Age Gap Kid Discrimination by Sharon O’Donnell

There’s a nine-year difference in age between my oldest son and youngest son, and a six-year gap between my middle and youngest. This means that we have seen both the disadvantages and advantages of the ‘age gap’ between siblings. One disadvantage I never expected popped up last week when I got a call from my youngest son Jason’s middle school. Jason goes to a year-round school which is split into four tracks or calendar schedules so that three tracks of kids are tracked in school all the time, while the other one is tracked out. The breaks for each track are usually about 3 weeks, with four a year, plus the weeks of Christmas and July 4th. Jason has been on Track 3 for several years when he first went into the year-round system, and he really likes his friends on that track.

Middle school is an important transition and requires lots more focusing and studying than does elementary school. Thus, I was thrilled when Jason got off to a terrific start in school with high grades plus he loved his teachers. Then during that third week of school, we got a call from the administration, saying that the county had told them that there were not enough students school-wide to justify hiring a third teacher on Jason’s track (there had been a substitute in one subject for the first 3 weeks). This meant there would only be two classes on Track 3 instead of the three they’d planned for and expected. Due to not having a third teacher, the two classes would have a high enrollment — about 35 students in each class — which is very high. To remedy the situation, they were looking for Track 3 students to agree to switch to Track 2 since it had spaces to fill. From what I gathered, they were asking parents to volunteer to switch, but if not enough did so, then they could be forced to switch anyway. They were looking specifically at students who had no siblings in other grades in the year-round system who would also have to be moved. Since my two oldest sons are both in college now, Jason does not have any siblings in the public school system any longer. They made us one of the prime families for administrators to want to switch. And I understand that. It’s logical. If a student who has siblings in year-round school switched from one Track to another, then the siblings have to be switched too or the family’s schedule would be chaos.
But still, it was frustrating, particularly since we’ve had issues in the school system before, including back when my oldest son was reassigned to another school after second grade because his younger sibling was starting kindergarten and was assigned to a newly-opened school. He could not follow his older sibling to the school the older sibling currently attended. Thus, the older sibling had to switch schools because he had a younger brother.

So frustration with our school system is nothing new. At a school Open House that night, we looked into the possibility of switching to the other track with space available and asked questions about how it would affect my son and his schedule. But we decided we’d rather stay put on the current Track. I wrote to the principal and told him we preferred to stay on Track 2. A few minutes later, the principal sent me an email, saying that they had to move Jason anyway. We were disappointed, but we decided to make the best of it. All weekend Jason was positive about the change, and he tried not to show he was upset. On that Monday, he started school on Track 2. When he came home that afternoon, he had tears in his eyes and was very unhappy. He missed his friends and his teachers. This was NOT the way to start middle school.

I emailed the principal immediately and asked if there was any way he could move Jason back to Track 3, and to his credit, he said he would do so — even though that would mean the classes on Track 2 would still be too large. So Jason was moved back to his original Track. I was very glad we had a principal who listens.

Still, it is disconcerting when a child is targeted because he or she doesn’t have siblings. I understand the logistics of it, but that child has feelings just like any other child. The bottom line was my child started out middle school extremely well, was switched to another Track, and then was incredibly unhappy. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to be an advocate for my children in such situations. I have spent a ridiculous amount of time over the years writing emails about reassignments and safety issues in school. Four years ago, our neighborhood was given a reassignment to our third different high school in a five year span. That was just too much. I organized our neighborhood group to get media attention so that the school board would see the error in its ways. We were successful in getting the reassignment changed; but, it seems like every year there is some kind of issue. It’s exhausting. And for someone like me who has had kids in the system since 1996, I’ve grown very weary of it. It’s especially disturbing knowing that they were specifically targeting my child to make a change because his siblings are quite a bit older than he is. But “motherhood later’ moms are extremely good at advocating for their kids. I think we have to be.

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  1. 2 Responses to “Age Gap Kid Discrimination by Sharon O’Donnell”

  2. Your son was very brave to at least give the new schedule a try. Kudos to him, and Kudos to you for teaching him flexibility! Middle school is a sensitive time, and has emotional upheaval on a scale you probably haven’t seen since the boys were in preschool. It’s the exact WRONG time for school officials to be making requests of any child to change their whole setting and community.

    By Heather on Aug 4, 2012

  3. Go Sharon!! OMGoodness!! I’m dizzy trying to understand the “Track” system! I’m curious, do school districts use Track Systems so that students won’t “lose” some of what they learned during a long summer break? To whose advantage is it targeted?

    I’ve been steam rolling my son’s elementary school for 4 years now and don’t plan to give up. The principal hides when she sees me. We deal with the Assistant Principal who is much more obliging. You are absolutely right when you say that later Moms make great advocates. We don’t take “no” for an answer sweetly!

    By Cara Potapshyn Meyers on Aug 7, 2012