Saturday, March 01, 2008
The Girl vs. The School District
If charges were still pending, I wouldn't be able to blog about this (spoiler...I know...but anyway). Here's what's been happening in MY world this week.
I was working a 12hr very busy L&D call Monday day. Had a few minutes and tried to call the man just to say "hi". Hmmmm...no answer at home, I call his cell phone. "Oh hi, lemme call you back, I'm at the school in the discipline principal's office".
me: (thinking to self "WTF") "what's going on? Is the girl alright"?
the man: "she's not hurt or anything....I just got here and am trying to figure out what happened. I'll call you back in 15-20 minutes".
An hour passes and no call. I call him back.
the man: "I'm still with the principal...it's pretty serious...the girl's been suspended....we'll talk more when you get home tonight".
me : (thinking OMG, OMG, OMG!)"can you tell me a little bit about it because otherwise I'm going to imagine awful things"
the manl: "Let's just talk about it when you get home....you worrying now is NOT going to do anyone any good"
me: (thinking. oh shit...this must be really bad.)
I get home around 9pm and hear the entire story. Teachers....avert your eyes...this is NOT PRETTY.
The girl attends a local high school. She's overall an A-B student, well-liked by all but one of her teachers, popular with other kids and school staff....a normal teen who's had a couple of 'walks on the wild side' but no real trouble or emotional problems or anything beyond normal teen angst. She's pretty high spirited, strong-willed, speaks her mind. I respect that. She has had ongoing difficulty with one of her teachers. An older sort of fellow, somewhat on a retirement tract, this man is seriously unable to control his classroom in any way, shape or form. According to the girl (who has made numerous complaints about how he interacts with the kids...both to me and the man as well as to authorities within the school). Anyway...during one of this teacher's interminable lectures...another student turned to the girl and said "this is why we aren't allowed to bring weapons to school"....which got her and the other kids at her table laughing and joking around about weapons in the school and torturing teachers etc. Do you see where this is heading yet?
The girl, always up for fun and games, started rolling with it and started WRITING DOWN a list (RULE #1...NEVER WRITE DOWN ANYTHING)of all the ideas they were coming up with. As a matter of fact....the title of the page....in BIG BOLD LETTERS....was "Plan to Murder Mr. XYZ". Yes...that is pretty scary. The mechanisms for this plan as listed included the following: 1) an arrow to the stomach 2) hot wax in his eyeballs 3) red ants to his toes 4) shoot off his elbows 5) salt and tabasco sauce to his cuts 6) hit on back of kneck (sic) with a big stick .....etc...#1 and #6 were the most lethal ideas.
At the end of class, the girl thought she'd wadded up the sheet of paper and thrown it away. Key word is thought. Evidently it had slipped under her desk and Mr. XYZ found it .....and through a thorough handwriting analysis, the girl was implicated. She was called to the principal's office in fourth hour, where being the forthcoming child that she is.....admitted very openly that yes she had written this and yes she (along with many other classmates) had participated in this act.
She was given an IMMEDIATE EMERGENCY SUSPENSION WITH RECOMMENDATION FOR PERMANENT EXPULSION FROM THE ENTIRE SCHOOL DISTRICT! AND....the police officer covering the school was called in and legal charges were also filed. Four of them. 3 Misdemeanor assault charges and 1 Felony assault charge!!!!! My kid...my barrel racing champion...A-B student.....basic overall good citizen.....with a FELONY ASSAULT charge! Holy Crap!
Understandibly, she was in tears, hysterical almost. She has worked her ASS off to keep up her grades after a little slip-up last November. Her head is totally screwed on right. She is NOT anywhere's near a juvenile delinquent, yet, ordered now to do an intake with our local youth center with the possibility of actually having to DO TIME in McLaughlin (local juvenile detention center).
When questioning the girl, and reviewing the facts of the situation....I really had a hard time wrapping my mind around how this could happen. I am thoroughly sensitive to the need for safety in the schools. I am very aware of the rash of shootings both in high schools and colleges that have occurred over the past decade. I understand the school district's NO TOLERANCE for violence of any kind policies. But for the love of God and all that is holy do you think that the school district may have overreacted JUST A TEENSY BIT! in this situation?
As I was reading the fine print of the Alaska Statutes my child was charged with having violated...the main theme of which was if the 'victim' ever 'felt in fear' at any time, I just got more and more frustrated and angry. "FEAR... I'll SHOW THAT SOB FEAR"(illustrative fictional sentence only I must add to assure all that no assault or threat is intended!!) I raged at the man while pacing back and forth and throwing my hands in the air....The man (AKA "the voice of reason" in this circumstance) said..."honey...while I sympathize with your response....and feel the same way you do...this behavior is NOT HELPFUL. What we need to do is write a rational and well-reasoned letter to the principal and school district asking for an appeal....there is an established process...and I need your help with this" He was so good and calm and thoughtful. And he sent off a most thoughtful and succinct letter. The following day, the principal called to schedule a meeting. She stated that after interviewing the other students, and the rest of the girl's teachers (all of whom spoke very highly of her thank you very much!) they were willing to reconsider the suspension and recommendation for expulsion. At the meeting, in which the girl verbally apologized and took full responsibility for making anyone feel uncomfortable and recognized the environment in which her actions could have been taken as meaningful threats, the school graciously reduced their punitive actions to a mere 5 day suspension and a change to a different class. All legal charges were also dropped. THANK GOODNESS!
As a parent, I need to feel that my child is safe in her school. As a citizen and tax payor, I also want my child's educators to feel safe in their work environment. But I still cannot help but feel that the situation was blown way the hell out of proportion initially, and had the man and I not been as pro-active parents in this...the outcome may have been far different. It's a complicated world we live in now, and often, a dangerous one. But how many of us have made similar jokes or off-the-cuff remarks about public officials, employers, systems etc. I hate to say it...but the take-home message from this seems to be you can say anything you want but NEVER WRITE ANYTHING DOWN....because it will surely come back to bite you in the ass.
I guess all's well that ends well. The girl got a 5 day break from school, I think learned a pretty strong lesson about consequences for behaviors...maybe even learned to be more thoughtful about how her actions can impact others in a harmful way, and switched out of a class where she didn't get on so well with the teacher. It's been a hard week for her. Lots of uncertainty, tension, feelings that the punishment wasn't appropriate to the crime. She...and we...learned though...to go through the process with facts and openness and polite assertiveness. And although challenging, frustrating and uncomfortable for all of us as a family, we were all satisfied with the appropriateness of the outcome in the end. And she got some extra riding time in....which is a bonus in the winter.
Well, that was my week. Hope yours was far less eventful. Knit on!