Friday, August 30, 2013

All Victims Shall Be Expelled

"I am so ready for summer to be over!" said no self-respecting Oregonian ever. But I am.
Monday starts a new school year for my dear offspring and boy-howdy, "ready" is an understatement. Their "summer vacation" began prematurely in April, you see.
When we returned from the US, finally home again on our island after a 3 month sabbatical of sorts, we went to Max's school to re-register him.
"I think it would be best," the principal looked my husband straight in the eye, "if Max just stayed home for the rest of the school year." Aerosmith lyrics started to play in my head as Josh related this jaw-dropping tale of the school's principal essentially expelling our son from the rest of the school year for being the victim of bullying.

Ready? It goes like this.

Things started out innocently enough sometime in September. Name calling. Tripping. A shove here and there on the playground. Normal kid stuff, says I. The conversations after school evolved around strategies Max could use to combat the behavior. My little guy would cringe, tears springing up and refuse to hit back even when his dad told him to do so. And our mornings gradually became more and more painful as my kid abhorred the idea of going to school.
The doorman pulled Josh aside one day and said that he should pick Max up early every day since he was being picked on after school. It made so little sense that only after later events did it even register as a red flag for us.
We met with the teacher. We met with the principal. And again. And again. I would go. Josh would go. We'd have a good chat, hear all the right things and yet, the bullying continued. For two straight months we played this game. The stakes got higher, the talks got longer.
There are any number of pedagogical horrors that we witnessed as far as what to and not to do with "problem" children, of which we likely only noticed beings that we are educators ourselves. Its not to say that we have all the solutions (or even any of the solutions), but its our profession all the same. To humor you with an example, the bully in question would be sent to the office, sit for a while and then wander off. Josh or I often arrived at the school to find him doing whatever he pleased on the stairs, at the front door, in the hallways and even in the teacher's lounge. It's a small school, so perhaps the administration thought he couldn't get into too much more trouble even if he left his "time out" chair in the principal's office?
The teacher became exasperated--not with our frequent visits, but with the lack of administrative support. It was her first year teaching at that school--and her last. Bully was taking over. By late October, Bully was kicking, punching and name calling not only his fellow classmates, but his teacher and some visiting parents as well. Sending him to the office clearly didn't result in anything as he'd just wander back to class if he so desired. By the end of November, the principal had started promising that the bully would be expelled from school. We were patient, I think. And the talk without action continued, so of course, the bullying got worse. Max had frequent stomach aches. He broke down at the mere mention of school. He'd come home with scratch marks on his arms so deep he had bled.
Josh met with both the teacher and the principal.
"Yes, the bully will be gone," the principal told Josh, "God-willing."
"No," Josh responded, "Not God-willing, Principal-willing."
And the teacher burst into uncomfortable laughter.

Full rage finally engulfed me when Max came home from school one afternoon with a pencil jab mark right next to his left eye. It was mid-December. Bully had stabbed him with a pencil. In the face.
"That's it," I told Josh, tears springing up, "I am not sending him to school anymore."
I marched down to the school with my ultimatum.
Max was voted president of his class and a white, American kid in your school carries with it an undeserved prestige and clout, much like an individual's white privilege offers in far too many places the world around. All that being an entirely separate post (or 63 of them), I realize that all of the importance that Max carried in the eye's of the principal had absolutely nothing to do with spiritual reality or true merit. But it was the only card I had to play. And Max really is a sweet kid.
"As a mother, it is my job to protect my children. I cannot, therefore, continue sending my child to your school because he is not safe here. Max will not be returning until the Bully is gone." Ultimatum delivered.
"But what about his exams?" Principal asked.
"What about them?! My kid could have lost his eye today." I breathed, regaining my ground.
The principal responded again with the same promises that really are very nice to hear.
"Sounds like a wonderful plan," I said, "Please call me when it is complete so I can bring Max back to school." And I left.
It took about a week, but wouldn't you know it, that card up my sleeve was just strong enough. The bully was expelled and we all went on winter break. Max returned to school for two more weeks before we had to leave for the States. They were two good weeks where my kid was relaxed about school and allowed to learn in a relatively safe environment. Other kids' parents came up to us to thank us. That really got to me. Had the situation been handled differently, Bully never would have become a monster that terrorized the entire school community. He needed help. And it wasn't there.

Fast-forward three months.
"I think it would be best," the principal looked my husband straight in the eye, "if Max just stayed home for the rest of the school year."
Josh sat, confused.
"You see," the principal explained, "Bully is back." Then Josh heard the saga of how the parents came back about a week after we left to deny that they'd signed the papers they did accepting their son's expulsion. Bully's parents threatened to take the principal to court. Long story short: it was ugly. And we all learned a little bit more about this kid and where he comes from.

I don't know if I'll write about what happened with Zora's school. Perhaps someday. She was not expelled in any way shape or form, so no worries. At the same time, I couldn't bring myself to take her back there. There it is. Vacation since April.

So, I'm ready for Monday. And nervous.

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