Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Struggling with the rules

Having ADHD means being unorganized at least for me it does. It is also that way for my kids. Consequently, at the end of the day, when most kids easily toss the books they need in their backpacks in preparation to go home, it is a real chore mine. It takes much longer to make sure all the right materials make it home, and the pressure to keep up with the class, sometimes makes it all the more stressful. No one likes to be called slowpoke etc, when you are already considered odd.

One of the Rules, I have always had a problem with at the new school was the disciplinary system (curiously called a responsibility plan). Let me explain. Remember while you read this that what the system says and how it is actually carried out are sometimes two different things, but know that the children are very serious about this and fear it for good reason.

Each child gets a card at the beginning of each month. Technically this card is used to mark any rules violation. More serious violations might get more than one mark. Certain rules are black and white, while others are really up to the teacher's discretion. For instance, a missing homework assignment ie. not having all your assignments turned in by 8am in some grades, is a clear violation and cause for a mark. Misbehaving and disrupting class is also on the list of offenses, but that area is more of a grey area, since some classes are naturally more “noisy” and after "all kids make noise". Some teachers also have a higher “mark” threshold than others. Some kids will plead and promise anything if you don’t give them a mark. There are lots of conduct related behaviors that don’t consistently result in an immediate mark. But missing home work and being out of uniform do.

While on the surface this sounds OK. It should be up to the teacher to decide about behaviors based on many things including the specific capabilities of the student. However, that kind of leeway is not afforded the teacher when it comes to homework. Even in college, if you bring your homework by the end of the day, it counts. Here if your homework is misplaced, hidden in a different book, or found later in your lunch-box, not only is it marked late, but the mark on the card stands. Nothing about the student is taken into account. It doesn’t matter if he or she never misses homework or just decides not to do it in favor of TV. It also doesn’t matter if the book is forgotten. Since the school is locked up shortly after dismissal, even discovering this as soon as he gets home, returning to get the book is not an option. Finally and more relevant to my case, even a medical diagnosis that impedes the child and is documented is not taken into account. Not without a lot of fighting.

In my mind what this teaches the student is not responsibility, but that he can behave badly as long as he gets his homework in on time. Notice I didn’t say as long as HE does his homework. Some parents I know, instead of fighting this system, just do the kids homework for them. Don't get me wrong I am not saying that the kids shouldn't do their homework. I have been accused of this. I just want some reason applied.

Why the fuss? The consequences are much worse that a mark on the card, which by the way is done publicly in front of the whole class. Even in the work place, employees have the right to be disciplined in a private area. At the end of the month, in addition to any punishment from the parent, the child is punished again. One mark excludes him/her from the monthly reward activity. Again a public event. Get enough marks you get detention. Sure that’s fine, especially if it’s for behavior. But detention consists of sitting in a chair silently and still, not working, not doing homework. Doing nothing.

Now if you are already behind in your homework and have to spend an hour after school, when are you supposed to do your homework? Not to mention that for some kids, like those with ADHD, sitting still for even 15 minutes is a physical impossibility. A parent has to insist that an alternate punishment is used. Even then the infraction isn’t forgiven. After 4 or 5 marks in a year, the student is excluded from the yearly celebration. Even God forgives us our sins. He doesn’t make us beg forgiveness every year for something done a year before.

Then we come to "Being out of Uniform" Now I am fine with requiring uniforms and especially with the older kids, some variations in the policy is in their immediate control. But again, there has to be some wiggle room and the teachers either don't or feel they can't take a home situation into account.

The handbook says that the uniform is the responsibility of the parents, but the child gets zinged for the infraction. Consider this true scenario: Working mom with disabled Husband sudenly finds that husband in the hospital, critcally ill. At home four children the oldest is 11-12, youngest 3 perhaps.

Suddenly school uniforms are the last thing on anyone's mind. The 12 year old has to get himself and the younger kids ready for school, day care, etc. Even the best mildest manored kid would in my opinion have difficulty with this. Doing laundry, changing diapers, getting his own homework done and generally helping out while mom works, deals with insurance companies, tries to visit Dad, not to mention the general stress in the home with a sick parent. Tell me that kid is not responsible enough because his sister is wearing the wrong color socks or forgot her belt. Oh did I mention that this kid also has ADHD? No it's not my kid. Well at least he had company when he missed the end of the month party. He was there with mine, whose third strike was having his math home work stuck in his English Book.

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