After all the support I’ve received from family, friends, acquaintances, and completely strangers, I feel like I owe all of you thanks and an update on the situation.
The short of it is that Dr. Lecter will no longer be bullied by these little boys, and the administration is now well aware that if it should happen again, I will hold them accountable for it. Also that people are really fucking dense.
On Wednesday after I first posted about this (and as a result, got 3 hours of sleep due to excessive stress and crying), I received replies first thing in the morning from Dr. Lecter’s teacher and guidance counselor, both expressing horror about what had happened to her as well as surprise, having not heard reports of it elsewhere. They each escalated to the assistant principal and asked me to wait for her to follow up with me. I thanked them for being on top of it and asked them how Dr. Lecter’s safety on the playground would be ensured while they dealt with the situation. I also left a voicemail with the assistant principal asking her to call me about this. And in the event that they fucked up, I asked Clarice to keep her eye on her sister if the boys were out at recess playing.
I heard nothing until 4pm, when the assistant principal called me back. She told me that in the morning, she’d gone to speak to Dr. Lecter’s class, emphasizing safe behavior and how to ask the recess aides for help (but critically, not “Don’t tie other little kids up and drag them around the blacktop”). She’d also gone to Clarice’s class and emphasized “If you see something, say something.” Which seemed a little insulting to me given that those kids HAD seen something and said something. Then she assured me that after Wednesday afternoon, the ropes would be gone from the playground.
I went speechless for a few seconds because I was stunned that this was the solution she was offering me. My inner ragebeast was thinking, “Great. What the fuck are you going to do when they pelt her with balls, or throw mud at her? Are you going to remove all the goddamn mud from the playground, you thick sack?” So I told her, a little impolitely and derisively, that removing the ropes hardly solves the problem. Then I laid out my issues point by point:
- It wasn’t made clear to me whether or not this issue had been flagged up with the bullies’ parents or not. If my kid were bullying some other kid, you bet your sweet bippy I’d want to know and stop that shit ASAP. But I tend to give other parents the benefit of the doubt, that if they know their kid is being a dick, maybe they don’t want their kid to be a dick.
- The knowledge that a child is getting bullied doesn’t get disseminated to the staff watching the kids at lunch or recess, which means that lunch and recess are prime times for kids to bully and not be held responsible for it, because with all those kids to watch and so few staff, how are they supposed to be vigilant about bullying behavior when they don’t know it’s happening?
- Bullying that happens on the playground that actually IS witnessed by the recess staff doesn’t get communicated back to the teacher or guidance counselor. Which is actually two problems:
- Lunch/Recess staff have no authority. All the kids know that the things they do won’t get reported anyway, and they can get away with just about anything without any real consequences.
- Recurring bullying disappears into a vacuum during Lunch and Recess.
- Given that all the kids know that there aren’t any consequences, after these kids are disciplined, they need to publicly apologize to my kid so that they’re held accountable for their actions, and so that all the kids in the school know that there are consequences.
She acknowledged that those were all good points, but I don’t think she really heard me because I was so pissed off and having a hard time controlling my tone of voice. Then she said that she did speak to all the kids in the morning, and that all the teachers were now aware, and that Dr. Lecter’s teacher had spoken to her first thing after recess on Wednesday and said, “I can’t believe those boys did it again–”
“WAIT,” I said. And keep in mind, I was at work in the hallway at the time, which is the only reason I didn’t succeed in exploding her with my fiery psychic rage lasers. “Do you mean to tell me that it happened again today?”
There was a moment of silence. And then a very quiet, “Yes, there was an incident today.”
“So, even though I raised this issue this morning, and even after I asked how you were going to prevent this from happening anymore, it happened again?” At this point I was so angry I was visibly shaking.
So then she promised me that she was going to speak to the boys Thursday morning, well before recess, and that they would not be allowed to play with the girls, and that she would call me and apprise me of the situation once she’d handled it. I agreed and hung up because I didn’t trust myself to continue speaking rationally. I called Dr. Lecter’s father (who was out of town), and then told Earl, and then decided that I needed to go home and get my girl.
On the way home, Earl and I came up with my game plan over the phone, and being a teacher and the son of school administrators, albeit English ones, he had all kinds of insights. I didn’t follow the game plan exactly because I just wasn’t equipped for it, but this is what we came up with: I would send another email to the principal, vice principal, teacher, and guidance counselor expressing my concern over their policies, and that my confidence in their ability to keep my child safe was shaken. I would tell them I would be going to the school Thursday morning and would be happy to wait until an administrator was free to discuss with me all the lapses in their processes that led to my child being dragged around a playground not once, but twice, even after I’d raised the issue with them. I would ask them to show me the bullying forms they’d filed and what corrective actions they’d taken to mitigate the bullying behavior according to their bullying policy, which they had a legal obligation to uphold, all in an effort to see how the processes had failed. And if they were unable to reassure me that their processes would keep my daughter safe, I would have no choice but to escalate to the Superintendent.
When I got home, the girls told me the story of what had happened at recess: unprovoked, the boys had tried to tie Dr. Lecter up again, but Clarice and a couple of other kids (including Dr. Lecter’s one and only friend) stopped it from happening, with Clarice physically taking the ropes from the boys and throwing them back in the jump rope bin (after which the jump ropes were removed from the playground forever, HOORAY PROBLEM SOLVED). I sent my email that evening, to which they replied that they’d be in meetings all day, but could meet with me after school, which I agreed to.
On Thursday morning, I got dressed in my most I’m Fucking Serious clothes, and after a quick discussion with a mutual mom-friend, decided to contact one of the bullies’ moms, whose email address I happened to have via room parenting and knew to be pretty cool. I assured her that my issue wasn’t with her or her son personally, but that I felt the administration had done both of our children a disservice: mine in protecting Dr. Lecter and hers in letting her know that her child was engaging in this kind of behavior. I told her that it was possible that they didn’t want to involve her until they knew for sure that he’d done it, but then she said, “Yeah, but that’s still something I would want to know. How can I have a dialogue with my child if I don’t even know about it?”
It was right around then that I started feeling bad about all the swear words I used about the boys.
I told her I would keep her updated, went to work, actually managed to get some shit done, and then went to the meeting, where I was greeted by the assistant principal, the teacher, and the counselor. They started off by telling me that the boys were kept in from recess and made to write reflections about what they’d done, and had talks with the counselor about what they did, why they did it, if they’d ever stopped to think about how it made Dr. Lecter feel, and that sort of empathetic thing (to their credit, two of the boys apologized to Dr. Lecter without prompting). Shortly after that, the assistant principal contacted the boys’ parents. I told them that all sounded good, but that I was far more concerned about the systemic problems, because I figured once these kids’ parents were told, they’d be all over their asses.
They looked genuinely surprised, oddly. Thanks to some coaching from Earl, I summoned enough energy to be reasonable and cordial and clinical, never once losing my temper. If it became an emotional issue, the problem resolution would become more about mollifying an angry parent and less about solving a problem with the process. I basically repeated the exact same points I’d already said to the assistant principal over the phone. Only now with the counselor and teacher there, suddenly there was comprehension and it was treated like new knowledge. They were writing down notes and underlining shit and everything. In addition to the things I’d already pointed out, I told them that once they’d revised their policies and plugged up the holes, I wanted to know what the revised policy was and that it should be communicated to all the parents of the school (mostly so that parents would know exactly what’s supposed to be enforced). I also told them that instead of telling the kids who’d done the right thing that they needed to do the right thing, those kids needed to be praised.
I walked away feeling pretty positive about Dr. Lecter not getting bullied anymore, but then I realized I’d completely forgotten to bring up the issues with the bullying forms. Earl was incensed that for nearly two days, they’d failed to meet their legal obligation to keep my daughter safe, and that there was nothing in place to keep kids from being bullied in the future. I thought about this, and honestly, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Why hadn’t all this been brought up as problems before? And if they had, why hadn’t the systemic issues been resolved? What are the bullying forms used for if parents are the ones filling them out, but teachers and staff are supposed to when they occur? Why are parents only contacted when children are disciplined, rather than after the bullying has been alleged, which can be takebacksied if it turns out to be nothing (“Joey gave me the STINK EYE! He’s BULLYING me!” “KATIE gave me the STINK EYE FIRST! SHE’s BULLYING me!”)? How do I go about getting them to realize there’s a problem when it took so much effort just to get them to realize how crap their lunch/recess coverage is? It just feels like this monolith of uncertainty, and I don’t know where to begin attacking it.
So I’m going to have a chat with the moms I’m acquainted with at school and gather more data. For the time being, I feel confident that Dr. Lecter is ok. I sent messages to the parents of the kids I know who stood up for her and asked them to please thank their kids for being so kind. I told Clarice over and over that I was so proud of what a great big sister she is. I told Dr. Lecter that ok, maybe she’s weird, but kids just needed to learn to see past the weird and then they would understand the awesome. And maybe that she should stop picking her nose in class, it’s gross, I told you so. Also that chasing kids around the playground with boogerfinger doesn’t win you any friends, but to keep the weird and lose the rude.
She’s smiling again, and I’m sleeping again. I’ll worry about the monolith later.