Hi Rene,

My 8 year old son, Matthew, has a learning disability and perpetually struggles to keep up at his (mainstream) school – a situation that leaves him frustrated and angry.

We recently met with the principal of the school and Matthew’s teachers who have suggested he attend a special needs’ school in the area. But my husband, Roger, is vehemently opposed to the idea and thinks we’d be giving up on Matt if we sent him to this new place. Roger argues it’s the school’s job to teach Matthew and if he needs some more time and attention – so be it. Plus he says special needs’ schools carry a stigma, which Matthew will bear for the rest of his life.

I understand my husband’s point of view, but our son is so unhappy and gets picked on for being ‘slow’. Even some of our ‘friends’ have suggested he go to another school because he’s holding back his classmates since the teachers have to spend so much time working with him…

What do you think Rene? What would you do if you were in our situation?


Michelle, Oregon

Dear Michelle:

First of all, let’s not lose sight over who and what this is ultimately about, the education of Matthew in order to give him the best possible chance at a fulfilling life. If you approach it from that standpoint, it should make the answers clear or at least I hope it does. To that end, here are my suggestions.

EVALUATE WHERE MATTHEW WILL LEARN BEST: You don’t mention what type of learning disability he has. The only reason I ask that is because you need to determine whether your school or the district is properly equipped to teach a student with his special needs. It sounds as if the principal doesn’t believe his school can do that but it’s not necessarily up to him or her. You need to find out whether Matthew qualifies for special help in class. I would speak with the guidance counselor who can then work with you in setting up a screening to determine whether Matthew is eligible for special accommodations in the classroom, which are mandated by the state and could include extra time on tests or more one on one instruction.

BE REASONABLE ABOUT CLASSROOM EXPECTATIONS: Let me speak up for the teachers just for a second. I hear what your husband is saying but let’s keep in mind teachers have responsibilities other than your son. In a class size of 25, Matthew is just one student. Is it fair for them to spend a disproportionate amount of time on him while giving other students short shrift? This further underscores the importance of finding out whether he qualifies for some sort of accommodation.

THE BULLYING: No, no, absolutely not! Bullying should not be tolerated in any way shape or form at any school. If Matthew is being teased for whatever reason, school officials need to know and the students responsible, reprimanded. The school (though it really begins at home) should be teaching tolerance of others. The bullying has to stop right now.

TIME FOR A “COME TO JESUS TALK” WITH ROGER:  This is the part of your letter that gets my goat. Can you explain to me how putting Matthew in a school that is best suited to him and his individual needs is “giving up on him”? I would say it’s just the opposite; in fact it sounds more like you are giving your kid a fighting chance to learn despite his challenges. And  “A stigma that Matthew will carry the rest of his life?” Are you kidding me? Only if you go into it thinking that. And by the way, who gives a shit what other people think or say if your kid goes to a special needs school? Are you trying to give your son the best chance at an education or win a popularity contest? How will you feel when you’re old and gray and you have the (fleeting) approval of your peers but your son is working a minimum wage job, unable to achieve his full potential because he wasn’t placed in an environment where he could do his best learning? You and your husband have got to get a grip and I mean YESTERDAY!

Not every school is perfect for everyone. If Matthew’s needs cannot be met at this school, it is your responsibility as a parent to find one where they will be. He is your son. He has a learning disability. It is not the end of the world, it is a challenge that you will meet head on and successfully work through. Your actions will teach Matthew that his parents cared enough to provide him with the very best. Hopefully Roger learns how to stop caring so much about the people who ultimately don’t matter and instead worry about the one who does.

Good luck!

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