I was once a direct care worker. I took care of disabled persons in their home. Most were children and young adults. As part of my training, I received certification in Recipient Rights Training here in Michigan. This training teaches you the signs to watch for that show a client is being abused or mistreated. It also teaches you how to perform an interview in a safe, non threatening way that never puts words into a client’s mouth or guides them to a particular topic. I never thought I would be using this training to interview my own child. Here is what I learned about my child’s days at school.
With her Generalized Anxiety Disorder, our daughter frets over basic needs. This includes what food she will eat and when she will eat it. The other day she had chosen to trust the principal who had told her if she ever doesn’t have a snack, there are snacks available in the office. After what was already a rough day that included a phone call to me, it was established that they would get her a bag of popcorn from the popcorn machine.
They got her the popcorn. She told me she wasn’t actually given the popcorn. I spoke to the principal who said that the bag of popcorn was still sitting right on the table where my daughter had left it; there in her office. Yesterday, while I was having her walk me through her day, she told me a horrifying story.
She says that the para pro did get her the popcorn. She did tell her that she could have that popcorn. She even set that popcorn on the table between them. However, every time my daughter reached for the bag, the para pro moved it out of her reach. She then returned it to where it had been between them. This continued while they kept her in the office for the remainder of the day.
After being denied breakfast on Monday, forced to miss part of the presentation from the science guy who visited with his collection of animals, and then exerting herself in gym class, my daughter hit a kid after being struck in the eye with a sweatshirt while lined up in the gym to return to class. Admittedly, she did not handle things appropriately. She was suspended the remainder of that day and then all of Tuesday.
When she returned to class Wednesday, she found that her desk had been moved away from her classmates. She now sits alone, near the teachers desk, facing the class. So she is separated, on display, and staring directly at what she wants most (to be a part of the class).
Not only are they making it so that she sits and watches all of her classmates, but they make her miss parts of cool presentations, like the bird skeleton she missed out on in STEM the other day. So, she arrives and wants to know what she missed. She starts asking her classmates, asking the teacher, becoming more and more frustrated when she is not being answered and now sits there feeling lost and confused.They punish her for this disruption by separating her out again. Raising her anxiety levels more. She hasn’t been to recess all week.
But, it gets worse. The kids are trying to be inclusive. The kids are trying to welcome her back. They try to give her high fives and hugs. The para pro tells her no. She’s not allowed contact. They ask her if she will join them for tag at recess. The para pro tells her no. She’s not allowed to play tag. All of this is done in front of her classmates. Then, they keep her in the office during recess.
The teacher gives instructions to the class. My daughter tries to begin her assignment. The para pro tells her to do it a different way. (ie. teacher says “do not number this assignment” para pro says “number your paper from 1-20”) Or, when she is on the page that everyone is reading, her para pro will take her book and start flipping pages and claiming she can’t find the page they are supposed to be on. Our daughter has started to call her the “helper” who just gets in the way.
I’m not sure what exactly happened, but it came up in the conversation with my daughter so I’m putting it in here. Monday, when she was finally permitted to return to school after they took a week to “get supports into place”, staff gave her a t-shirt. One with the school mascot or name or something on the front. I didn’t get a chance to see the shirt. She put it in her locker to bring home with her.
That day, she was sent home early. Somebody else packed up her backpack. The t-shirt was not in it. We assumed it was still in her locker. She’d get it Wednesday when she returned. The t-shirt was not in her locker. It’s gone. Now, she doesn’t trust putting things in her locker. Specifically, the popcorn she brought for snack yesterday after being teased with popcorn Wednesday. She was afraid her snack would be stolen. She was afraid she would be denied snack again.
She wanted to keep her snack on her desk. The para pro starts putting sticky notes on all of her things (including the popcorn) telling our daughter what she should be doing with each item. Our daughter is becoming more frustrated and hurt by the way she is being treated. She tries to express herself. She tells them she doesn’t like being separated from the class. She tells them she’s worried her popcorn will be stolen. She tells them that she just wants to do her work. She tells them she can do it herself.
I hear these things while they’ve got me on speaker phone. And I hear these grown ups yelling at her that those things don’t matter. Of course they matter. She is speaking up for herself. She is standing up to bullies who are twice her size. She is terrified. She says she feels caged. They chase her and trap her and deny her access to her classroom and the things her classmates are doing. She expresses her feelings and she is immediately punished for having them.
Bully (v.) use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants
Does this sound like an abuse of power to you? Does this sound like bullying to you? This is just some of the events she described to me during our discussion last night. She became agitated just talking about these things. At one point, she became so upset that I had to end the conversation and come back to it later, after she’d had time to go reset from the upset and frustration and pain and fear and anger of telling me just some of the details of her day.
The scariest thing of all is that with two special needs students, both considered Emotionally Impaired (EI), this type of bullying has happened in 8 of the 9 schools my children have been enrolled in during the last dozen or so years. We have fought alone. There is no specific law that addresses grown up bullies.
There are plenty of bullying and discrimination laws, don’t get me wrong. But people don’t usually look at the educators as the bullies. How many kids out there, having outbursts, getting into trouble or ultimately confined to a classroom for those with severe emotional needs were pushed there by the very staff that was supposed to be helping and protecting them? It is time to address these problems in our schools.
If you or a child you know is being bullied by educators or administrators, speak up. Stand up. Let them know that it will not be tolerated anymore.
Share this post to start a discussion with your friends and family. Open up the lines of communication with your own kids. They may be witnessing the bullying and abuse of a classmate. This can be mentally and emotionally damaging for them, too.