We withdrew Jack from the mother’s morning out program at our church’s preschool. Not because of anything he’d done, or because of his teacher, but because of the attitude of the program’s director, which appears to filter down through many (though decidedly not all) of the staff.
I posted back in January 2008 about an incident of the director talking to another teacher about us, and how homeschooling was so weird and unnatural. Though this individual, who is very well-respected (and therefore powerful in a high school clique-ish sort of way) in the parish, clearly has issues with homeschoolers and has made that apparent through run-ins with other homeschooling families in the church over the years, it was the first time we’d been confronted with it directly. I really struggled with what to do – part of me wanted to withdraw Alex right then and there, but I knew that would only punish him and he was loving school. Part of me wanted to bury my head in the sand in shame; I was so mortified that someone would talk about us like that to another teacher and parishioner in a crowded hallway. We decided that withdrawing Alex mid-year would not only punish him by taking away something he loved, but also just create a scene and more talk and speculation, so we let it go and just didn’t enroll him for his second year of pre-school. When the contract came out a few months later I sent it back with a note to the director stating that after much consideration and prayer, we’d decided it wasn’t in Alex’s best interest to return. I worded it carefully, sort of daring her to ask me why, which I freely admit is a bit passive-aggressive and not really my style. I don’t like personal conflict and didn’t want to get into it all with her, but on the other hand, I somehow wanted her to know how bothered I was about it all. In the end, I never heard from her and I didn’t pursue it. I’m a chicken at heart.
Fast forward 16 months or so…
I thought about it a lot over the summer, and talked with Martin about whether or not to enroll Jack in the Mother’s Morning Out program. They offer 2 different options, based on age, and he was on the line where he could go just one morning a week, or he could go 1, 2, or 3 mornings a week with the slightly older class. If we were going to do it at all, we wanted him in the Wednesday-only class with our friend, Miss Kathie. We met Kathie when she was Alex’s MMO teacher the first year he was in the program, and she’s a bundle of loveable energy. She’s so enthusiastic and warm with the kids, she loves the 15-24 month old age range, and she encourages them to get into what they’re doing, get messy, explore, and learn. Plus, she’s a homeschooling mom herself! She homeschools her daughter, who is in 5th grade, I believe. She sings in the choir with Andy. So we know her well and knew Jack would love her and love being in her class. I called the preschool office for an application, and the director asked where to send it – I told her she could put it in my choir box. Weeks go by and I get nothing, so I left another voicemail asking her to just mail it to the house. Finally I get a call back from another teacher in the school, who agrees to put it in my box. I got it, got all the medical forms done, and turned it back in with my application fee in mid-August.
School started and Jack has loved it. He would get so excited on Wednesday mornings!! Last week though, he came home with the schedule for the semester and a memo that went to the entire preschool. I should explain that in the MMO program, parents are required to volunteer in the classroom twice a semester as an aide, which helps keep the cost lower. 2 weeks ago the director emailed me with 4 dates from which to choose for our volunteer obligations, and I told her we were flexible but we’d take the 2 in November unless someone else needed to switch, and I said specifically in my note that it would be Martin and the boys coming to help out. When Alex was in MMO, Andy always went with Martin to help and it was not only always fine, it was fun. The kids loved having a bigger kid in the class almost as much as they liked having a Daddy instead of the usual Mommy, and Andy loved helping out. Alex was quite excited about getting to help out this year, too. The director responded to my email with a friendly, “Thanks, Leslie!” and said nothing more.
Then last week the memo came. In the memo, other children except for infants were banned from the preschool classrooms, and it especially named Homeschoolers. It stated concerns over the health and safety of the students, and said homeschooling children could work in the Preschool office while their parent worked in the classroom. WE ARE THE ONLY HOMESCHOOLING FAMILY ENROLLED IN THE ENTIRE SCHOOL.
Granted, there are 2 teachers (Kathie, plus the art teacher who is also only there 1 day a week) who both homeschool their only children, but both of those children are in 5th or 6th grade and for the last year or two have been sitting in a vacant room down the hall doing their schoolwork while their mothers taught. Their workload dictates it, plus they are of an age where independent work is feasible. Andy could probably do 2-3 hours of work on his own if Martin planned it carefully and loaded him up with a week’s worth of independent work to do in a single sitting, but for a 3rd grader that’s a long time to sit and work without supervision. For Alex, who is not even 6 years old and is only a kindergartener, this isn’t even vaguely within the realm of possibility, nor is it appropriate.
There are several things that chapped my hide about this:
1. I’d exchanged emails about the volunteer days 2 weeks ago with this woman, specifically mentioned the boys being with Martin, and she didn’t bother to have a conversation with me about it being an issue then or at any other point in the meantime. I found out by memo.
2. I found out by a poorly written memo that singles out homeschoolers and implies that they’re somehow a health and safety risk to the preschool students.
3. We’re the only homeschooling family enrolled in the preschool, but she’s also got 2 teachers who homeschool. She couldn’t have dealt with this by talking to us individually, but instead had to do it by public decree?
4. If I’d known before the semester began that the rules were changing, I would have avoided this problem entirely by not enrolling Jack. If I’d known about it 2 weeks ago when she first emailed me about our volunteer days, we could have handled it in a manner that didn’t feel like an accusatory finger being pointed at my family.
5. My kids are all fully vaccinated and because no one in our house attends a public school (unlike the older siblings of many of the children in the preschool) my kids are actually less of a risk to the students than their peers.
We were left with a decision – do I burn 4 vacation days to cover the volunteer days? That wasn’t necessarily such a big deal, but the bigger principle of the entire thing wasn’t something I could get past, even after I’d had 24 hours to think it over. I talked to my 2 homeschooling friends who are teachers there, and was shocked at how ostracized they are by the director and the other teachers in the program, because they homeschool. They aren’t invited out to lunch, they’re left out of most social activities…I swear, it’s like high school. Or middle school. Both of them need the income from these jobs to help support their families, so as miserable as they are they can’t just quit. I felt horrible for them.
I was so upset by all of this that I didn’t feel capable of talking to the Director about it face to face. Every time I tried to gather my thoughts, I’d end up crying. It’s all just so unfair, and so MEAN. I feel so alienated, and so judged…by people in my own church? Where there are a lot of homeschooling families?? What on earth justifies that kind of treatment?
We decided to withdraw Jack. This year, while he’s with Kathie, would probably be fine but then what? I’d rather find another preschool for him where he won’t be judged because of the choices we’ve made for our family. Andy went all the way through the program there, and Alex went most of the way before our reputation apparently caught up with him. I had really hoped Jack could have the same experience, but clearly the animosity towards us is just too deep. I have no idea why, though.
In the end, I wrote a letter to the director, and I copied my Rector on it. I thought he needed to know what was going on, but I felt like I was running to the principal or something. I hate to involve other people in petty crap like this. He wrote me back a very kind note and in the space of a paragraph explained the reasoning for the rule change – their student to teacher ratio is such this year that they literally can’t have more students in the rooms without additional staff, for liability reasons. Aha! Okay! Now we’re getting to the point! I could totally grasp that, and appreciate the reason. But how on earth did this woman’s email explain that? It didn’t. At all.
So today is Wednesday and Jack didn’t go to school. Luckily he can’t read a calendar so he doesn’t realize he’s missing anything. He’ll still get time with his peers during Sunday School and in the toddler nursery during church, so it’s not like he won’t have any friend time. I’m on the search for another parochial preschool, though we may have to wait until January or even next year to enroll him.
Meanwhile, I feel a bit like a pariah. The director hasn’t said a thing to me, nor do I expect she will since her usual MO is to ignore anything she deems unpleasant. She walked right past me twice on Sunday, though of course, I didn’t try to speak to her, either. I told her in my letter that I had no intention of discussing this within the parish (though admittedly I did with my 2 friends who teach there, obviously) and asked her to do the same, but I would be shocked if she honored that request. It’s all just so unbelievably awkward.