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". 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'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 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 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 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 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!


Arctic Knitter said...

Wow - I'm glad everything worked out for you & the girl. You're right - it's a scary world we live in with so many uncertainties.

I applaud you for being a champion for your daughter & for your daughter owning up to her actions. I do, however, have to applaud the administrators for doing their job in ensuring all students & staff are safe. We do have to cover all bases & fortunatly, in your case, the comments were examples of misplaced teenage frustration.

Sounds like some time w/yarn & perhaps some coffee is just what you need. :0) By the way - love the new meez avatar - very cool! Hang in there!

Allison said...

OMG that sounds like an amazingly difficult week. I'm so glad that it ended alright. I do like your boxing avatar. My horsey girl was thrown by a horse last night and I want to punch it - I can only imagine how you felt!

hannah said...

Oh wow. I'm glad that you were able to talk sense to the school! This IS crazy how way out of proportion things got...

Hope you get lots of relaxing time this weekend!

Minnie~Knits said...

HA love the Meez!
I understand your feelings, but feel the reaction from the school was appropriate; I mean zero tolerance is just that, zero! If only she hadn't written it down, like you say!
I am glad they were willing to work out a deal for you!

CatBookMom said...

Holy Uproar, Batman! How different schools are today from 'our days', and how incredible that so much trouble developed from a silly start. It was true then (oh, my poor diary!!) and is still true, and we all keep finding it out again and again, just how badly something you've written down can come back and bite you. And yet we put so much out on the Internet these days...

Blessings on you and the man for standing up for the girl in such a great way, and thanks to all the gods that The Powers That Be saw fit to show some sense.

I hope a bit of adult beverage and some time will help to cool things off for you.

junior_goddess said...

Oh dear! I stopped by to see if you had brought any new Leaples into the world. And here you almost took your DD out! (Yes, I wrote it down!)

Crap. The whole Mat-su Borough and their child specialists can all kiss my ass. Judge John Sudd3th can also kiss my ass. I realize that absolutely your daughter was wrong to ring-lead the compilation of a list of horrible things to do to the teacher. Did he REALLY feel endangered? Red Ants? Gimme a freaking break, it's not break-up YET!

Suspension-she doesn't have to go to school, does she? Or did they fix that "not going to school and you can't make me" thing that state had going on?

(grrr-I'm getting grumpy) Absolutely, she should be punished, but something like "do janitorial work at the school for hours on end" would be more appropriate.

And last but not least, what happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas. What goes TDY does not stay TDY. ANNNNDDDDDD-no matter what, someone HAS a phone with a camera!!

Grace Yaskovic said...

Wow Lisa, I am with you all the way, and offer good thoughts and lots of prayers for all of you

Scrabblequeen said...

What a week! I'm so glad that the two parent system really works out in this type of situation. I may be crazy....but someone is still thinking rational. I blogged your boxes arrival...hoping to hear you also received yours.

aksunflour said...

What a week! This zero tolerance thing is difficult. Glad that things turned out Ok for you. Hope that this doesn't have any further repercussions ie... affect your girl's dreams for her future.

Just goes to show that the pen is mightier than the sword.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the school district is that rules are applied without common sense. Yes your daughter acted inappropriately, but the sanctions originally imposed were inappropriate. There was no evaluation of facts and circumstances and no common sense "sniff test" applied.
About fifteen years ago, my son was in 7th grade at an ASD junior high school. He and a friend thought they were being funny and made paper armbands with a swastika on them. So we have two 12-year-olds acting inappropriately, and the school principal called me in for an immediate conference. Because my son had violated their prohibition of "racial and ethnic slurs," he was to be suspended for 5 days. as required by school district policy. My son was not at all upset to have 5 days off from school; that didn't seem like punishment to him. He did admit that he had acted thoughtlessly.

My discussion with the principal got more interesting. Had he instead chosen to wear a t-shirt that had "F*** the teachers" or something equally profane and inappropriate, he would not have been reprimanded, suspended or anything (although they might have suggested he change his shirt). Only racial and ethnic slurs were enforceable. Where is the common sense approach in this?

My other point with the principal is that a punishment which means that kids get 5 days off from school is actually a reward. I was a single parent with a heavy duty job which I could not skip for the five days and to which I could not bring my son. So he got 5 days at home--alone--because we had no alternatives. A punishment that would have required him to go to school would have been true punishment--perhaps detention, extra work, etc.

The principal agreed that common sense was not an issue. And shrugged her shoulders, making it clear that she didn't care; this was sensible to her.

This is the same organization that you are dealing with. Time is not going to change the corporate culture a whole lot.

Anonymous said...

Lisa, It's a world today in which playful, fun comments (I'm sure that is what there were) which relieved some frustration and tension in DD were taken seriously, as all comments and notes are these days. It's a mean, violent world and schools have been places of great violence.
IMHO your DD did herself proud in never denying that she had written the note.
You and DH also acted appropriately with non-threatening statements and full support of DD. One week's suspension will allow everyone to cool down and put the incident into
Guess we can all remember something "stupid" we did at one time that had repercussions!
So glad it all worked out without more trouble.

Anonymous said...

What a nightmare! Common sense and the capacity to distinguish between inappropriate and dangerous behavior seem to have abandoned the education field, with nasty consequences, so good kids had better learn fast and early that stupid goofy behavior can be dangerous... What a way for your DD to learn it!
You and DH certainly handled it all very well. Hope things stay cool now.

Les said...

Wow! That was an experience! Your wait between phone calls with your DH must have been just torture! Hope you didn't have to read the list in public. I know that I would have, with nervousness, started to laugh and said something like "you've gotta be kidding"! Then I'd have been in the youth detention centre!

Tara said...

Oh Lisa, what a total and complete nightmare! It sounds like it worked out as best as it could. Your daughter is an amazing young woman. Of course she is going to make mistakes, but she handled it so gracefully. Even though it was a long, scary process, at least it got her out of Mr. XYZ's classroom! And good for you and the man for sticking up for her! I hope the dust settles soon and that peace returns swiftly and completely to your home.

Love the Meez!

Becky said...

Lisa this post was indeed scary to read, much less to have lived it as you did. I commend you and the man for guiding your daughter to a good conclusion. Bless all your hearts that was scarey in more ways than one wasn't it? I'm normally just a "Lurker" on your blog. I enjoy reading it and wishing I could visit Alaska someday. But I just had to say thank goodness for you all that everything turned out ok. It *IS* scarey just how quickly our worlds can get out of our control. My daughter is grown now but you know when she was in high school she said to me one day "You know mom the scariest place I go is school." I found that incredible scarey and sad.

Laura Jane said...

Oh Boy oh Boy oh Boy.


That was a close one Lisa, Good honesty on all parts though. DD's for 'fessin up readily. DH's for keeping a cool head. Yours for surviving those agonising hours to get home, and raising a kid who is such a general asset that the remainder of teachers would vouch for her. Aaack.

You have all taken a very balanced view of the need for the mechanisms, but I'm glad commonsense prevailed in the end. DD has acknowledged the lesson, a few scary freaky days were had, and Mr XYZ can sleep safely in his classroom on his way to retirement!

Sympathies and hugs to you all. I prescribe chocolate and coffee, and more good family time. Chalk it up to experience ... and think what a great story you can tell your grandchildren!

Love the combative meez!

Joan said...

Wow, what a life lesson for your DD and what a scare for you and DH. At first I wanted to slap him silly for keeping you hanging unmercifully on the phone but then big hugs for his reasoned clarity in resolving the problem.

Sometimes you just have to suck it up with incompatible teachers (she will have many more to come) and let it roll off your back knowing it's not forever and one class is so inconsequential in the scheme of your life. It becomes great practice for when you later in life have to learn to coexist with incompatible employers, coworkers, clients, neighbors, etc. It's only compromising the situation, not who you are and allows you to rise above it all and forge ahead to your goals. Bravo on DD for her honesty, that's great parenting at work! ;-} Lots of reflection will be good by everyone, including the school admins.

LOL on the avatar. Go get'em, Lisa!

smariek said...

Wow, what a crazy stressful week for your family! Relieved to hear that charges were dropped and she got the 5 days suspension, it could have been worse. Times have certainly changed since we went to school. Love your new Meez.

Libby said...

Lisa, I'm glad that everything turned out OK in the end. I do have a question. Did any of the other students involved receive punishment? I hope so as it hardly seems fair if they didn't.


Anonymous said...

Dang! I just stopped by to check if you had anonymous commenting enabled and got engrossed in this saga. Schools are definitely overdoing this "zero tolerance" thing by far!

Anyway, your Big Bag invite will be coming. :)


Laurie (Moo!) said...

What a scary story! I'm glad it turned out better than it might have.

When I was in elementary school (I'll just say it was over 35 years ago and leave it at that) we had to make a something out of clay. My brother was very "artsy" and so we made a beautiful clay object. The only problem was that we made a clay gun. I was so proud of it and was heartbroken when the school confiscated it. Young and naive. It's a killer sometimes.

Thank you so much for being my stitch marker angel. They're lovely and it's nice to know that I wasn't forgotten. :-)

Anonymous said...

Eep - what a terrible experience for you. This is exactly the kind of "common sense out the window" approach that is happening all too often in schools. People in positions of authority have forgotten that in order to teach our children rational thought and consequences for our actions, those in authority must act rationally. They didn't here and it's a tough lesson your daughter had to learn. I'm sure that she'll look back on this (eventually) and see it for something less traumatic - way to go for supporting and defending her. Hope the rest of the school year goes ok - all my best to ya!

On a lighter note - welcome to the Big Bag KAL (I was looking for your questionnaire and then just couldn't NOT comment on the ridiculousness of school admins).