Elaine Mellon did not plan to write a book about her struggles to get special education services for her son.
“I started it because I was so over-the-top angry that I didn’t know what to do with myself,” said the New City resident.
While she found writing was a way to help her deal with the situation, she put that first draft aside and rewrote the book because the first version included many names and references to the district, which she declined to identify.
In a recent conversation, Mellon emphasized the obstacles she faced in getting her son the correct diagnosis of his special needs and supportive services are not unique to any one school district.
“I want it (the book) to bring a light to special education issues across New York State,” Mellon explained. “I really felt like the story needed to come out.”
Mellon documented her efforts from second grade through 10th grade to get her son the right support services and an accurate diagnosis of his learning disability. The long and frustrating journey included a lawsuit against the school district and an appeal of the decision when the lawsuit failed in 2008.
She said the court’s decision was that the school district provided her son with an appropriate education because he passed all his classes. Mellon said that only happened because the district encouraged students who were failing classes to move to a lower level before the midpoint of the year and the failing grades would not appear on their report cards.
“One of the reasons we decided to sue was the goals of (an) IEP (Individualized Education Program) must be specific and measurable,” she said. “It was flawed in many ways. He did not get many of the services he was supposed to get.”
Mellon’s son, who goes by “Blake” in the book, began having difficulty in school in the second grade. She found out when Blake told her he did not want to read out loud in class. That led to her request for the school psychologist to test him. Initially the request was denied because he was considered “too young.”
On a friend’s advice, Mellon put the request in writing and the evaluation was conducted. The diagnosis he received was for processing issues. Three years later when Blake was re-tested, the result was the same. He was assigned to a reading program in first and second grade and resource room during fifth grade. He was failing sixth grade when he told his mother he hated school.
That shook Mellon up and the summer before he entered seventh grade she thoroughly read the school district’s reports about her son. Previously, she had accepted the verbal explanations from the school staff.
“I realized I never sat down and actually read the written part of the report,” she said.
She was shocked when she read a sentence in the second grade evaluation referring to the possibility of dyslexia, a learning disability that was never brought up during all the meetings over the years with the school district. Because of his academic struggles, she began pushing to have him placed in a reading program, an effort that continued from seventh through ninth grade before deciding to sue the district. She wanted him to have the assistance of a one-on-one reader for his exams, not as part of a group.
When he entered high school, she took him for an evaluation in Manhattan and found out that he was reading at a fourth or fifth grade level and that the decoding part of the school’s testing had never been done in his last evaluation.
Mellon said the message behind her book, unREAL Education: Beyond Report Cards, is parents must advocate for their children.
“Most parents don’t have the time, the energy, the resources to do what they need to do for their kids,” she said.
Mellon offered specific advice.
“To follow your gut and don’t let anyone tell you no,” she said. “Don’t worry about retribution from the school system. The whole system the way it is set up it is an adverse system.”
Mellon said despite the difficulties her son experienced through most of his primary school years he turned out “okay” and is attending college studying the major of his choice.
“It made him a stronger person,” she said.
Although in high school, he was told not to take sign language or television production in order 'to fit in' a reading program, he did anyway. It turns out Blake is enrolled in those courses in college and pursuing his dream of becoming a sportscaster.
Mellon’s book was published by AuthorHouse in February and is available from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com and AuthorHouse.com with a portion of the proceeds donated to Everyone Reading NY and the International Dyslexia Association.