The Problem with Compensatory Education? Too Often, Comp Ed Steals Music, Sports, Auto Tech, and Everything that Brings Happiness

In 2020, I sat in a due process hearing, as Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), VA, counsel John Cafferky criticized me for allowing my son to take a high school guitar elective and an auto tech elective, rather than the reading elective FCPS proposed four school years in a row. Years before, another teacher criticized me for the same when I didn’t want my son missing basketball practice, and yet another followed when I said the same of baseball practice. One of these went on to criticize me during the 2020 due process hearing (he didn’t grasp why I wouldn’t agree with a reading program that the publisher of the program didn’t even endorse for students who have Dyslexia), while the other stated during the school year that it’s a slippery slope when sports are put ahead of academics. I responded that it’s a slippery slope when students aren’t allowed to experience happiness during their days because the school system failed them for years.

Students shouldn’t be penalized when schools fail. In addition, music, sports, clubs, and so on offer opportunities for kids to shine in front of their peers, outside the classroom where they struggle. Shining can turn into confidence, advocacy, social skills, friends, and leadership opportunities, all of which are important (and problematic if not addressed early).

It’s a Slippery Slope When Compensatory Education Squashes Happiness

Students who have disabilities are known to struggle with depression. By removing the joy from their lives because the school is required to provide compensatory education, one harm is traded for another. The student is provided instruction he is owed, but is denied happiness he needs.

When schools fail children, sometimes they end up having to provide compensatory education in return. In theory, it sounds great. The school district will make up for its errors, the student will receive help, all will be good. . . .

However, the reality is that after a long day of school students need a break. I don’t have any scientific studies to back this statement. I simply have 20 years as a mom and almost 50 as a human being—and a ton of data on the importance of work-life balance for adults.

Kids need balance, too. They need to spend time doing something they enjoy—especially if their school day doesn’t include classes that bring them joy, because their “extras” or electives have been gobbled up for reading electives and other classes to address struggles their schools failed to address for years.

Comp ed must be provided in addition to the regular school day, not instead of the school day.

A teacher can’t pull a student from physical education or music class in order to provide compensatory education related to reading. If the school owes compensatory education for reading (or anything else), it has to take place outside of school hours. The result? The student ends up being up early for before-school day comp ed or stays late for after-school day comp ed—both of which mean the student can’t participate in band or sports or other activities that bring him or her happiness. The same occurs when schools suggest, for example, a student take a reading elective instead of a guitar elective. I allowed FCPS to do this once with my son and it is among the biggest regrets I have as a parent.

My son wanted to take guitar. Instead, because FCPS denied him an evaluation three times between 1st and 6th grades, which led to him being grades behind on reading when I finally paid for a private evaluation during 6th grade, FCPS’s response was to enroll him in a year-long reading elective. This meant he couldn’t take guitar. At the end of the school year, I found out FCPS withheld negative reading data and that my son regressed—rather than taking a guitar elective that would have brought him joy. In hindsight, I should have allowed him to take the guitar elective during school and then enrolled him in a program of my choosing during the evenings/weekends and during the summer/winter breaks to address Dyslexia.

After I brought this up to the school, its response was to suggest that I pay for guitar classes after school instead. They missed the point. The school did something wrong, not my son. I shouldn’t have to pay for a guitar class that the school could provide for free during school. In addition, a guitar class after school and on weekends wouldn’t be in a group setting. He wouldn’t be playing with peers as he would in school. Yet, it made sense to have a reading class in such a format—one-on-one, without a lot of other people and/or distractions. I trusted the school would do the right thing. My mistake. Hindsight is 2020.


Schools can provide compensatory education in the evenings and on the weekends—and the comp ed can be stretched out over a long period of time for as long as is possibly needed. It doesn’t have to happen within a set time frame.

Often, schools want to use teachers to provide the comp ed before, during, and/or after the school day because schools can save money this way. That, however, is not the way comp ed works. If a student is overloaded at the end of the day, pushing in more instruction isn’t helpful.

If the schools don’t have teachers willing to work evenings and weekends, the schools can pay for private tutors who can work with the student’s schedule.

If they push back on your request, ask them for the data that supports the schedule they propose. Where is the data that supports a student in need will be just fine taking classes before and after school without breaks? How have they assessed the impact on the student’s mental health?

End of day: The academic health of children is important, but so is the mental health, which is the platform on which the academic flourishes or fails.

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