Thursday, April 2, 2015

An open letter to GHSD

Dear Grand Haven School District,

I really wanted things to work and be different.  I was supportive and tried to make contact.  When my three oldest children moved into your district in July 2014 I really hoped that it would be a wonderful thing for them and me.

I researched the schools my children would attend and emailed the three school principles in August 2014 to introduce myself and to give the school all of my information.

My emails were not ambiguous.  I didn't say that "maybe" I wanted to be informed or that I really "hoped" you would reach out to me.  I didn't infer that I was anything but a concerned father.

I wrote it off when my initial emails went unanswered for days, weeks and in one occasion months.  I figured that school staff were busy and I didn't want to intrude.  I wanted to be respectful.

I signed up for the weekly "email blast" that all parents receive from all three schools and then signed up for the ParentVUE so that I could track Jacob and Hannah's progress daily.  I was hopeful.

But hope fades when questions go unanswered.  Hope diminishes when concern is expressed that the grades your child is receiving don't really make sense and you fear they are just being "passed along" (it's difficult to imagine that someone can receive an F for a semester grade but get a B on the semester exam and then be awarded credit) and no answer is offered to this concern or the one that is ("the state mandates that if the student passes the exam they are awarded credit") is refuted by the folks (Michigan Department of Education) that as a parent, I am told are actually responsible.  I have learned that questions to HS staff means that they stop emailing.  Nice.  Thank you.  I was hopeful.

I have learned that when Individual Education Plan meetings are "scheduled" that I might receive email notification but I am not actually listed on the invitation as a parent.

Feeling "hopeful" and "supportive" is difficult as when you ask a simple question, like maybe why you aren't listed as a Parent, you are told that it must be a computer issue and that the computer actually has you listed as the adoptive parent ("It is also showing up as you as an adoptive father, that is not correct, is it?").  It's a weird irony to hear this.  It brings back a rush of things from 2001 when as the proud father of a young son (30 months) and a new daughter (five months) you are told that the child you are told is yours truly isn't but is the result of an 18 month affair.  I makes you think - really . . . . is there something I should know? Thanks.  

I have found that telling GHSD staff that no, you are not the adoptive father does get things "fixed" but they are repaired in a snarky, condescending manner that minimizes you.  While you are now added it becomes "biological father" as an addition and Mother stays simply . . . "Mother".  Nice.

But as a parent you want to stay "resilient" for your children.  You want to be involved and included even if you don't feel valued.  So you move on and continue to ask questions and raise concerns.  You contact people in charge to inquire not just about progress but why you are not being involved.

Resiliency, the ability to sustain or spring back into shape could also be seen from the sustained answers you receive from the professionals involved with educating your children.  As a father asking for an "update" you are told that you will be receiving contact from the educators involved and even given the caveat that if you don't to contact the person in charge.

Communication like this builds hope and expectation.  Until you sanitize them with reality and know that it probably won't happen.  Then when little occurs you contact the person in charge because again as a parent you want to be involved.  You want to be resilient.  You want a voice so you follow up.

Yet the follow up is not met with any expression that indicates "gee, this is not OK and we / I am sorry that our professionals are not keeping you informed or contacting you".  Instead it's met with another in a long line of inferred promises.

So you again, hope.  But then you realize that four days after you are told follow up would be taken and seven days after you were told the professional educators would be contacting you nothing has occurred.

Sure, I know that people are busy and that spring break is coming.  I get it.  I am willing to give people time.  But let's be fair, right, this isn't a "spring break", "semester grade work" or a "we've been busy" issue when it's been nearly the entire year.

But resiliency and the desire to be involved remains.  You hope that things will improve and you try to do the things necessary to have them improve.  You check ParentVUE often.

You try.  You want to remain hopeful and resilient.  Then it occurs to you that through all the un-returned emails and phone calls that even the ParentVUE system doesn't support you, as a parent, at actually knowing what's happening.  You realize your parent account calls for you to be notified when your child is tardy or misses a class.  When your child's grade book scores are posted and when your child's term grades are posted.  Then you remind yourself that heck, you haven't even received a grade card in the mail and not once have you received that Sunday email.

It's then that you realize your fighting a battle that's already won and in truth you have been selected as the losing party.  You have been deemed, overtly or not, as less worthy.  You are just the "adoptive dad" or "biological dad".  Nice.  Thanks.  Appreciated.

The good news out of this is that Jacob, Hannah and Knoah are doing well, in general.  I would love for better grades and am encouraging them but they all are attending school and making friends.  I am proud of them.

It's just that being ignored, minimized, dismissed as a parent feels pretty horrible.  You get angry.  You get determined to change it.  Then you just think, what's the point.  You know that if you push the issue you will only look like the crazy parent and whatever garbage the school has heard about me (and they must think something to list you me as "adoptive parent") will look to be true even when you know how absolutely ridiculously most of it is.  Truth is you know that as a Dad you're fighting a battle that can't be won.  Some mothers can and do say whatever they like to professionals involved in your children's lives and there is nothing that you can do to counter it.  Women are believed.  People have no clue about the "background" information they are given.  They have no clue about the deception and havoc that has been caused because of a persons lies and manipulation.

So you reach a point of resignation.  There is no value in fighting from afar by email or telephone.  It serves no benefit for my children and only serves to make me look like the crazy dad (er, adoptive dad, right?).

It's a choice.  GHSD has made one at three different schools and even with the ParentVUE computer system.  Sure I guess maybe it's just a "coincidence" that all three schools have treated me the same and that all three schools are just magically unprofessional in returning correspondence.  Yeah, maybe it's just a "coincidence" that the ParentVUE system doesn't send me updates.  I mean, maybe it's just happen-stance that I have not received a grade card in the mail.  Funny.

But in the end there it is.  So, GHSD, please treat my children better than you have treated me.  Thank you for sending a clear message that I am, for whatever reason, not as important to my children (which, btw . . . it's hilarious because Mary A. White Middle School continues to send out "Parent Blast" on the value of Fathers).  At the close of each night I know one thing, I have five beautiful, wonderful, intelligent children and three of them are miles away.  They are not my "adoptive" children they are mine.  I was present when each one of them were being carried by their mother (I would say "conceived" but that wouldn't be true).  I was there when each were born and held each of them moments after birth.  I raised them for twelve years in the home with their mother.  I worked a full time job and on two instances a full time and part time job to take care of them and during one crazy period two full time jobs in an effort to take care of them.  I painted their rooms.  I changed their diapers.  I read to them.  I played with them.  I took them for walks.  I did everything that I was supposed to do as a father and to this day I love them with everything in my heart.  Even if you, GHSD wish to minimize me as a parent the truth is, I have always been there for them.

I am disappointed and angry that GHSD has behaved this way but what really am I to do?  In the end, I know that Jacob, Hannah and Knoah are my children and I love them regardless of who tries to marginalize me as a parent, I know who I am.  In the end I am not angry at GHSD for taking the positions they have.  I get it, honestly, I do.  I used to be a licensed social worker and substance abuse therapist and understand how and why schools make the decisions they do.  They want to believe the "parent" they know.  I get it.  It's too bad they don't know the background on how lies and manipulation have harmed people.  They have taken my ability to work in my degree field and to support my children.  They have openly diminished me as a "parent" to my three oldest children.  They have . . . . . made me more cynical, bitter and uncaring then I ever expected to be.  So I don't blame GHSD entirely.  I am disappointed that they have chosen to act this way.  But . . . what to do?  Make noise about it and be the "crazy adoptive dad" . . . . nah.  No point.  I've been hurt enough and doing so would only cause problems for the kids.  So . . . . you move on knowing that some folks truly do walk through the raindrops and you hope that karma really is a b***h.  Sure, it's bitter and sure it's angry but it's also resignation that you are done fighting something you can't win and would rather let some cosmic force have a turn.

UPDATE:  I received an email from the Principal on 15 April but the contents were not about my children but rather a Lakshore Staff Member who was terminated after a police investigation found that he had inappropriate contact with one or more students.

Amazingly enough the comments on the news story discussed the photos of students that he had posted on his Facebook profile.  A simple search of his name (Dominic Ciccantelli) showed this to be true.  It raises questions to what the schools policies are regarding staff members taking photographs on school property and posting them on the internet without parents knowledge.  IMO, it show a very clear lack of leadership that a new staff member (hired in Nov '14) felt comfortable enough to take photos in the classroom, gymnasium and on field trips with either a camera or smartphone and was apparently not questioned about it.  More importantly it raises the concern, IMO, that Mr. Ciccantelli's behaviors were not questioned until after the police notified the school.  Exactly what was his supervisor doing to provide training and oversight?

Additionally the marking period ended on 25 March 2015 but as of today (04/16/15) the ParentVUE system is not updated nor have I received a grade card in the mail.  Honestly, how long does this take?

I then emailed the school to inquire about the continued lack of contact as I have not heard from the school or the principal since the last email on 30 March.  I also requested direction about the third marking period grade card.  I wonder how long follow-up will take or if I should just contact the superintendent and or school board?  Sure, why not, really what do I have to lose?  It's not like I can get less information, right!

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