I was looking forward to writing about Jacob’s graduation ceremony. I wanted to recount the wonderful hour that it took for all 54 kids to receive their diplomas. I planned to describe the feeling of pride bursting out of my chest as my son was wheeled down the aisle, sandwiched between the kids whose last name preceded and followed his. I was going to write about how adorable (is handsome a more appropriate word to use now that he’s 12 years old?) he looked in his plaid shirt and navy pants and how he managed to sit through the entire ceremony despite the heat in the room and his painful back.
But the magic of this event was shattered shortly after the service ended.
The moment his name was read as a recipient of the Principal’s Award for Student Leadership, the tears were flowing down my face faster than I could wipe them away. I wanted to shout at all the senior Toronto District School Board (TDSB) naysayers and flash the engraved plaque in front of their faces. I envisioned standing up in the middle of a school board meeting, thanking our few supporters for standing by us and demonstrating to the others how wrong they were.
In the Spring of 2012, senior TDSB administrators said that Jacob did not belong at Elkhorn Public School because “if we do it for you, we will have to do it for everyone”. I wanted to hear these people admit that they grossly misjudged and underestimated my son. And since this is my dream, I pictured the Superintendent, who countered my Elkhorn proposal several years ago by suggesting Jacob spend time in the basement of a different school watching able-bodied kids “participate in phys-ed”, apologizing for the blatant disrespect she showed Jacob by her demeaning offer.
I had those thoughts because the road to this graduation moment was far from smooth. We had to fight against many senseless policies that do not recognize Jacob as a person with thoughts and feelings. Union mandates took precedence over what was best for my son. Without my relentless intervention, Jacob would have been relegated to a school that was filled with caring staff but followed a daily schedule that failed to challenge or stimulate his inquisitive brain.
When I realized that Jacob’s academic and social needs would be best met at Elkhorn (click here for background details), I didn’t realize what a beast I’d have to fight. There was no way I would have predicted that what I thought was a reasonable request would cause such turmoil and upheaval at the head office of the TDSB. If someone had told me that the issue of my son’s education would disrupt the lives of several senior administrators and bring some of the more progressive and empathic thinkers to tears on more than one occasion, I would have suggested they were exaggerating. And if I had been told that my son’s schooling would be the subject of several television, radio and newspaper stories, I would have chuckled in disbelief.
It was never my intention to be a trailblazer. I was – I am – simply a mother advocating on behalf of her son because he cannot do it on his own. Jacob’s PMD makes everything harder for him but it does not negate the fact that he deserves to be treated as a respected member of society. The treatment I received as his proxy was appalling and discriminatory.
As time passed and the fight escalated, my body had trouble adjusting to its new normal – a constant level of anxiety so high that breathing became a task I had to consciously remember to do. Nights became unbearable. I would wake up with a start, gasping for air, terrified that I’d lost one of my kids somewhere, only to realize that the true source of my angst was Jacob’s school situation.
I had many long and difficult months to ruminate over my request. I repeatedly asked myself if it was worth pursuing or whether I should give up the struggle. But each time I came back to the same steadfast conclusion: this was the best thing for my son.
So, I persisted. Jacob deserved nothing less from the school board and he deserved nothing less from me. And on October 23, 2012 he got what he deserved: he was officially registered as an Elkhorn student.
And on June 24, 2014 he graduated with his classmates.
Shortly after the ceremony, while all the other graduates and their families were celebrating this milestone in the auditorium, Andrew and I were sitting with the principal in her office trying to solve the most recent problem: Jacob does not have a school to attend in September.
Despite proving he can learn, the TDSB is once again ignoring the young man named Jacob Trossman, and only looking at a boy in a wheelchair.
And, once again, I am preparing myself for another battle. I will stop at nothing to ensure that my son has the school experience he deserves.