The author of this story has asked to remain anonymous.
My son was called names, pushed, shoved, had rocks thrown at him, had cleaner sprayed in his face, was assaulted from behind and struck in the head multiple times and on and on and on.
This all took place over a three year period and try as we did we could not got any help. Nothing was handled properly. I started growing more concerned as the days and months ticked by. The toll it was taking on my son was too much. I had nightmares of finding him hanging from his closet. The image has stayed in my head, it probably always will.
We had multiple meetings and conversations with the school. We tried desperately to get them to protect our child. Teachers attended the meetings, but they never “got it.” They seemed to want to stay in a place of denial, talking grades, when in fact we were there to talk safety, health and security. Keeping my child alive.
They were oblivious to the bullying which came from multiple kids, or at least pretended to be. Many times the teachers were oblivious to the taunting going on in their classrooms, and in the hallways, until we notified them. Watching our son interact on campus was truly painful. While he tried hard to put on a brave front at home for us, he had become a shell of his former self. On campus, it was like watching someone else’s child.
We don’t blame the teachers, we squarely place the blame on the school principle, who not only did not help us, but in fact placed blame and responsibility on us, even though the bullying occurred on his campus. In fact, his “final” solution before we hired an attorney was to refer us to a district social worker, the only social worker for 4000 kids. I have no doubt that he referred us to the social worker because he was tired of us. (Earlier in the year, this same Principal had to deal with a teacher who was suspended over allegations of inappropriate behavior).
We were advised by an attorney that our son should not strike back unless he was completely cornered, or he would punished for hitting. ( The school always intimated that without “witnesses” there was not much they could do.) We were also advised the bullies are allowed “due process” so they would not be suspended or expelled immediately, so in effect, there is really no such thing as a “zero tolerance” policy, like the policy the district kept saying that they had, but was never provided to us. In addition, we raised our 3 sons to be peace loving and non-violent, and it is just not in their nature to hit anyone, even in self defense.
I was so afraid to call an attorney. We tried really hard to avoid contacting an attorney. In hindsight, we should have contacted him much sooner. We didn’t want to be “those” parents. Surely there was something else we could do. One more meeting with the school, anything. Calling an attorney seemed absurd. But after much thought and review of our struggles, watching my son suffer day in and day out, my husband and I agreed that it was the only way.
The next morning, we hired an attorney. This time when we met with the school the meeting had a far different, more serious tone. Lots of bullshit-speak “We don’t tolerate bullying,” they said over and over. Really, I thought? Because my son has been bullied on your watch for three years and you seem to have tolerated it just fine. The bullying really tore me up, because as a kid, I was raised by an alcoholic bully of a father after my mom died when I was 10, and was bullied at school. I was “rescued” by friends of my family, who stepped up to become my legal guardians, and saved my life.
But, remarkably, things started to change after we hired an attorney. Go figure. Suddenly there was a call to action and kids started to slowly get suspended and or expelled. (And yes, all those kids are now in my son’s high school).
I was shocked to find that the bullies were given more rights than my own son. They were awarded privacy, which clearly we were not, and we could not be updated in any way on what consequences were meted out to them. We only found out from our son via word of mouth on the playground. “Bullies are allowed due process,” my attorney reminded us.
At different times throughout this process we kept seeing and hearing stories about children hanging themselves and committing other methods of suicide as a result of the bullying. One day, one of my employees stopped by the office with her mother-in-law. She casually mentioned that she taught 8th grade. We got to yapping about teaching, next thing you know she is telling me about one of her 8th grade students who hung himself due to bullying. I almost passed out, and could not get to a phone fast enough to talk to my husband. At that moment, we knew we had done the right thing in calling the attorney. We had tried really hard to avoid it, and really struggled mightily with the decision. We are not “those kind of people,” but you become “those kind of people” when you are forced by a need to protect your child when no one else will.
We put our son on a 504 plan to get help with his failing grades. (He tests just fine, very intelligent kid) but his grades failed as the bullying got worse. And truthfully, we thought the 504 plan would force the school to keep a better eye on him. Over the course of the school year, we repeatedly asked the school and district to furnish a policy on bullying or harassment, to no avail.
In addition to our son, we were also “globally” concerned about bullying. As we told the school, we were hugely fortunate to have resources and the presence of mind to protect our child. We are the “haves” in a district full of disenfranchised “have not” families, who are low income, unemployed, and many of whom do not speak English, even when the economy is good. I am not sure that the district ever did understand that we wanted them to take action to help all the kids, not just our son. We believe in karma, doing the right thing, and helping our fellow humans. Who is going to advocate for those children? Who hires them an attorney? They can only be helped if the district advocates for them or changes the system. Neither is likely.
Our Superintendent did not respond to us even ONE TIME over a seven month period, until I suggested to Jeff Light (UT Editor) (read the article here) that they do a story on bullying. Viola! One day later, Peter Rowe interviewed me. The story ran on Easter Sunday (to which my response was a gleeful “Ha ha mother fuckers, take THAT”). Next thing you know, that same silent Superintendent called us to “talk.” But when I responded, he had referred everything thru the attorney.
I attended the meeting with our attorney, who told us it was extremely rare for a district to reach out to the parents at this juncture. We were both certain it was a result of the media coverage. About halfway thru the meeting, they must have figured that they had met their match, and called a sidebar.
My attorney then informed me that they were offering my son an “attendant” for the rest of the school year. (read: bodyguard) My attorney was shocked. He said that in all his years he had NEVER seen a district make an offer of a bodyguard.
There were 45 days left of school. The attendant, who was a district employee, met my son at the car daily, and stayed with him until he was picked up. While I was happy that he would be safeguarded, I can honestly say that this solution made me laugh and then cry.
How sad that this was their solution. What a waste of precious school funds, and in the end, nothing was changed on campus. No training for staff or kids, no communication to staff, no awareness campaigns, nothing. NOTHING. It was clear they were happy to be rid of us at the end of the school year and wash their hands of this entire nasty bullying business.
When all of this started, many well meaning people asked “why don’t you change schools”? I understand this knee jerk reaction, we had it too. But we feel adamantly that our son should not need to leave. The bullies need to be addressed, and a paradigm shift needed to occur. We actually did give him an option of other schools, but he declined, wisely so. After all, what could be worse than being bullied? Being bullied at a new school while having to start over as the chubby new kid. And he was so right.
Is my son doing a little better? Yes. Weekly counseling, lots of doctor’s visits, medication and educational assessments have since filled our days and emptied our pockets, not to mention the attorney fees. (For the record, we never intended to sue, never asked for a dime. Just wanted our son to stay safe and alive.)
We have acted proactively and swiftly to work with the new High School staff, and so far, so good. But our son is still affected. I can’t imagine how he would ever trust the school staff to keep him safe, since the last school threw him to the wolves. We have years ahead of us to get through this. And yes, every morning when I open my son’s bedroom door to wake him up, I hold my breathe…..