Back to School

We did our best to keep our kids in school during the 2007-2008 school year, but their health was failing and their symptoms increasing. One by one we took them out of school as our health grew worse. Within a month of vacating our home in October 2008, we knew our kids needed medical help. We put their education on the back burner.

We relocated to Arizona to get that help, and as the reality of the detoxification process took hold, I let go of any attempt to homeschool my children. I couldn’t prepare a meal, let alone teach math.

I contacted our school district and requested help. We tested the children and tried some online classes. When we realized we'd be staying in the district, I requested a tutor. I based my request on a letter from our treating physician at the time, Dr. Michael Gray. (See this previous post.)

The school district was more than accommodating. We drew up 504 plans for each of our five school-age children. The district provided two homebound tutors over the course of the next two years. Our 15-year-old attended one class at the local high school, in addition to the tutoring. Our 17-year-old completed her GED last spring.

What about the younger kids? Were they ready to try school? Our 7th-grade daughter tried an after-school club at our local middle school in April and loved it. But within a few hours her nose began to bleed and continued for 24 hours.

The school was an old building and routinely sprayed with pesticides. Our kids weren’t ready.

I called the local charter school. They were voted “Greenest Grade School in America” in 2008. Most schools use pesticides. Would they be different? To my surprise, the school had not been sprayed. Even more surprising, the buildings were newer construction. I couldn’t believe it when I learned that the middle school had openings and the 5th grade had room for one child: a boy. Brandon, who had missed most of 1st and 2nd grade, was entering 5th grade.

I hung up the phone and burst into tears.

Could our lives be turning a corner? Had this aimless wandering not been aimless after all? Were we placed in the “middle of nowhere” only to discover that just down the road was a school that would breathe new life into our family?

Air quality would be the key to our children’s success. The school allowed us to have the buildings inspected for mold. There was no apparent water intrusion and no hint of mold. Thermal imagining showed no hidden moisture. The district agreed to purchase one air purifier for each of the three classrooms. (Based on our mold specialist’s recommendation, we chose the Austin Health Mate.)

The school administrator even added this request to parents in the back-to-school newsletter:

We have a new family at the school and they are HIGHLY sensitive to chemicals and smells. They have asked us to help their kids succeed in this environment by being very aware of hair products, lotions, and perfumes. If everyone can refrain from wearing products that are highly chemical and with a fragrance, it would be a huge benefit to these kids.

School started this last Monday. On Sunday night, I drew apples on our front porch, the resurrection of an old tradition. Every year on the first day of school, I would use red and green chalk to commemorate the kids’ passage into a new year. Their grade number would appear prominently in the middle. The resulting picture of each child standing in their apple told the story of new backpacks, favorite outfits, and ever-changing faces.

This year’s “apple pictures” marked more than a passage into a new school year. They marked the beginning of a new season. And while our journey is far from over, we're not where we once were. As the poem by Joseph Morris reminds us:
...we always think the load
May be greater than we've power to endure.
... For the climbing of a mountain takes but one step at a time...

Oh, the rewards of taking it one step at a time.

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