Open Letter to the Principal of Churchill Alternative School (and other educators)

To:
Megan Egerton, Principal
Churchill Alternative School
Ottawa, Ontario

June 7, 2011

Dear Ms Egerton.

I would have preferred to speak with you in person but I was denied that opportunity. Instead, I have reluctantly decided to communicate with you in this way. It may be public, but it seems my only choice.

Kids. They’ll break your heart. Kids with broken hearts, well…they’ll make you wish you had a heart of stone, because the tears keep coming. But you know what will break you down until you feel you can’t fight the good fight anymore? That dubious honour belongs to those in the public school system who insist on making parents jump through hoops in order to have their child’s learning needs met.

My husband and I have two wonderful sons together, aged eight and five. One of them has freckles and the other has half a heart. Literally. His condition is called tricuspid atresia with atrial septal defect and ventricular septal defect. Sounds complicated? It is. Deadly? Yeah, that too.

Isaac’s life expectancy is an unknown, but it is certainly much lower than average. Despite having had three open-heart surgeries before the age of three (not to mention a bowel dissection, due to a mistake in the ICU, subsequent resection, and half dozen or so minor surgeries) he has a 50/50 chance of his current condition (which is good but not excellent) to start degrading and complications to arise at around 10 years post-last surgery. That’ll bring him to the ripe old age of 13. If things go south in a significant way, he’ll need a heart transplant- the only option left to him. A new heart, despite the hope it promises, does NOT fill me with hope. The prospect fills me with dread.

Isaac’s spirit, by contrast, is well known. He feels things in extremes. Joy and sadness walk side by side with him. His experience of fear is something nobody should live through, but that’s what early trauma, several cardiac arrests and scary hospital sights and sounds will do to the young, PTSD-susceptible brain. As I’ve mentioned, hearts of stone are called for.

I don’t have one of those.

Isaac’s beautiful brain seems to work OK, albeit with a few quirks. But it’s those quirks that are causing him difficulty. Either because he takes after his excessively brilliant, quirky father or because his experiences have shaped him that way, Isaac learns in ways that are more tactile and experiential. His first year of school was a frustrating one and he began to fall behind.

And because of this, there is no place for him in the public school system at this time. Or so it would seem from my dealings with the school of which you are in charge.

We’re looking at a private school for him next year but I also wanted to check out an alternative school- YOUR alternative school- we’re lucky enough in Ottawa to have.

What. A. Mistake.

Not only was I unable to speak with you, the actual principal, the receptionist was rude and incredibly dismissive. I could hear in her voice that her job was to “protect” her principal from these people who dare to think their children somehow “deserve” an education that might fit them better than that of a regular school. Because we don’t live in the school’s zone (catchment area), she said we were out of luck. End of story. Good-bye-and-I-really-don’t-care-that-your-sick-kid-will-fall-through-the-cracks. It’s not my problem.

What bothered me most is that I found myself feeling apologetic for making the call. I bought right into her mistreatment and said not a word in protest. I felt badly for bothering her and for so stupidly assuming that I had a right to speak to someone as busy as an elementary school principal about a topic as irrelevant as my son actually, you know…attending said-same elementary school!

I hung up. I blinked a few times. Then I awoke from my stupor.

I called back.

I spoke with the same woman and told her to what extent she had crossed the line and that I hoped she would not treat others that way; that I was merely trying to find a workable education solution for my son, who has problems. She placated me, but I’m not convinced she was sincere.

Then I bawled my eyes out. Bitter, bitter tears, they were.

I didn’t speak to you, the principal.  I want to know what you intend to do about this gate-keeper mentality that is completely and utterly inappropriate in a publicly-funded educational institution.

I want to know why I couldn’t even speak with you. As a leader of a place that has solutions for children like Isaac, I’d like to hear what you might suggest as possible other alternatives.

I wanted a conversation. I wanted help. What I got was dismissal.

Isaac got NOTHING.

Q: How is this OK?

A: It’s not.

Q: I mean if alternative schools don’t exist for children like Isaac, who are they there for?

A: Beats me.

Q: And where does that leave Isaac?

A: NOWHERE.

His life will be short and it will be filled with frustration that comes  from physical and academic marginalization. The latter for no other reason than some people can’t be bothered to help despite it being their job to do so.

Yours in sincere  frustration,

Jeanette Doucet

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18 thoughts on “Open Letter to the Principal of Churchill Alternative School (and other educators)

  1. Dear Jeannette, GOOD FOR YOU!!! Hopefully you will get all the help that you and Isaac need and deserve! As human beings if not all the other reasons that Isaac should get!!!! God bless you, your family, and especially Isaac!! Maybe even a little blessing for that cold, inconsider person who calls herself the PRINCIPAL!!!!!!

  2. If I needed help,for anything really serious I would so want you to be in my corner !! How can they refuse you !! Your sons are lucky to have such a smart mom .The principal needs to KNOW THAT YOU DON’T GIVE UP !!! XO

    • Ah, toi, bah j’taime! Pas yinque parce que t’es une Moinouse, mais ça fait pas d’tort.

      Merci, Edna. I guess I learned well from those who influenced me in my young days at l’Artisanale.

      xo,
      Jeanette

  3. Jeanette:
    As a school administrator I feel embarrassed that this has happened. When one teacher makes a stupid move, it speaks of all of us. We all end up wearing the disapproval of the public. Hopefully this will be an object lesson for other principals.

    • I would add, Mike, that this kind of thing is top down. Although I cold never imagine the former office administrator at the school where we worked together ever being as ignorant as the principal we worked under.

    • Thanks, Paul. It’s kinda funny that when I was an educator I had no power to affect change within the school system, despite the original intent to do so. The people with the real power are the parents, perhaps as it should be.

  4. How sad to hear that your family is facing a situation like this. It looks as though the school believes its own hype. Their behaviour is unacceptable and they need to be accountable. It is sad to imagine the cruelty shown to my faviourite little office mate in denying his right to eduction.

  5. I have been a parent at Churchill Alternative School for 11 years and am totally shocked at the comments you have made and the place you chose to make them.

    I have always found Churchill to be a very welcoming and accommodating school.

    Megan Egerton is a principal that is always available to the Churchill community and the public. I am surprised you are using this open forum to paint such a grim picture of an amazing school after what appears to be one attempt to contact her. It is the job of our school’s receptionist to answer questions from the public and take messages for the staff of the school. If Megan had been there, your call would have been transferred to her and she would have taken your call. If you had left a message, Megan would have answered it.

    There IS a place in public school system for your son, you have to look in the neighbourhood that you live in. Cross boundary transfers are limited at all schools within the Ottawa Carleton District School Board. The number of transfers allowed at each school are managed at the Board level, not the individual school. There are many Alternative Schools within this board and I am sure that the one in your district will be happy to enrol your son.

    Hayley de Bie

  6. Jeanette,
    My name is alejandro vasquez, now 34 years of age I was dignosed whith tricuspid atresian and transposition of the the great vessel over my life time have I have had many surgeries five to be correct and many test I can assure my family umderstamds what you and your family are going thru.like I said I heard the same thimg you have not going to make pass two years not goimg to make thru 16,21,25. Well I am now thirty and fight once.again.there is hope if you believe..

    I would love to talk to you and your family and share what I have gone thru and how I dealt with it .
    It would be my honor please!!!

    So in closing I will leave my phone number and email as follows
    (623) 418-9103 phone
    Alexv6827@gmail.com

    I hope to hear from you soon
    I wish the best to tje family
    Alex vasquez

    • Hi Tamara;
      We took extreme measures and sent him to Rainbow Montessori for one year–his grade 1. The nurturing he received there saved him. We couldn’t afford another year (in fact the one year he was there had bad financial repercussions for us down the road) but I truly believe that he would not have gotten nearly what he needed to recover from within the public school system (from his first year in the public school system). He has been at Grant Alternative ever since and by working with teachers after his neuro-psych assessment at CHEO (which we pretty much had to beg for) and putting in place an IEP, Isaac continues to thrive. He struggled with anxiety and we were able to find a private provider to help him deal in those times he feels overwhelmed. If you ever want to reach out, please don’t hesitate to email me directly at momforchoice@gmail.com. I’d be happy to talk with another “Heart Mom”!

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