Thursday, August 25, 2016

More Changes in Bakersfield

When we started the school year, we were a Reagan Elementary family. But things got complicated last Tuesday. Here's our story*:

Our family relocated back to Bakersfield on June 9, 2016. The house we purchased was perfect - close to my husband’s work and just doors down from the front doors of Reagan Elementary. The price of the home was more than we planned on spending, but it was worth it to be so close to a highly regarded elementary school that our kids could walk to. We knew the school was highly populated, so I rushed to the school the morning the office opened back up for the year so that I could turn in our registration paperwork. Both kids were anxious about the uncertainty of where they would end up. My husband and I did not (and still don't) understand why they would let these kids start at one school and then uproot them 2 or 3 weeks later, after they've made friends and adjusted. That seemed extremely unfair to the students and their families. We tried to prepare our kids for the possibility and inquired about when we would know. We asked if there was any indication of which school we might overflow to and said if one were to overflow they both would. We did not want our kids at different schools. When I expressed this, I was not given any information to contradict our wishes. No one gave me any information, actually. I asked questions about the process, like where the overflow schools might be and I was brushed off and told I'd need to wait. Perhaps this was the norm for them, but as a concerned parent of two kids who were dealing with anxiety already, this was something we were taking very seriously and were concerned about. There should have been more information.

On the first day at Reagan, my kids stared out into the playground at the sea of kids. We knew no one. Our youngest stepped into the crowd and bravely attempted to make friends. Our oldest stepped forward and cried. I told her, "We'll all make friends." And her answer, "But then I might have to do this all over again." Meanwhile, my son was told by his teacher that no one was going to go anywhere. They'd get more desks or get another teacher, but no one was leaving Reagan. While we were trying to prepare them for the possibility of us having to leave their brand new school down the street from our house, this new adult he was supposed to trust was telling him not to worry - they were all staying.

Yesterday we found out our dog is dying. We sat with the kids in their rooms and explained that she is very sick and wasn't going to get better and that someday soon we were going to need to let her go. They were devastated. It was one more change. It was one more uncertainty for a seven and nine year old to stress over. It's awful.

You might be wondering what the two have to do with each other. Nothing. And everything. Because in this time of uncertainty, I was looking to take something, anything, off of my kids’ shoulders. I called our new school to inquire about the potential overflow. I was hoping to confirm what my son's teacher had told him and put his and his sister's minds at ease.

The principal called me back and informed me that my son was one of the overflow students. My daughter can remain, and my son would be welcome back next year. But maybe my daughter would be an overflow student the following year? I was upset, obviously so. My main concern is my kids’ well-being. My job is to look out for them and their hearts and their best interests. I believe that their schools, administrators, and district should be doing the same. Allowing kids to settle into a new school and then uproot them weeks later is not fair to them. It is not in their best interests. I was told he could start at the new school tomorrow, or I could wait until transportation is worked out (a couple of weeks). It felt like we were quickly being unloaded.

I called my husband and we each set out to get more information. He left work and went to the new school. I called and spoke to someone in the district office. Apparently, they will not allow us to enroll our 4th grader with her brother. "No siblings will be accommodated as part of the district overflow."

So tomorrow, each of my young kids, who are already nervous about being the new kids in new schools, will walk onto their campuses and playgrounds without having their sibling there for extra support. There will be no comfort in having their sibling across the way. My daughter feels guilty that she doesn't have to move (this year, I'm told she could very well be forced to move any year) but also doesn't want to leave.

When I picked up my son at Reagan this afternoon, he cheerfully announced that he'd made three new friends and that he was excited because he was going to play kickball with all of them tomorrow. He was animated and beaming. And then he handed me his overflow letter. I drove him out of our neighborhood to his new school to look around. Everyone there is very friendly and helpful. We met his teacher and got to see where we will pick him up. It was important to us to give him a chance to see the school before his second first day of second grade. But our brief tour of the school and pep talk didn't help him like we hoped. My normally resilient, optimistic son is curled up next to me with the covers up to his ears, sleeping at 4pm. The stress of this situation has made him sick and we'll be keeping him home because he had a fever this afternoon. 

Our family is trying to become a part of our community. We left behind a neighborhood full of friends and a school that I had been involved with, volunteering my time as a room mom and class photographer three times in four years, even with twin infants. Our old school was our link to our new community. It gave all of us, especially our kids, a feeling like we belonged. We purchased a home in a neighborhood we had heard great things about. We were willing to pay the price we did because of the proximity of the school. Our purchase wasn't just for a new home, it was an investment in our kids - giving them access to a school down our street. Now, we'll be splitting between two elementary schools - working to be involved as much as we can, but completely incapable of giving our kids and their schools the same amount of commitment and volunteer time we had planned. Upon investigation, I've already discovered their Back to School nights are on the same day and time, I can only imagine that we'll have many more conflicts to deal with. 

This feels like a loss for all of us, especially my kids, and it's a horrible feeling. The most frustrating thing is, Reagan Elementary is our school. Its just down the street from our home, my kids don't even have to cross the street to get there. We pay taxes for this school. We are zoned to Reagan Elementary. Students who have applied for special transfers, who are not within the school boundaries are not considered overflow students. They get first priority (over our resident kids) to go to this school because they got their paperwork in before us. A family who feels like their child needs to attend because it is more convenient to them can request a transfer and have it granted but a family who moves here during the summer and purchases a home (and pays taxes for that school) does not. Information I've found on the Panama Buena Vista website said "All students will attend their school of residence." Ronald Reagan Elementary IS our school of residence and my children should get to go there.

* Most of what is written above was sent to the Superintendent's assistant, the Assistant Superintendent and her assistant on Tuesday night. I spoke with the Assistant Superintendent and she informed me that there was absolutely nothing that could be done. She said we are one of 21 families affected at Reagan Elementary. She said now is the time for us to teach our son about overcoming obstacles and making the best out of every situation and whatever changes that may come. And  while that is absolutely what we will do, it doesn't make this any less wrong. It's my responsibility as a parent to teach him these things, but it is also my job to advocate for him and speak up when I believe something isn't right. She was very nice, as everyone who I've spoken to has been - but the policies in place are unacceptable. It is unacceptable that people are buying homes in areas and schools are unable to accommodate them. She did offer to see if she could find a spot for my daughter at the overflow school, but my daughter doesn't want to leave the friends she's made or the teacher she has. She likes her school (we do too!). Even though my original goal was to at least keep them together - somewhere - I've had to readjust because it's not fair to let her feel hurt just because her brother is hurting. 

The only fair thing here is to follow what Panama Buena Vista Union School District states in their handbook (Intradistrict Open Enrollment E.C. section 35160.5 b) : "No student currently residing within a school's attendance area may be displaced by another student transferring from outside the attendance area." That's what we want. We also want this district to take a close look at how they handle these situations and change their policies. This situation would have stung a lot less if we'd known when we purchased that both of our kids would not be able to attend our resident school. It would have gone a lot smoother if we had been notified prior to the first day of instruction and given the opportunity to choose whether we wanted to split our kids up or not. It would have been in the students (and the school's) best interest to start their years off at the school they would be assigned to. If nothing else, I hope things change so other kids don't have to deal with this again.


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