The strange thing about writing these blogs is that I’m always behind myself. For a long time I was writing about second grade, which was three years ago. Eventually I made it to fifth grade and then, bam, we left school altogether. The home/free-schooling adventure that we’re on right now is quite a story… but I have to go back and finish off the story of how I decided to pull Jack out of school.
While I was dealing with the bullying situation at the afterschool program there was the email from Jack’s classroom teacher to the parents of the kids who had voted Jack out of class. That email shocked me and finally made me reach the point of having lost all hope for any changes at school. At this point I just wanted to know what our rights were.
I called the office of the San Francisco school superintendent. At the mention of bullying problems they asked me the name of our school. The purpose of my call was not to declare war on anyone so I did not reveal the name of the school. I said that I just wanted to talk to someone to clear my own mind. They referred me to the “family voice” office where I talked to a superb professional, Mr. Martinez. He talked to me for a long time, asked many questions, and was quite alarmed by what I told him. He too asked the name of our school. I said that I did not want to stab anyone in the back, to which he replied: “You’re stabbing your son in the back.”
As I was speaking to Mr. Martinez I realized that the time for me to try to work with the school was over. The last thing on my mind at that point was to take my son out of school but I realized that I had been pushed in a certain direction from which there was no return. I did not yet know where that direction led but I knew it was time to have it all out. I told Mr. Martinez that I would reveal the name of our school after I tell the principal that I was going to do that.
I hung up the phone and went directly to the school. I asked for an emergency meeting with the principal and went straight into his office. I told him what was happening with the children, what the teacher had done, and whom I was talking to at the district. He said that he would call up Mr. Martinez himself, for which I was grateful – I hated having to “snitch” on the school. He also told me that he was in the process of introducing strategies for dealing with the bullying. I knew he had been working on that for a long time so I believed him, but I knew that for us it was too little too late. When I left his office I still didn’t know what I was going to do. By the time I got home the principal had called and already spoken to Jack who had stayed home that day. That made Jack feel a lot better.
I waited a couple of days to see if I would hear anything from the school or Jack’s teacher. Hearing nothing, I called Mr. Martinez again, and this time we talked much more openly. I forwarded to him some of the letters I had written to various teachers and principals over the years (in five years we had had three different principals) and sent him the link to my blogs on this site. That was on a Friday. I made an appointment to go see him in person the following Wednesday. Again, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I just wanted to discuss things with someone and hoped that that would help me figure out what to do. That same day I wrote the letter that I posted on my previous blog and made sure the teacher and the principal got it the same day.
That weekend I suddenly realized school was over for us. I felt completely devastated that a bunch of kids – many of them not bullies at all – had voted my son out of their class. Jack had been putting up with this for a long time. And I, with my best intentions, had indeed, as Mr. Martinez pointed out, stabbed him the back. I realized the reason I did not know how bad things were for Jack was because he had stopped telling me. He had rightly figured that neither the school nor his family was going to do anything about it, so why bother. That weekend I told Jack that if he did not want to go back to school he did not have to.
He took some time to think about it. That Monday was a holiday and by Tuesday Jack decided that he wanted to go back to school and finish fifth grade. He especially wanted to be there on graduation day. When he came back from school on Tuesday he reported that his classroom teacher had spent a long time that day confronting the bullying at every opportunity, talking to the kids, having discussions, mediating, and what not. Jack was very happy about that – somebody was finally acknowledging what was going on. But he also understood that the teacher would not be able to keep this up indefinitely – which is what I had said to the principal about his ideas for addressing the bullying. This kind of time- and labor-intensive effort is not sustainable. Things might improve for a little while – just as they had in the past – but they would eventually go back to the way they had been. Plus, as Jack himself observed, suppose the teacher monitors the situation in the classroom, What about recess? What about in the hallway? What about at afterschool?
Wednesday morning Jack woke up and said that he had decided to quit school. It was a lucky coincidence that I had my meeting with Martinez that morning, so I took him along. It was a very good meeting and Jack had a chance to speak for himself. I was very proud of him. He was articulate, strong, and perceptive. Mr. Martinez spoke to him with understanding and respect for his intelligence, and I know that it meant a great deal to Jack to be taken seriously and treated with such respect. Since he had by that point decided not to return to school we really just talked about the bullying problem in schools and not about solving any problems for Jack. It was a very good meeting and ended up being a closure to Jack’s elementary school experience.
The next step was to write an official letter to the school and inform them that Jack was not coming back. The day I delivered that letter the principal called Jack again and had a very nice and long talk with him. He told him that he was sorry to have lost him and invited him to join his class on graduation day. The phone call and the invitation made Jack very happy – but watching his face beam with happiness made me realize how sad this whole thing really was.
A few months after I wrote this blog, in fact on the day of graduation that my son attended at the invitation of the principal, I was standing and talking to one of the mothers when one of my son's classmates, Henry, came up to me. "I know why Jack left school," he said. "It was because Miss P didn't like him and picked on him." Well, well... Kids see things, don't they? I was so grateful that Henry said that in front of the other mother (the one who took over the PTA afterschool clubs that were my responsibility). Sometimes you really need a witness!