Thursday, February 11, 2010

An Unfortunate Series of Events

In the wake of my son's first-ever disciplinary action at school, my husband spoke this week in person with BES's principal. BES had not given her all of the details of the incident that led up to him chasing, grabbing and pushing a student last week. He told her simply that the other student "had gone like this" [placed hands near his chest] and so "he'd lost his temper".

When she found out what had actually been taking place, she labelled it sexual harassment and promised to re-open a discussion with the perpetrators. She is aware of my son's autism diagnosis--in fact, she stated that last week she was reluctant to give him the one day of suspension--but felt that according to school "zero tolerance" policy, she had no choice. We seem to have a shared sense of what happened and what should be done.

Still, as they say in Wrightslaw, if it is not in writing, it didn't take here is my written response...

Dear Principal:

I wanted to clarify the events that led up to my son BES’s In School Suspension last Friday, February X, 20XX.

On Friday, as BES was standing at his locker, a boy came up to him and called him “scoops” and cupped his chest. This kind of transgression has been going on for some time, as evidenced by my January 8 email to BES’s inclusion teacher. At that time, I wrote:

BES has been telling me that there are boys at school who are making fun of his weight (specifically, they are going up to him and cupping his chest)…I am concerned that BES might need some additional coping skills in dealing with the teasing and I wanted to make you aware of what was going on. My feeling is this: I hate to see my son teased. At the same time, I understand that dealing with challenging social situations is an important part of growing is, in fact, one of the reasons that I felt it was time for him to return to public school.

Mr. Inclusion told me that he would look out for this behavior. Later in the day he wrote back to me and said, “I have spoken to the boys who have been bothering BES, hopefully it will stop.”

While BES did not continue to communicate this to Mr. Inclusion, Ms. Psychologist, or myself, this was still apparently continuing to take place in gym and less structured social settings throughout the day. In fact, it had become something that many students were doing to BES. And so, last Friday morning, he had had enough and he decided to take matters into his own hands. When a student went up to him, cupped him in the chest and called him “scoops,” he ran after the student, grabbed him by the shirt and pushed him into a door.

This is a slightly different version of events than the paperwork that was sent home detailing the reason for BES’s In School Suspension, which states:

BES was angry at another student who was insinuating an insult at him. In response, BES chased him, grabbed him by the shirt, and pushed him into a door.

I understand that BES might not have conveyed the events that led up to this behavior to you in their entirety—probably out of embarrassment—and that this is the reason why the paperwork was filled out to imply that BES responded to an “insinuation” as opposed to a chronic and pervasive stressor in his educational environment. Additionally, my husband and I felt that it was very important for BES to understand that he did have some culpability in this event. He did touch another student. And he did this after opting not to use the adult support structures he has been provided with in school. As I wrote to Mr. Inclusion on Monday:

When I asked BES, "Why didn't you speak about your frustration with this problem with Mr. Inclusion or Mrs. Psychologist? Why did you let yourself get to a point where you acted out physically against another student?" he said that he has been getting this treatment from a lot of the boys but that he "didn't want to rat out another student for only doing something once.”

I felt that he needed to see that there could be a negative consequence for “not ratting someone out.” For this reason I did not question the one day of In School Suspension.

As you are probably aware, BES has a diagnosis from the local university that has implications for mood regulation, gross and fine motor skills, and use and understanding of social and pragmatic language. Because of this set of developmental differences, he is more likely to experience bullying, more likely to be weak in athletics and refrain from physical activity, and more likely to make poor choices when confronted with challenging or complex social situations.

We work very hard at home with BES to teach him how to negotiate these challenges and I know that Mr. Inclusion, Ms. Psychologist and his teachers work hard with him at school, as well. However, when you are working with a child who has a degree of social blindness, it makes sense to me that social mistakes have a greater likelihood of occurring along the way. What I am hoping to do now is maximize the learning opportunities of this incident.

We have spoken to BES about this incident. We have impressed upon him the importance of using his adult supports while in school if he is feeling overwhelmed. We have recently enrolled him in a Running Program through Local College (which he is actually enjoying very much) so that he feels healthier and is not as vulnerable to remarks about his appearance.

Under the circumstances, I believe a revised Discipline Letter should be placed in BES’s school file explaining more fully what lead up to this suspension. Is this possible? Additionally, my husband and I would like to know, as they are developed, what actions the school will be taking to make sure that our son is not bullied in school in the future.

Please feel free to contact me by email , by phone, or in writing if you would like to discuss this further. And thank you very much for your time and effort in dealing with the complexities of this incident.