School Entry A great success story about school re-entry for a student with environmental sensitivities. These "thank you" letters describe the school and health care partnerships that resulted in a child's successful school re-entry.
December 17, 2006
Hope this finds you well as we approach yet another holiday season. As Jeffrey has now completed four months of middle school, it seemed like a good time to send along an update and a heartfelt thank you.
So far, Jeffrey 's entry back into the public school system has been nothing but positive. He has acclimated well and is a straight "A" student. He has been very happy with his choice to go back and all of his teachers have been delighted to have him in their classes. But more importantly, the management of Jeffrey's environment has very much been a collaborative effort of the teachers, administrators, nurses, and us as his parents. While we had hoped for such a partnership, we had many doubts based upon the previous experiences with the public school system. However, the current partnership (and we use that word deliberately) has operated as envisioned during the 504 meetings we had at the beginning of the school year, and we have you to thank.
Your initial counsel and guidance to us proved to be the difference between the positive, successful experience we are currently having versus the antagonistic and unsuccessful experience we had five years ago with this very same school system. By approaching school personnel with the desire to collectively and cooperatively manage Jeffrey's environment, and hence his health, while simultaneously educating those involved, we were able to lay the foundation for the current collaborative effort that exists. By demonstrating our concern for our son's health, all the measures we had personally taken at home, and our desire to work with the school, we were able to begin putting the school administrators and district personnel at ease. Your suggestion to bring a photo and brief write-up on Jeffrey further helped solidify the relationship as it made the conversation real by putting a face and person to our concerns. Rather than coming in with a list of accommodations needed, or focusing on a formal 504 plan, the suggested approach allowed us to avoid a confrontational relationship and instead begin to build a cooperative relationship.
With the school personnel more at ease, we were in a much better position to help provide some education on environmental sensitivities. Getting the time and attention for this was a critical step as it starts the awareness process. As the teachers and staff began to see how much Jeff has had to manage in his life, how pervasive the use of harmful chemicals is in our environment and how avoidance is the only way to protect Jeff, they began to have a more personalized understanding of his circumstances. It is also interesting to note that these conversations often lead to connections with others which then helps to further solidify the understanding and empathy. One of Jeffrey's teachers noted that she cannot be around perfume as it gives her tremendous headaches, while another teacher explained how her nephew is much more intolerant of chemicals than Jeffrey is. It was the cooperative environment that allowed these connections to be made, connections that would not have been likely had we simply focused on trying to get accommodations under a 504 plan.
Also very critical to the success of the current working relationship has been the role of the school nurse. Given their guardian roles over the health of the children, it is essential to have the nurse as a strong advocate. As you suggested, we sought out this advocacy early in the process by spending some one-on-one time with the school nurse explaining Jeffrey's condition and developing a protocol to be followed. Once this process began, her natural nursing instincts took over and she has become the most attentive and inquisitive member of the team. As Jeffrey has unfortunately had some exposures since returning to school, he has spent some time in the nurse's office during which the nurse has been able to see first hand the physical effects on Jeffrey of such exposures. With the collaborative effort that exists, Jeffrey is able to leave class to go to the nurse's office without question and have the nurse administer the agreed upon protocol. In these situations, the nurse has contacted us to discuss what might have been the cause and then to work with others in the school to further investigate by looking at unique changes, diet, new environments, and so forth.
Similarly, Jeffrey s teachers have also been accommodating in their efforts at helping to manage his environment. They have moved him without question when he has voiced concerns over perfumes or other chemical scents, and have often asked about certain supplies, materials or other items to ensure they will not be problematic for him.
While individual personalities, the school system, circumstances and other factors can all influence the outcome, we truly believe that your approach and guidance are what made our situation so successful. As you know, we are in the unique position of having attempted a different approach of simply seeking accommodations under a 504 plan five years ago with this same school system and same special education director. As you also know, we were met with tremendous resistance, refusal of accommodations and ultimately a weak and inadequate agreement with the Office of Civil Rights. This experience has been the opposite and should be a model for others to follow. People appear to inherently want to do the right thing but become fearful due to a lack of understanding, the confrontational nature of parents, the unwritten policies and practices that exist, the absence of a support network, and so forth. Your approach of not necessarily trying to fix these societal issues but to acknowledge and then react accordingly has been the key to success. Earn the confidence of the school personnel, educate them to the issue, bring a human face to the problem, avoid becoming confrontational, show them your desire to work with them and not against them, and then work together to memorialize in writing the roles, responsibilities, actions and other measures needed in a Section 504 plan, IHP or other document as appropriate.
As we have learned, navigating issues such as ours with a school system can be a very difficult, confusing, time consuming, arduous and unforgiving process. We have been so very lucky and thankful to have your stewardship through the years. Your insights, guidance and clarity in these matters have been indispensable in helping us to protect the health of our son. Your work and efforts at helping to bring about change for all children is truly admirable.
With much appreciation, Beverly and John Stantial
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To: Ms. Lisa Hall, BSN, RN Northampton Wellness Center 395 Pleasant Street Northampton, MA 01060
October 8, 2006
Thank you so much for your time, effort and guidance in helping us to develop an effective school health plan for Jeffery. He has now been in school for over a month and is generally fairing well. The staff has not only been supportive, but also understanding and responsive when situations have arisen. The school nurses quickly followed your medical protocol the two times that Jeffrey had to visit their office due to a reaction, leading to a fast recovery time. His teachers have been very supportive and accommodating, particularly when Jeffrey needed special transportation to and from their last fieldtrip. And the administrators have kept us abreast of any maintenance issues, including asking us and using our recommended kitchen cleaning products for Jeffrey's home economics class. Thus far, it has turned out better than we could have expected and that is very much due to the time you spent in discussion with the school nurse and Director of Special Services. Your efforts at explaining Jeffrey's condition and the impact of poor air quality were so successful that the recommendations you made were largely incorporated into the written plan without question. Additionally, the Director herself became somewhat of an advocate. At one point she said that everyone needs to provide an environment where Jeffery is comfortable and not made to feel different.
We recognize that the effort and time you put into helping us was significant especially in light of your existing demands and schedule, and we are extremely thankful. We would not have been successful were it not for your efforts. We hope others who need help with school planning can see how having such advocacy from their child's health care providers can lead to better school-family collaboration and such a positive outcome.
Seeing the joy in Jeffrey each day as he returns from school has been absolutely priceless. Thank you again for all your support, concern and effort, they have meant more than we can possibly express.
With much gratitude, John & Beverly Stantial Cc: Dr. Barry Elson
The world endures solely by virtue of the breath of school children. (Talmud)