School Refusal : Trusting your Gut

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My child left school just over two years ago.  I will never forget pulling up to their* high school and seeing my child scrunch down in the car seat as tears began to stream down their face.  “I can’t do this," they said softly.  I looked out the window and could see nothing extraordinary.  Kids were milling about, talking, and starting their school day but for my child, the scene was somehow terrifying. My bright, insightful, articulate, strong child literally could not get out of the car. We had worked with their teachers and the administration.  They had an IEP and accommodations.  We had even tried antidepressants. 

It became crystal clear that day; we had to find another way.  The school’s focus was on finishing assignments, meeting timelines and meeting attendance requirements.  And that needed to happen in a sea of other bodies, a social soup, timetables, and pressures.  The school could not give my child what they needed;  time and space to heal, grow and come back to themselves.  That day, I realized my child needed an alternative.  They needed to come out of school.  For a parent, this is a difficult place to arrive at but my ultimate priority was the health and well-being of my child and so, this is where we were.

Two years later, my child is healthy, happy and growing. They are a community organizer and activist who has created a dynamic and meaningful life. My child has discovered and honed their talents. They are productive and hard working and have more responsibilities than many adults.  Their accomplishments include: testifying at the state senate, writing articles for a local paper, running meetings, presenting at conferences, and working in many capacities around local elections.  My child is learning how to write grant applications, run a household and be independent.  They are crafting a life for themselves built around their passions and interests. They are whole and healthy because they’ve had the time and space to develop coping skills, understand themselves and discover strengths and passions.  Sometimes we must step off the well worn path and forge our own. There is life outside of school.  Sometimes, we have to trust ourselves enough to make a daring choice.

*I’m using the neutral pronoun they/their/their’s out of respect for my child’s expressed identity.


At Beacon, we have encountered many kids who were not thriving at school.  The reasons school can be intolerable for some kids are many and nuanced.  Some obvious ones include:

  • schools have become less flexible as a result of having to demonstrate student achievement in the form of test results and other measurable outcomes 
  • expectations around achievement have increased for students schools, teachers and parents alike
  • stakes seem higher than ever and anxiety and fear have pervaded every aspect of daily life
  • the school environment can be overwhelming or alienating for some kids which results in anxiety, depression and school refusal, leading to a downward spiral as they get further behind 
  • schools are not always able to accommodate individual learning and developmental differences
  • a prolonged medical issue which keeps a child out of school for a period of time can make it impossible to get back on track

We get so caught up thinking there is only one educational path. Clearly, some need to step off that path and forge their own way. As a parent of such a child, this can be really difficult.  Especially when the predominant message that surrounds us is that leaving school is unacceptable and just plain wrong.  It’s not true.  So many families have decided to withdraw their child from school and they are thriving. A few of their stories are here:

Update:  My child is heading off to college in the Fall and has grown into a confident and remarkable young adult.  July, 2018