L.J. Murphy, MFA, thank you for writing this. This part is so true. I’ve worked for public schools in SpEd — specifically, serving the students w/IEPs. I’ve worked both pushing in & pulling students out of classrooms for small group, or even 1:1; grades K-5th. On an unrelated (yet also very related) theme, I’m the Mom of a transgender teen who began socially transitioning during elementary school/5th grade.
Now (years later), as a public advocate for trans youth, I’ve had to learn a lot in a very short time. Incidentally, I’ve learned that many trans kids are also on the autism spectrum, primarily “high functioning.” And many trans kids have complex stress like high anxiety, “anger issues,” or panic disorder (as my child had), which are just a few of the many ways that gender dysphoria manifests in young trans kids… especially those who don’t yet have the words to express what’s wrong.
I, too, was fortunate, in that I worked at the school where my child attended at the time. It gave me some relief to be close by. Of course, I also saw all the problem areas, where things definitely needed to change — and not just for my child. And most importantly, because I worked for the school system, I knew WHAT to advocate for (and how to ask for it), in order to ensure my child got what they needed to be safe, successful and thriving.
But I often wondered — like you did here — about all the parents of students who didn’t work in the school system, i.e., all the parents who didn’t get to see how many instances of gender segregation were happening in classrooms, or how often “gender policing” by other students happens, unchecked, and sometimes, by even the teachers. Or how many times *trans students who are “stealth” get outed by systems like PowerSchool — every day, multiple times a day. I wondered about all the parents who didn’t get to be “a fly on the wall” and see how truly awful the General Ed classroom could be for students who are just a little bit “different.”
*Re: trans students: There are many more trans students in school than most people realize — many are “masking,” intentionally or unintentionally as cisgender (much like the way many gay people might be “hiding” or “in the closet”); or, many are “stealth,” meaning, no one knows, i.e., they have “passing privilege. And so on.
I run a group at my local LGBT Center for trans youth ages 12 & under and their parents. We’ve been going strong for almost 4 years. Of the hundreds of parents of trans kids who’ve walked through those doors to attend a monthly meeting, I’ve yet to meet one who also works in their child’s current school. And my heart goes out to them, because most tend to think their child is getting exactly what they need and everything is all fine and dandy. I don’t tell them otherwise, I just try to be there when they come back — often months or a year later, saying, “Help! I thought everything was going great; turns out it’s not!”
Parents often leave conferences in general feeling upbeat and satisfied because of the positive spin that (many) schools use in order to downplay instances of harassment & bullying — for all kinds of “different” kids, whether trans, autistic, SpEd, OHI, or other.
It’s just really sad, and I don’t see things getting better any time soon. In fact, I see it getting worse and worse — especially in places where “behavior” needs trump the students with IEPs. In these situations (primarily, schools that aren’t set up w/EBS, most restrictive setting, or other self-contained classrooms), there are invariably students with IEPs who may or may not be getting their service delivery met — often, because students with more outwardly extreme behavioral needs (aggression, oppositional defiance, hostility, or a history of making dangerous threats and being violent, for example) are sort of “dumped” on SpEd teachers.
To clarify, I mean SpEd teachers who are NOT trained in (or qualified to) handle the type of long-term, sustained patterns of extreme attention-seeking (or aggressive, or violent, or whatever) behaviors exhibited by very troubled students. I mean the students who really belong in a self-contained class, but the process of getting them there has so much red tape that it would take an act of congress to happen. It’s heartbreaking for everyone involved.
Thank you again for writing this piece.