The school district responded by moving Chris to the Max Program for Emotionally Disabled (ED) students in Hazel Park. I didn’t know any better at the time, so I didn’t fight it. He was there for eighteen months.
I remember the moment it all changed. It was Christmas break, and Chris was standing at the kitchen counter while I was at the sink. He looked at me and said, “I am not learning anything at the Max Program – I want to go back to normal school.” I said I would make that happen, but I told him that he was behind in his studies. Did he want to move laterally, into the proper grade but need extra assistance, or did he want to fall back a year and be “normal?” He wanted to fall back a year. “Fine.” So come the 2nd of January I called Hills Middle School and asked to enroll Chris. He needed to switch schools to pull this off – no more West Hills. I was refused. I called somebody at the Max Program and told them Chris would not be coming back. I then went to the middle school and asked the principal for a set of books that Chris could start using until I got everything settled. He refused, but he did sign a piece of paper I had brought with me indicating that I requested the books and was refused. Now we were officially civilly disobedient, and I was probably officially a negligent parent.
There’s a county-wide school administration organization that is involved in all of the individual school districts in the County, and I called there to get my son back in school. I was flatly turned down – flatly turned down until I said, “I want an administrative hearing.” Those are magical words. The haughty intermediate school district person went from a haughty, “No way!” to a frantic, “Oh no!” I had her. I knew I had her when she next said, “Do you know how much work that is for us?” They went from a “No way” to a FedEx, Saturday-delivered plea for me to withdraw my demand. I would not cave, and the next thing I knew, we were in a meeting room with fifteen against three: Bill, Chris and me. I pulled out all of my consulting stops and passed out a PowerPoint presentation to all of those clowns – all of those clowns who are so eager to put people into neat little boxes. My argument started with a definition of disability… I got them to agree that Emotional Disorder was pervasive and permanent… as was ADD. And then I asked them which was it? Was he ED? Was he ADD? How did the diagnosis change, who was the expert that gave the diagnosis, and which was it? They were dumfounded. Then they started with how bad it was to hold a child back, to which Chris answered it was his desire. I rolled over those “educators” in a verbal Sherman tank, and I did it purposefully and shamelessly. And guess who won. Chris started at Hills Middle School shortly thereafter. The rest of his life was at stake, and I would just not have it any other way. Period. He says now that I probably saved his life that day. He had such presence about him, and such self-control: a kid was goading him one day, and Chris just smiled and told him he wasn’t worth it. Chris was six feet tall already and weighed 200 pounds – he wasn’t anyone you’d want to mess with. Big enough to simply walk away.
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