despite a high level whining, that we’ll let him drop out of track. We want him busy as he enters into his second semester of his senior  year. I’m looking into sending him away for the summer on an Outward Bound adventure just to keep him away from certain friends.

When we came back from out ski trip last weekend, we found a broken window above my desk. There was a large footprint on the desk. Someone had been in our house.

We called the cops and then a security company. The cops said it had all the earmarks of a teenager. Nothing was taken. The house wasn’t trashed. The cops said that teenagers, who knew we were away, probably used our house for a party. Since the house wasn’t trashed, it was probably somebody that knew our kid. Apparently, this happens a lot. It won’t happen again, because our house will be Fort Knox after the security company finishes flipping a switch next week.

The school district stopped hiring substitute teachers to save money. So, when the teachers are absent, the kids can come and go from the school whenever they like. One parent told me that her son had four free periods last month and used that time to get into a lot of trouble. She said that she can’t manage her kid, if she assumes that he’s in school, but he’s actually roaming free.

Teenagers get into trouble. I did. But I’m hearing about them doing things — break-ins, vaping in the bathroom, smoking weed in the middle of the day — that makes my past stupidity laughable.

To keep my kid safe, I’ve got him on a very short leash. Which makes him pissed off at me. Parenting is tough.