Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

email: margalitc at yahoo dot com

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Cleveland school shooting media massacre

No secret here, I'm very unhappy with the media when it comes to reporting the school shooting yesterday in Cleveland. I don't understand why this incident, like every other school incident, has to be sensationalized to the point where the information is vastly distorted. This drives me absolutely bonkers for very personal reasons. I have a child with a mental illness. My child could easily be described by reporters just like Asa Coon, the shooter in yesterday's tragedy. The difference in a nutshell: my child receives a lot of help and has absolutely NO access to guns or money to buy weapons. Otherwise, my kid has been suicidal, has been in trouble in school, has had conflicts with teachers (like most teenagers), and has bickered with other students. So yes, I take it personally when I hear the descriptions of Coon that make him sound deranged. But what I really am angry about is that it is questioned by certain reporters (Chris Cuomo in particular) as to why Coon was allowed in that 'special' school for high achieving kids.

Um, unless I'm mistaken, and I know for a fact that I am not, there is nothing that separates giftedness from mental illness. In fact, many highly gifted kids have mental and emotional problems. They tend to go hand in hand, in fact. If Coons was academically eligible for a magnet school for the gifted, then he got to go. It's called FAPE. A Free and Appropriate Public Education. It's part of federal law. Discrimination against the mentally ill is also illegal. A child with mental illness is just as eligible for schooling as a child with a physical disability, or a completely normal child. A child is a child in the US, and they are all eligible for FAPE. For Coons, who apparently was academically gifted, entrance into a magnet school was appropriate. That he wasn't given help within the school is another matter, but that's not Coon's fault. It's the fault of the Cleveland schools that failed to provide help for a child with a record of mental illness and violence. Which, unfortunately, seems to be the norm within many public schools in the USA.

What bugs me is that the media glosses over these facts and paints a picture of this child as evil and demonic when in fact he was probably desperate, miserable, and mentally ill. He had a history of suicidal tendencies. That alone marks him as being depressed. He had a history of violence. That gives further credence towards a diagnosis of mental illness. He was lonely, out of place in an almost all black school as a white student, and evidently had access to weapons. These are serious warning signs that were ignored. But is this Coon's fault, or the fault of the mental health and school officials that should have been watching him carefully.

As the parent of a bipolar child, one who has been violent in the past, one who is academically gifted beyond what most public schools can handle, one who has plenty of wacky behaviors, it is my responsibility to ensure that my child not only receive an appropriate education, but one that includes accommodating his mental illness. In our school system, this is easily accomplished within the local public school. Our school has many programs within the school called 'small community' programs. Both of my kids are in small community programs. My son has a therapist that comes to the school weekly. His program is run by a psychologist that specializes in kids with behavior issues. There are group meetings that deal with school stresses, and the kids can be completely isolated within the program if they are unable to deal with the larger school community, or they can take all their classes outside the program if they are doing well enough to deal with the rigors of a very challenging school program. My son does a combination, taking most but not all of his classes outside of the program. But because he is in the program, he is watched very carefully and I am in almost daily contact with the program director about how his school day went, his successes as well as his screw-ups. My son is by no means alone as being bipolar and able to manage a large public school successfully. There are 25 kids in his program alone, as well as plenty of other kids in other small community programs within our school. Because those kids are so closely monitored, any incident that could lead to violence within the school is most likely averted before it gets out of hand.

Yes, this is expensive and unfortunately isn't always fail safe. But the level of parental involvement, the inclusion of the state department of mental health and the local mental health center that provides in school therapy, and the inclusion of trained psychologists to run the program provide a lot of insurance that the kids are less likely to act out inappropriately.

Parenting a child with a mental illness is a full time job. Every day is different, every day might be dangerous, crazy, or just plain normal. You never know. But what I do know is that because MY child has a program within our public school that works with his therapist, me, and our family therapist, I know that he is safer and happier than he would be in any other type of setting.

Often people deride me for living in such an expensive area. Many bloggers have gotten on my case and been totally asinine about me moving to a less expensive area and calling me irresponsible for staying here. I stay here for this program and this school system. I stay here to protect my children from bad schools and bad school officials that don't care about mental illness and offer no protection for my children. I stay here because I know that this is the best I can do for my children. And nobody can convince me otherwise, despite the ridiculous cost of living. When every high school in the country offers programs equal to or better than the programs my children currently participate in, then I'll leave. Until then, shut the fuck up about how you know better about my economic situation than I do.

As for the media, get your opinions out of your reporting and learn the laws about education within the USA. It's ridiculous that any reporter questions why a child is "allowed" to attend a certain school. FAPE, people. FAPE.

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Anonymous FishyGirl said...

Amen, Margalit. My father is bipolar, has been for 30 years. People are usually surprised about this, because he is compliant with his meds and any issues he has are due primarily to his lousy personality and not his illness. I get scared every time one of these incidents happens, because the media and other people start making a huge deal about the illness and not about the more important issues at play here - lack of support.

Living in one of those expensive places, not so far away from you, I think (DC burbs, MD side for me), I fully understand your decision to stay there. I am glad your son is getting the support he needs - I wish you could go anywhere in the country and get it.

12/10/07 10:18 AM  
Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said...

It's funny how we hear stories and react to them differently---for me, it was hearing Nancy Grace rail against him being homeschooled ("what was he being taught?" "what standards must he follow?" "he should've been IN SCHOOL!") What??!

The fact that he had access to weapons with parental consent is the most disturbing part of this whole thing.

But those reporters are being ignorant for questioning his intelligence.

14/10/07 4:04 AM  

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