Friday, May 18, 2012

Back on the Soapbox...Bullies and Problems with School Administration

For those of you who might be struggling with bullies and problems with getting the schools to be proactive in addressing these problems, I wanted to give you an update with what happened with my daughter.  While we were not able to get the exact result we were looking for, I think we reached a point that for now we are satisfied and she feels vindicated.  When she was initially suspended from the bus, it was clear that things didn't add up but the suspension was put into affect immediately so it had to be served while we were trying to straighten the mess out and gather the facts.

The response we got from administrators was not appropriate or satisfactory on any level - basically, they thought it was no big deal as "bus suspensions don't go on the child's record like a school suspension", "its almost the end of the school year", "these kids have to ride the same bus so they can't be kept apart", and mysteriously the video of the incident was mistakenly erased before those higher up the chain could review it.  Although the supervisor agreed that the video did not show my daughter making physical contact with anyone, her entire body wasn't visible the entire time and they had two children backing each other up with this story so they assumed she was the one lying.  

It apparently meant nothing to them that these two girls were the same ones my daughter had been complaining about bullying her and I had made a complaint to the principal and bus supervisor about these same girls again less than 2 weeks before this incident.  It also apparently did not seem suspicious that the girl that was supposedly hit (2 years younger than my daughter) never cried, made a fuss or reported any incident to the bus driver until later in the day when the driver was working in the lunch room and fished for information.

I spent the majority of an entire week on the phone and emailing my way up the administrative chain.  My husband also spent his share of time on the phone explaining that our concerns were not only an unjustified suspension against our daughter, but also the bus driver and supervisors casual attitude about one child supposedly hitting another and the fact that my daughter made a complaint about being physically confronted two weeks prior and none of those children were punished - apparently they chose not to believe her then too. The fact that my daughter is a top student who has never been in any sort of trouble and has never been in a physical confrontation with another child (unless you count the fact that she would lay on the floor in a ball like she was helpless when her baby brother hit her) should have been a factor as well.  I can say with certainty that at least one of the other girls is a repeat offender with physically and verbally bashing other kids.

Eventually, I got to the superintendent who was rather irritated at the fact that I had found my way that far up the chain all over a bus suspension - again, apparently minor in her view.  (I don't know about you but striking a child at school or getting suspended in any way was a big deal to my parents - not to mention the time off work the whole thing caused because she couldn't be transported back and forth to daycare.)  I continued to be persistent and insistent.  I was careful in the language I used - I wanted to prove that rather than crazy, defensive parent who thought my child could never do wrong, I was driven enough to continue to muck my way through the policies and bureaucracy to get the appropriate attention brought to the matter.  After several exchanges in which she tried to play ignorant to the request for policies and administrative guidelines that might be applied to the situation, as well as any records that might pertain to my daughter, she had her secretary call to soothe things over and explain that after reviewing the extend of my request, we were about to enter territory they did not want to be in (yeah, I bet!).  
I received additional phone calls from administrators fairly high up the chain to apologize for the entire situation, admit that their own policies and guidelines had not been followed by those down the chain, assure me that the record of the suspension would be expunged from any records, and that they would be reviewing their policies to assure this did not happen again.  I asked for that in writing.  I got a letter - with a less satisfying response than the phone call - but its a step.  As far as we are concerned for now, we won.  And I assured those administrators that I would be more than happy to be an active part of reviewing the appropriateness of policies where legal precedent had changed since those policies were adopted.  I made it clear that I had been a big supporter of the schools, the district's daycare program where I serve as an advisory, and a voter in support of every bond proposal they've tried to pass over the past several years (the timing was great because they had an additional bond going to vote the very next week). 

My daughter has not seen the letter from the district as it was not exactly addressing the appropriateness of the suspension as we had hoped it would.  I have shared some of the details of my conversations with the administrators enough so that she knows they admit it wasn't right and they messed up.  Her seat on the bus has been moved and so far there have been no more major incidences.  That's not to say the one girl hasn't said mean things but it still seems to come and go.  Last Thursday this girl was entering daycare at the same time we were and she was sweet as pie and they were off to play together just fine.  I think some is just kid stuff and other times I wonder if this child may suffer some form of bi-polar or a similar issue - my daughter and I recognize that she comes from a hard background and doesn't have the sort of family that we are so fortunate to have so we do try to have generous hearts when it comes to dealing with her.  Its a tough lesson in many directions.

So I guess the advice I would give other parents in similar situations is the be careful how you present yourself so that you can't be written off as the crazy parent with the perfect kid, but be persistent and insistent.  Do your research - there is a lot of information online and some of these schools have pressure from other parents, other groups and even local media that may help you have some leverage.  Parents have rights.  You entrust your child to the care of these professionals every day and you have every right (and duty) to monitor their experience and help ensure it is the best one possible.  Administrators and teachers are not the enemy - they are partners in your child's experience.  Reassure them you aren't looking to blame anyone - you are trying to work together to ensure that everyone has the best experience.  But be firm on your stance - know what you want the end result to be and make sure you let them know what you want so you can both make it happen.  Don't be intimidated - if you are getting a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo in an attempt to turn you in circles - find someone who can help you sort it out.  And who can help you write a response in a similar formal tone with all the appropriate legal terms if need be.  
The Princess at March of Dimes March for Babies
after raising $200 on her own - making change in the world.

I found a quote the other day:

"Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Working very hard to teach that lesson too.

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