It’s been so busy with the engagement and wedding preparations, but I wanted to share with you about the meeting we had at the Ministry of Education.
We got to the Ministry early but were refused admittance since the guard said he didn’t have authorization for us to enter that day; he refused to call the people we told him we were meeting with and told us it was our problem to call them ourselves. Since I had never had direct phone contact with any of those who would be on the committee, I was stumped as to how we were supposed to do that.
He also refused to let us sit on the bench on the opposite side of the checkpoint just two steps away. Finally, ds5, exhausted after traveling two hours to get there, lay down on the floor and put his arms under his face to use as a pillow. Then the guard let me sit with him on the bench.
I decided the only thing we could do was wait for them to let us know we were late and call in an authorization for us to go in; fortunately it wasn’t much longer before I received a call from the secretary asking if I forgot that we were supposed to meet that day. Just as I answered that call, an experienced guard came in who knew how things were supposed to be done and directed us to where we were supposed to go (the new authorization wasn’t waiting there, either!). Not the most auspicious beginning for an important meeting!
We entered the room where three officials were waiting to meet with us together with all of the children we are homeschooling, and I right away noticed their eyes fall on Yirmi (ds5) and linger there. While they were asking us about ourselves and we were responding, Yirmi went over to one of the officials, tapped her on her arm and asked her for paper to draw. The woman was quite warm and friendly to him, and he returned happily with his paper to his seat while we continued the meeting.
Then they started questioning the kids. Ds11 felt the most pressured; as the oldest sibling present, most of the questions were directed to him. Some of what he was asked: if he wants to homeschool, if he wants to go to school, doesn’t he think it would be better if he could do what his friends are doing, does he think he’s on the same level as his friends….
Ds11 responded that he was happy homeschooling, he wasn’t interested in going to school, his friends in school don’t especially like being there and aren’t learning more than he is. As she kept asking and asking, I could see in his eyes that he couldn’t understand why she kept asking similar questions to those he had already answered. It felt like she was working to elicit a negative response from him.
She asked him what he would do if I let him go to school for one week; he answered but at this point, I decided this line of questioning had gone on far enough. I asked rhetorically, “If a child wants chocolate for breakfast every day, should I give it to him? I’m the parent and I’m the one who will decide what is right for my child educationally.”
She disagreed, and told me that an eleven year old is mature enough to make these decisions for himself. Clearly we have a different perspective.
They asked each child all about what his academic schedule, extracurricular, friends. When one of the officials pulled out a book in Hebrew and pushed it toward ds11 to test his reading, I saw another son’s face blanch. He is reading in English and Hebrew, but due to dyslexia it’s not yet on the level of what is typical for a child his age. He’s doing amazingly, though, and we all see huge progress on that front! (I shared about the approach I’ve taken and the materials we use for him here.) But understandably he didn’t want to be tested out loud by strangers.
I motioned to him reassuringly and told him aloud that he didn’t have to read if he didn’t want to. I felt it was really important for the security of our children that they knew that I would protect their boundaries. Another son also said he preferred not to. The official was about to put away the book and I told him he didn’t ask Yirmi if he wanted to read! Yirmi loves to read books and of course he enthusiastically agreed! He isn’t reading aloud yet and there’s no rush on our parts; our focus is on input, input, input and not on testing the output (ie testing). We’ve recently started Hebrew with him – because he sees his brothers learning with dh and is constantly requesting to learn with him as well – and we’ve been doing flashcards in English for years. But he looked very cute looking into the book studiously and then beaming up at them.
There was extensive questioning about how I would address Yirmi’s educational needs, and didn’t I know how much benefit the child and the parents get from the special education system? My focus is not on expressing negativity about a different system but on what I feel I can offer in the home environment, and that’s what I shared. I added that I don’t feel I have to know everything and am quite comfortable reaching out for support and help when necessary.
When the meeting was finally over – it was probably about an hour long – as soon as we walked out one of the boys right away asked if they’re ever going to have to do that again. They hated it! And I hated that they had to do it – it’s an intimidating process even for adults and too much pressure for a child. Afterward I found out that legally I could have refused to bring them but I thought that it was mandatory since the school year had already started. (That’s what I was told.)
Dh and I felt the meeting went as well as could be hoped for; they were clearly charmed by Yirmi and him being so natural and comfortable lightened the atmosphere for everyone. Overall I felt comfortable with the officials and so did dh.
The next day dh happened to pass one of the officials who was waiting outside a building he passed, and the official told us they had all been very impressed with us. That was hopeful but nonetheless, I didn’t jump to any conclusions about what the outcome would be – particularly about Yirmi. I’ve been told it’s very difficult to receive approval to homeschool a child with special needs, particularly if those needs are immediately apparent (like with Trisomy 21). And this is where my main concern about this outcome lay.
When the email came, I held my breath while I opened it. There was an individual file for each child, and after opening the first one, went to Yirmi’s. It said the same thing as for all of his brothers.
The results? We received authorization to homeschool each of the following children: ds11, ds10, ds8 and ds5.
Yes, we received the first authorization (as far as I know) in the State of Israel to homeschool a child with Trisomy 21!!!
After the meeting, l- r: me, ds5, dh, ds8 (behind), ds11, ds10
I feel like writing a bunch more exclamation marks and jumping up and down and can’t think about this without tearing up with happiness. We were ready to go to court to appeal if we were denied permission, but I kept picturing a peaceful and pleasant outcome of our meeting with the Ministry of Education officials. My mantra I repeated to myself over and over again was, “It can be easy, it can be easy.”
I have to add here that this was a huge personal victory for me. I had so much anxiety about this process for so long, and once he got to age 5, finally put my concerns to the side and did what needed to be done. My thinking had caused me to feel disempowered and threatened, and I consciously worked to release the fear I felt about dealing with these officials. They’re only people. It’s so easy for fears to grow and grow, unless we recognize them and let them go.
What does this mean for now? The approval is for one year, which means it will need to be renewed for the coming school year. Since home visits are part of the homeschool requirements, we will be seeing one of these officials another two times this year when she comes to visit. One positive outcome of having a social worker regularly come into my home as part of the foster care process is that I’ve become much less sensitive about having officials in my home. I don’t agree with having home visits as part of the homeschooling oversight process and think it’s invasive and inappropriate, but I’m not threatened by it.
We’ll take it one year at a time and trust that things will continue to work out for the best!