Thursday, October 1, 2015

Not a good start to the second year of preschool

At the start of the school year, we spent hours crafting a letter from us to David’s classmates’ parents asking them to please be careful about tree nuts and mango at preschool to help keep David safe. (He is 3, and is unable to fully advocate for himself or keep himself safe.) We included all of our contact info, and we asked the preschool director for email addresses for the other parents so we could send it to them. She refused, and insisted on emailing it out herself. She didn’t send it out before the first full day of school, so we printed it out and asked the teacher to send it home with all the kids. Even if it had gone out by email, it seemed like a good idea to do it on paper as well, since email isn’t perfectly reliable.

The director finally emailed our letter to all of the parents after the second day of school had started, after we told her that we would have to remove David from the school until we knew the other parents had actually been contacted. She included our cover note asking her to send this out on our behalf.

Not a single other parent contacted us. No questions, no complaints, no reassurances, nothing.

Today the director told us that she had multiple other parents complain to her about our letter. The director was angry with us that we had sent a note to other parents without having her review it (the same note that she had reviewed and agreed to 2 weeks ago). She was also angry that “we” had put stickers about David’s name and allergies on various pieces of paper outside his classroom. Those were stickers we offered to the teacher in case she needed to label David’s possessions, the same stickers that we used on his possessions all of last year at this preschool, and that the teacher decided to plaster all over the place 2 weeks ago. The director, who prides herself on knowing everything that happens at the 7-classroom preschool, hadn’t noticed for 2 weeks, and had decided incorrectly that it must have been us doing it yesterday.

Back up a little. On the visit day before the first day of preschool, we heard the teacher tell other parents that there were no kids in the classroom with allergies. We had to vocally correct her, but many of the other parents had already left and we don’t know if the teacher had told them the same thing.

This was the same visit day where they refused to put David’s classroom EpiPen in the classroom with him that day. (Their broken protocol is to put it in the classroom after the visit day, before the first full day.)

When we asked the teacher in the first week of school for details about how they handled food in the classroom, the teacher responded by telling us to trust her.

When we asked the teacher on a different day about checking the lunches of the kids sitting next to David, she told us that she doesn’t have to because she knows that every parent was told about David’s allergies, and besides the school is peanut-free. (Peanut is not one of David’s allergies, so that doesn’t actually convince me that she even knows what his allergies are.) And she repeated that I was supposed to just trust her instead of asking any questions.

Yesterday, as part of a 2.5-hour appointment with the doctor who heads the Boston Children’s Hospital food allergy program, we reviewed with that doctor what we guessed were the necessary classroom protocols to keep David safe (hand-washing, checking lunches of adjacent kids, etc.). He added some things we hadn’t ever thought of, and we typed it all up and gave it to the director this morning. She blew a fuse, telling us that she didn’t trust the list because it wasn’t signed by the doctor, that the school did everything required by the state, that she couldn’t possibly do everything on the list, and finally decided that they already did everything on the list. She listened as we tried to explain that we can’t know what they do or don’t do on that list if they don’t tell us, that the teacher had been substituting demands of “trust me” for actually telling us what they do in the classroom, and that the teacher had specifically said that they were not doing some of the things on the list. She then dragged the teacher into the office to have the teacher reassure us about what they actually do in the classroom, and the teacher was very concerned that we had not simply trusted her.

It’s the same director as last year, when the school seemed to have perfectly good protocols and good communication and well-trained teachers. Every school year is different, apparently. And while I’m sure we finally have the director and the teacher paying attention, it now appears we have classroom parents who are deeply offended by someone else having life-threatening allergies. As if this is something we chose.

There are a huge number of people who complain bitterly about their child being deprived of the right to eat whatever they want wherever they want, just because of some other child’s silly life-threatening allergy. It's an astonishing level of self-absorption and self-centeredness. It’s disturbing that we have some of those people as fellow parents in David’s very small class, but we’re unlikely to fully escape them anywhere we go. We were just lucky last year.

Do we start over at a new preschool, pulling David away from all his friends, hoping that a new preschool will behave better and have more civilized fellow parents? A new preschool will have more parents, none of whom know David or us, and an entirely new set of communication challenges. And it will take us a long time to learn whether it’s actually a good fit for David socially and intellectually, which this preschool was last year.

This is all exhausting. It should have been one conversation at the start of the school year, with the school then communicating with the other parents and the teacher telling us exactly what protocols they follow around food. Instead it’s been an endless struggle, and that’s baffling.


irilyth said...

If I had to guess, I'd guess that people hear "allergies", and not life-threatening. They think of things that make you sneeze, or maybe give you a little rash; they simply don't believe that their child eating a mango next to David could kill him, because it's so far outside of their experience of what "allergies" means.

Doesn't excuse it at all, but insofar as you concluded with "baffling", and are trying to understand what the hell these people are all thinking, my guess is that it's something like that.

Michael said...

I get that with the other parents, who may never have personally dealt with life-threatening allergies. I don't get it with the director or the teacher, who have both taken multiple trainings on exactly that point and claim to understand exactly what's at stake.