Thursday, October 14, 2010

Day 14: Thursday Thoughts: Rainy Day (school) Rant

Sorry if this gets a little long.  As most of you probably know, I have filtering issues, and am incapable of making a short story short.  Either that, or I just like to hear myself type. 

We had a little situation at Samantha's public school yesterday.  Not one that anyone else would have noticed, but one that really, really ticked us off.  

As is the case for most preschoolers, I believe, Samantha gets a sheet of paper home from school in her backpack that details some of what they did each day.  It's very helpful to read, as it lets us know of any issues, or it allows us to talk with her about a particular activity they may have worked on.  It also lets us know if she used the potty by herself and whether or not she ate the snack we packed for her. 

Every day Samantha eats breakfast before school.  We send a snack for her to eat at snack time (@9:30am, I believe), and since they eat lunch at about 11am (too early in our opinion), we send a yogurt for her to eat during "lunch" time (she comes home at noon, takes a nap, and gets a real lunch when she wakes up).  A few weeks ago we received a communication from her teacher on that sheet in her backpack that stated that since Samantha did not ask for her yogurt at lunch time when told she needed to ask for it, they didn't give it to her.  We were a little miffed by this, and her yogurt did not come home in her backpack, so we thought perhaps they had eventually given it to her after all.  Now we both know that Samantha is perfectly capable of asking for her yogurt, as she asks us for it frequently. We both also know that Samantha is just being stubborn. She's 4 - that happens.  The harder you push her to do something, the more likely she is to dig in her heels and flat-out refuse. Like saying "I'm sorry." She used to say it any time she knew she'd done something wrong, but now she's at a point where she refuses to acknowledge that she's done anything wrong, and feels too ashamed to say "I'm sorry," so she's practically pushed it completely out of her vocabulary. We're working hard on that one...

A few days later the teacher came for a scheduled home visit, where she mentioned that they were requesting that the students ask for the food before they would give it to them.  Steve responded to this by telling her he was all for placing this responsibility on the children, but that he didn't agree with the idea of withholding their lunches.  He suggested that they prompt Samantha with picture cards, then just give her the food if she still doesn't ask.  (I know this doesn't reinforce the desired positive behavior, but we're talking about food.)  The teacher agreed. 

Nothing else was said about this, and no further notes came home that indicated this was an issue.

Until yesterday.

Samantha got off the school bus and immediately told Steve she wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Thinking she couldn't possibly be hungry after her snack, he told her no, she'd have to nap first then could have the sandwich when she woke up.  So she slept.  While she slept, he emptied her backpack and found the yogurt (now warm and unusable) that we had sent to school this morning.  The communication sheet stated once again that Samantha refused to ask for her yogurt, so they didn't give it to her.

There are so many things wrong with this practice.  To start with, this is a special needs classroom.  Many of these children have moderate to severe speech and language delays.  Additionally, many of them have medical issues, and eating certain foods at certain times is pretty darned important.  Yogurt helps with Samantha's constipation issues.  Also, this stinks because we rely on the fact that Samantha is going to have that yogurt as a snack so we create a schedule around it (yogurt at school, then nap at home, then lunch at home).  In yesterday's case, a poor, hungry little girl went to bed without having eaten and without being able to tell her daddy she didn't eat.  Last, but not least (and somewhat trivial, given the other issues we have with this whole concept), the yogurt was wasted. 

Steve was fuming.

He called the school's Vice Principal, who's the head of the Special Education department, and explained what happened, and what our concerns were.  The VP completely understood, and said he was heading down to the classroom that minute to speak with the teacher and that he would call Steve back to let him know the outcome. 

He didn't call back.

But the teacher did

Now, doesn't this just scream "confrontational?"  This teacher is a new teacher, one that is newly-certified after having been a substitute for many years, including for several months in Samantha's class last year while her main teacher was on maternity leave.  The jury's still out on our opinion of this teacher.  We're not getting the warm-and-fuzzy vibe from her like we did with Sammi's previous teachers, and I am willing to bet Samantha isn't getting that vibe from her, either.  If things don't change, I would be inclined to ask them to switch her to the other classroom (where one of her teachers from last year is now after the class was split in half), but her little BFF is in her class now and I hate the idea of separating them.

Oh, right, I went off on a tangent there...what I was getting at was that after the teacher called and accomplished nothing in her conversation with Steve, he was pretty ticked that the VP had not called him back himself.  So he got in the car and went to the school to speak to him directly.  They discussed it again in person, and established that going forward they'd try to get Samantha to ask for her food, then if she doesn't and all attempts fail, they'll put it in front of her.  If she doesn't want to eat, fine.  If she does, then it's there. 

Any thoughts on this?  Are we wrong?  Have any of your schools ever done anything like this?  I just think it's kinda weird.


stephanie said...

i'm so pi##ed off after reading this!!!! Seriously they are withholding food from a four year old because she wouldn't ask for it. And in a special needs class!! My eight year old is so shy she'd starve to death in that class. She would have a very hard time asking for food. i see where they're going with this, but if the kid refuses to ask then just give it to them! What does Sammi do just sit there and watch her friends eat while her tummy is growling!! idiots!!!

I'm so glad you talked in person and struck while the iron was hot. And what's the deal with the VP. He just passed the buck to the teacher?

You have to update on how this pans out. How can they just refuse her, her food???

Jenee said...

OMGoodness. I'm outragged for the two of you. I'm pretty sure schools can't with hold food. There are mant other opportunities through out the school day that they can work on a child asking for what they want (that doesn't involve food). What's next? Will they withhold her restroom privelages if she doesn't ask to use the potty? We are talking about a childs basic needs getting met. This is crazy. As a Mom to 4 kiddos I know that an unfed child is a non compliant child. Common sense. I'm pretty sure this has to be a state or federal law to not with hold food.

Stephanie said...

With Aiden, if he asks for his cottage cheese, he gets it. But there are times where he doesn't want to eat it. There are other times he doesn't ask, but I know he should be hungry, so I put a bowl on his tray and he'll generally eat.

Anonymous said...

Go Steve!

Nathan'smama said...

Withholding food from kids for behavior (in this case, failure to do the desired behavior) is WRONG. I previously worked with seriously emotionally disturbed kids and it was made very clear to us that we could never, ever withhold food, it must be offered even if they were going to throw it in our faces. We could give fewer choices, withhold the privilege of going to the cafeteria and make them eat on the unit, we could withhold a special snack and offer only the regular one, etc, etc, but we could never ever withhold a meal. I think it may actually be illegal. I'm sure they'd say they asked the child, so they weren't withholding, but asking someone who cannot consistently tell you what they want and need is not the same thing as asking you or me. I'd have been pissed too.

Becca said...

Okay, quick note here...I have to be kind of careful what I say sometimes in my blog, especially because in the past people from her school (her former teacher who no longer teachers there, at least) used to read my blog. I don't think anyone does now (she read it because I sent her e-mails with the blog address in the signature and I'll certainly be careful not to include the address on any future school-personnel e-mails)...the VP was pretty outraged by the situation, too. I don't think it was his intention to pass the buck to the teacher, but I think perhaps the teacher suggested that she would follow up with us and set it right. I understand the whole reinforcement thing, I just think that it was not gone about in the right way. The food should have still been offered at the end. I don't think she was being malicious, but I DO think that her actions were flawed. Positive reinforcement involves the *addition* of something (treat, toy, privilege), not the *taking away* of something.

I don't think this problem will present itself again.

Cate said...

I don't think you're wrong at all. that is just wrong.

FWIW, my daughter's school did work with her on saying or signing "I want _____" at snack time, but she was allowed to either say or sign (or both), and they had picture cards to prompt her. And it took months for her to get it. She says it now, and everyone was thrilled, but the idea of withholding the snack never ever came up. Ever. Sometimes they'd give her one goldfish cracker at a time, to get her to repeat it (or say "I want more") but she always got her whole snack.

that was long. Point is, I get using snack time to sneak in some speech practice. I do not get denying the child the food. Not at all.

Jenny said...

I got angry just reading this!! You guys have every right to be pissed off, I know I sure as hell would be! Who withholds FOOD from a child?! You are right, she should be asked to ask for it first BUT if she doesnt ask she should still be offered it in the end...anyway I thought you guys did the right thing.

Jill said...

Oh, I am pissed off too, after reading this. From the perspective of a speech pathologist, you don't automatically give something to a child, you prompt them to request. That prompt could be a visual or physical cue, or even provide her with the words. Prompt her twice and then give her the item. With time and routine, she will eventually request. NEVER completely withhold, because that creates a power struggle. Get your SLP in on this with the teacher! And way to go Steve for going down there!

Jill said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rochelle said...

Oh dear, sorry that this ever happened because clearly it should not have.
So this teacher came to meet with you at home and you clearly stated that you were in opposition to this plan and she did it anyway??

I hope that they don't do this to Sammi or any other kid again.

There are lots of ways to work on communication and requesting without withholding a child's food.

Praying that you guys hitting this head on brought light to it and the school sees the error of their ways.

Chromosomally Enhanced said...

WHAT!!!! no really! ask for food for lunch...why? in Max's preschool everyone has to try at least one bite of the healthy snack that is provided..and they can choose to eat the rest...eating is a basic need...ask to go to bathroom, read a book, go outside..I get that...snack (lunch) just that snack (lunch) all are right on..and I am so glad Steve went and talked with them...sometimes people just want to be right and not think before they do...smiles

Dawn said...

I had this same issue one year with Taylor and a teacher. I've been very fortunate that I've only every had a couple of issues with Taylor & school.

However, I was in exactly the same situation as you are now. Taylor is considered completely non-verbal. However, we were working on her at least signing and/or making a dedicated sound when it was time to eat. Food has always been a great motivator for Taylor.

While we used food, we never wanted it to be withheld if she didn't comply after some prompting. Taylor is also very stubborn, so I hear you there.

The teacher that was not giving Taylor her snack when she didn't sign or make a sound happened to be a substitute so we knew there was an end in sight but it still took 3 trips to the school and several meetings to finally get her to comply with our wishes. Obviously she was stubborn too.

Anyway, as I share your love of hearing myself type, I said all of that to let you know as far as I can see, you are doing the right things and that you aren't overreacting.

Brandie said...

I think you and your husband have good instincts and did the right thing going to the school. Food is a basic necessity. As a parent, I don't make my kids ask for meals. For a treat, yes. I've also worked in classrooms that served breakfast and lunch. We did not make the kids ask for food. And to withhold it while other kids are eating is just sick!

Zoey's mom said...

Hardly know what to say.Scary stuff.

As much as Zoey seems to love school it frightens me to no end that I leave her,for almost 3 hours and I just hope and pray she is well taken care of.She is moderately to severely delayed and has NO way of letting me know anything.She has a new one on one add and the jury is definitely out on her.You know,on some days I feel like I just want to keep her at home and just let her be here safe with me.

Hoping it has been nipped in the bud for good.Sweet Samantha ..

Michelle said...

wow! the are requesting the kids to ask for their food before getting it? I'm sure that doesn't happen it pretty much any school! Although I could be wrong, I just don't see it happening. Regular eating times should be a given, not something contingent on the student asking for! It's part of their daily routine that is built in and the kids expect that they will be fed. It's a natural break in their day, it's time to eat lunch, they should be given their lunch! I don't think you were wrong to be upset at all. I can't believe they would withhold food because she didn't request it!

Elisabeth said...

Wow, I'm so sorry this happened to you & to your daughter.