It’s Friday morning. Miss S sits on my lap, sobbing at the front door. Her belly hurts. She doesn’t want to go to school; doesn’t want to hear the kids in her class announce, “Boy X is here,” again.
This past Tuesday she was the victim of a “targeted attack” the principal’s words, not mine. Miss S is six.
On Tuesday at recess, she was playing with a friend when a six-year-old boy in her class ran up and, unprovoked, punched Miss S in the stomach and ribs. She and her friend ran away, and told an adult on duty. It’s hazy if this adult knew that the boy had already punched Miss S, or not, but the story goes this adult diverted the boy’s attention so Miss S and her friend could “get away.”
The boy then found Miss S and her friend for a second time. He started punching Miss S again. In the back. In the neck.
A second adult on duty saw this happen and ran to break it up.
Miss Q, who was in a cross-country meeting with the principal, heard the call over his radio, saying that they needed his help outside. The principal said he’d be there in a minute, then left.
It was reported to me by the adults at the school that the principal had to physically carry the boy who had attacked Miss S off the field. He was placed in a quiet room where he almost broke the glass windows. The district behaviour specialist was called to the school.
Miss S quietly left the situation and found her sister for comfort. Miss Q and her friends gave Miss S hugs, but then bell rang and they all went to their own classrooms, leaving Miss S to return to hers and line up dutifully for music.
In the music line up her friend told their teacher what had happened. Their teacher was heartsick. She pulled Miss S out of the line up, sent the class to music and asked her about the situation.
It is important to note that Miss S’s teacher was the only one to ask Miss S to tell her story that day. When the class returned from music, Miss S’s teacher told them that it was a scary situation and that she had been scared too.
The only way my husband and I found out anything had happened was from a message Miss S’s teacher had left on my husband’s work answering machine.
I was at home.
He didn’t get the message until 2 p.m.
At least someone from the school called.
When I called in at 2:01, I was told I needed to speak to the principal. After waiting, I was told he was unavailable and would call me back. I drove down to the school with Miss C in tow.
At the school, I was told that in the event of an emergency they would have called, tracked me down, and used our emergency numbers. If one child assaulting another doesn’t constitute an emergency what does? I guess they needed to see some blood.
It’s Friday morning. We are alone in the house, Miss S and me. She sits on my lap sobbing. I contemplate calling my husband, my family – anyone who can take the decision of whether school is going to be safe for her today off my plate. But I am alone. I am her mum.
Every fiber, every cell, every follicle on my being screams not to send her. The deep baritone of the principal telling me once she stops going to school, her mind is closed. Miss S’s teacher declaring Miss S has a right to her free education. My baby’s blue eyes filled with giant tears. Everything swirls in a nauseous circle.
It took Miss S 48-hours to tell us, her parents, the whole story from her eyes. 48 hours and she still couldn’t use the word ‘punched’. She had to stop mid-sentence, whispering that she couldn’t say the word. We coaxed her to demo it on me.
It took the school 21-hours to allow the boy back in. He left the school on Tuesday around lunch after losing control and punching our daughter in two separate attacks, and was back through the doors on Wednesday morning, unbeknownst to us.
Wednesday morning, Miss S woke early. She ate. She dressed. She put both her shoes on without stopping to say, “Mummy? My tummy hurts.” She said good-bye at the classroom door with a smile.
I felt foolish to be the one holding my breath, and like a doomsayer waiting for the other shoe to drop, but knew I should embrace this new light that had washed over her. Miss S was her old self for the first time since the second week of grade one.
After school, unprompted, she even volunteered, “It was a great day, because no Boy X.”
I held my tongue, because the other shoe had already plummeted, when, out of earshot from Miss S, I learned the boy had been allowed back to school that morning, but the kids in Miss S’s class didn’t know because he’d only lasted 10 minutes in the front foyer before being sent home.
Thursday morning, another great start for Miss S – no stomach aches. We didn’t know what the plan was for Boy X, so we continued on with our life and didn’t tell her one way or another.
But after the bell, the boy made it into their classroom. Miss S said she heard her classmates say, “Boy X is here,” and she got scared. When she saw him, her tummy started hurting.
Boy X was seated in his regular seat, diagonally from Miss S.
Boy X only lasted 10 minutes in the classroom. The principal escorted him out. There’s no funding for him. The teacher is heartbroken with the situation.
It’s Friday morning. Miss S sits sobbing on my lap.
My husband and I have a meeting with the principal on Monday at 8 a.m.
Thus far, the administration seems to be trying really hard to keep Boy X at school; trying hard to find him the resources; money, but where is the support for Miss S, her classmates and teacher who have had to live for 6 weeks with him throwing chairs and sharpened pencils, tossing desks, blocking their way to music, yelling, running away, and emptying classroom bookshelves?
I have empathy for Boy X. He’s so very lost and he’s only six.
My heart crumples for Miss S. She’s scared and she’s only six.
If I say she can stay with me today, will she learn that crying is a way to stay home? Once this ordeal is settled, will it be harder to get her back into school if I keep her out?
On the other hand: is it fair to send her back to school, knowing she has such a physical reaction to this boy and he’ll most likely be in her class again, because, oh right, that’s part of the master plan.
Is this boy the only reason she is having a physical reaction? Could it be something else?
Unlike those long ago lazy days of her babyhood, I can’t sit cradling Miss S all day.
I have to choose.
I can’t send her.
I feel cheated. For the last four years, I’ve bought into this education system. I’ve dropped my children off to their classes, baked cakes, signed forms, bought raffle tickets, made sure the girls were prepared for the day’s events, signed daily agendas and volunteered at Spring Fairs. What was all of that for if I am now sitting with a sobbing child who’s afraid of grade one and I don’t know what to tell her?
I’m the adult and I don’t want to choose.
Then, from out of nowhere, my mouth starts speaking, “You might not feel it right now, but you’ve got an amazing life ahead of you. You’re smart. You have a good heart. You’re beautiful and kind and funny. And what Boy X did to you was very, very wrong. It’s okay to be feeling upset about that. But, in order to make your life amazingly awesome, you need to go to school, and get a good education. Even though I know it feels yucky. You can’t let one boy who needs a lot of help stop you from going to school and living your life. If your tummy starts hurting, all you need to do is tell your teacher. And if it really starts hurting, tell your teacher to call me and I’ll drop everything I’m doing and come get you. Your teacher can even call Costco and they can make an announcement for Miss S’s Mama to come back to the school.”
Miss S looked at me. I slid her to a standing position. She clutched her wad of Kleenex, and waited for me to get up.
And so we stepped together out our front door and into the adult world of no funding for kids who need it the most; the politics of who’s right to a free education is more important: the attacker’s or the victim’s? And questions of trust directed squarely at a school system that I used to trust so deeply.