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When the School System Breaks Down

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom and author
12/15/23  10:30 AM PST
Sensory Processing Disorder

No one fed my son lunch yesterday. Charlie did not eat from seven thirty in the morning until four thirty in the afternoon. I do not know this because he told me. Due to his limited verbal skills, he often can’t tell me how his day went. I know this because when I went to unpack his backpack, his lunch sat on top entirely untouched. I consider myself a mostly-even tempered person, a mom who advocates for her child, but also understands the chaos of the public school system and the frazzled nature of most teachers, especially those of kids with extra needs. I strive for diplomacy. This, however, is unacceptable. No child should go an entire day without food. No one should be expected to exist, much less learn under those circumstances.

Because Charlie couldn’t tell me what or how this happened, other than to signal over and over that he was hungry, I began a communication chain that extended into the night and throughout the following morning as the entire team began to piece together exactly what happened.


Let’s approach this as we would a CSI case and follow the timeline like proper detectives:

4:40 p.m. After feeding Charlie an exceptionally early and large dinner consisting of all his favorite foods including Chef Boyardee lasagna, yogurt, chips, and a Rice Krispie Treat, I texted the aide who has been with him from kindergarten through fifth grade asking about the full lunch.

4:41 p.m. (because she is awesomely prompt), she told me she was only with him during the first half of the day and to ask his file holder, but also included “that’s upsetting.” Unlike his aide, Charlie’s file holder is new and newly trained and I only had her email, so I wrote her.

4:41 p.m. (I repeat, because she is awesomely prompt), his aide also texted the file holder to let her know to check her email.

6:00 p.m. The file holder writes back that she was also not with him and doesn’t know who was, including “I’m so so sorry!”

6:01 p.m. (because I was obsessively checking my phone), I write back asking if anyone even took him to lunch at all.

6:35 p.m. His file holder said she would need to check the schedule in the morning and would get back to me.

Commercial Break (for a very long sleepless night)

7:41 a.m. File holder tells me that she talked with her supervisor and after reviewing the schedule, it looks like when he was passed from one aide to the next, the second aide did not know he had not been taken to lunch. She said she would talk to the group to make sure in never happens again and ended with “I am appalled.” Ditto.

Here’s where things go bigger. Because while I am happy that everyone is upset and appalled, I’d rather there be actionable steps. Feelings are great, but we need a plan.

7:42 a.m. I respond to her and copy her supervisor and the principal requesting that we develop a communication form that goes home with him every afternoon chronicling his day, including meals, snacks, academics, toileting, therapies, etc.

12:08 p.m. The principal both emails and calls me to apologize and we begin to develop the form.

End credits.


This should never have happened. But it did. The spiral notebook we keep in his bag for daily notes usually consists of toileting specifics and sporadic mentions of behavior. This has not always been the case. We have had communication forms before, but as file holders change and new people come in, things get lost in the shuffle. I get it. Turnover is rough. My kid, however, cannot get lost in the shuffle. When he cannot meet his basic needs such as eating, then it is up to the person in charge of him to do that. When I see him almost in tears and lifting up his shirt to point to his stomach because he’s a growing eleven-year-old who has gone nine hours without food, I am livid and heartbroken and this lingers long after he’s happily fed and watching YouTube videos.

It took the system breaking for me to see the glitches and what I will tolerate and what I won’t. We are our children’s caregivers for a reason, and if you need to fight to fix a situation, then do it. Fight for basic rights and do not settle for apologies until you see action.


child with special needs
Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom and author.

Author of the middle-grade novels:















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