Where All the Children Are Above Average

In the new my-kid-first world of education, anxious moms like Charissa Stone are demanding pricey special help from their public schools. It's what any good parent would do ... isn't it?

I’m really hoping Charissa Stone will turn out to be crazy.

It’s been a week now since Stone sent me an email out of the blue, suggesting I write about her eight-year-old daughter, Erin, and how the Council Rock School District has refused to acknowledge that her needs aren’t being met by the regular curriculum in her classroom. Erin, Stone wrote, has a learning disability that qualifies her for special education. Council Rock ought to recognize this, she said, because while Erin’s IQ is above the district’s 130-point “gifted” designation, her academic performance is only average.

[Click here to see a list of the Philadelphia area’s top 100 public schools]

Stone accused Council Rock of stonewalling: The “tactics, shadiness and lengths that schools are willing to go to get out of providing services for kids is unbelievable, almost criminal,” she wrote, her rage radiating from my computer screen. She’s in a court battle with the district, even though she’s president of her daughter’s school’s PTO: “While I am busy spending countless hours arranging bake sales, teacher appreciation dinners and numerous fund-raisers, my second-grade daughter can barely read or spell a word.”

If Charissa Stone is crazy, I won’t have to open the Pandora’s box that is special education in Pennsylvania—a topic one teacher describes as “fraught with so much heartache.” I won’t have to look at how, thanks to ever-growing numbers of kids with ADHD and autism and other disabilities, special ed is devouring bigger and bigger slices of the school-district funding pie—prompting furious resentment in parents of regular old kids deprived of kindergarten and music and art. I won’t have to listen to special-ed advocates argue that these kids have historically been overlooked and underserved, tied to their seats, bullied and teased and, worst of all, ignored.

But most of all, I won’t have to decide whether Charissa Stone is the mother of a child whose disabilities really do qualify her for the extra attention of special ed, or just the epitome of the modern-day suburban Philadelphia Tiger Mom: overanxious, over-involved, and infuriated that the school district considers her daughter … average.