Imagine, if you will, a kindergarten teacher and your five-year-old son in a classroom.
Imagine, if you will, your five-year-old son is doing what five-year-old boys do and is touching himself through his clothes.
Imagine, if you will, that his teacher “thumped” him on his head, hard enough for him to cry, hard enough for a teacher’s assistant in the room to report the “thump,” and hard enough for the police to issue a citation, charging the teacher with assault by offensive contact.
Now, being charged with the crime does not make her guilty of the crime, but witness testimony is pretty strong, and according to the witness, the teacher thumped the student “because she didn’t like what he was doing.”
If the teacher had paid her fine, it would be admitting guilt, and she’d lose her teaching license, so she went to court over it.
And the jury decided it was cool. The jury’s job was to decide whether the physical contact was justified under Texas law, which lets teachers basically do whatever they need to in order to maintain discipline.
This teacher can now continue teaching, can continue “thumping” students, and can continue to mete out justice against her students however she thinks she needs to (or apparently wants to).
Now here’s the thing: the five-year-old child had a disability.
Do you think that played at all into the jury’s decision? Because I sure as hell do.
We know from government data that suspension and expulsion rates for students with disabilities are about two times higher than their non-disabled peers.
Our kids needs to be in school. They shouldn’t be forced out through “discipline” that is not appropriate and that would not be used on their non-disabled peers. They should not be hit by teachers. They should not be punished at different rates.
This is only one instance at one school, but I doubt it’s an isolated incident. It’s just one of the few that is reported.
How many times did a teacher’s assistant keep quiet? How many times did another teacher “thump” a student? How many times did the issue not get pressed or get dismissed within the school system?
The jury sent a clear message – kids with disabilities can be hit by their teachers, and it’s okay. If a child without a disability had done that in class, and if he had been hit by a teacher, you can be pretty sure that the teacher would have been found guilty.
Because there is no consequence for the teacher’s action, these issues will continue to be underreported and continue to happen.
Because there is no consequence for the teacher’s actions, other teachers may do the same.
Because there is no consequence for the teacher’s action, parents will be scared to send their children to schools.
Because there is no consequence for the teacher’s action, we need to make it known that this happened. That this isn’t acceptable. That there *should* be a consequence.
We need to make this news that is shared, news that is known by parents, news that causes outrage among not just parents, but educators and administrators at schools.
We can’t go back and change what happened, but we can work to make sure that the next jury that gets a case like this understands that these are not acceptable actions against any student and that just because a student has a disability doesn’t make them fair game for abuse.
Hitting a five-year-old student is wrong. Why do we even need to say this?
As Simon gets older and older, a problem has emerged into more and more of a problem: going to the bathroom in public.
When he was little, it was easy. Women are pretty accepting of kids coming into the women’s room.
When he got bigger, I kept bringing him in. Sure, he was a bit old to be considered a “kid,” but since he was with me, no one seemed to care.
It made me nervous, though. Sooner or later, I was sure, someone would try to get into it with me and tell me that I couldn’t bring him in.
Now he’s clearly a teenager, and not a young teen either. Bringing him into a women’s bathroom is the last resort. Instead, the best option is a family restroom, or a single person restroom, where I can stand outside and keep an ear – and eye – out.
Recently, I’ve gotten brave.
Since I don’t feel good about bringing him into women’s rooms, I’ve begun sending him into men’s rooms.
Then I stand around the entrance, nervous as hell, sometimes calling into the room after him, getting weird looks from the guys who are coming out.
I finally took it further – instead of standing outside the men’s room, waiting for him, calling to him, I would go into the women’s room and go to the bathroom while he was in the men’s room.
I pee as fast as I can, hoping I finish before he does and get out before he does. I wash my hands without drying them. If there is too long a line, I don’t go at all and instead just cross my legs until we get somewhere else or until we get home.
I always make it out before him, even if it means that I use antibacterial gel on my hands instead of washing them.
But then I got super brave.
Brave like someone rushing through traffic to save a toddler from an oncoming car hitting him while a hawk swooped down to try to pull him up and eat him and a hunter fired a gun at the hawk, but the hunter had super bad aim and the bullet was coming in way too low.
Okay, not that brave.
But pretty brave.
We were at a Target, and I really really really had to pee.
Simon didn’t have to go, and I knew that he’d been willing to go into the men’s bathroom and pee anyway, but then we’d leave the cart with all the paid-for groceries all alone, and I didn’t really want to do that. And Simon is 16. Maybe it was time to try something new.
“Hey, Simon,” I said, “can you do me a favor?”
“I want you to hold onto the handle of this cart, here,” I showed him where to put his hands, “and I’m going to go into the bathroom. I’ll be right out. You wait here, holding the cart. Is that okay?”
Here’s the thing: Simon saying yes doesn’t always mean yes. He says yes to almost as many things as he says no to, and the response often has nothing to do with the question as much as it does about the time of day, how tired he is, or how much attention he’s been paying. Or it might have something to do with what sounds best. I have no idea how he decides whether or not he says yes or no.
But he said yes.
And I had to pee.
He put his hands on the cart, standing where he couldn’t see into the women’s room, but as close as I could get him without having him look in.
The fear. The absolute fear. The oh my god, I am leaving him alone in a store fear.
Will he wander off?
Will he get upset?
Will a well-meaning person try to help him if he gets upset, leading to a police incident in the 90 seconds that it takes me to pee?
(Yes, those are all serious fears – while I don’t think a police officer could make it there that quickly, the fear that an officer could show up and there could be an incident that would lead to an injury or an arrest is completely legitimate.)
I rushed. I rushed so much. I avoided peeing on the seat (which proves that, no, you don’t have to pee on the seat you seat-peeing savages), and I washed my hands, drying them on my shirt because I wasn’t going to use the hot air blower.
I left the bathroom, fully expecting a partial meltdown in progress.
Simon is not a fan of not being able to see people that he wants to see.
At home, I can tell him half a dozen times that I’m bringing recycling out to the bin, and when I come back in, he’s crying and repeating that “Mom is taking out recycling” or if I go out for the mail, then I hear “Mom’s getting the mail.”
Whatever it is, he isn’t very happy about it.
Even going to the mall as a family, when Patrick takes Simon to the bathroom, if I take longer than them, I hear about it as I make it back to the waiting place. “Mom is in the bathroom! Mom is in the bathroom!”
This time, though, he was just standing there, still hanging onto the cart.
He wasn’t trying to look into the bathroom. He hadn’t left the cart. He wasn’t upset that I had gone into the bathroom.
He was…he was…he was fine!
Now, I know that this sounds like all I’m talking about is going to the bathroom, but it’s so much more than that.
He’s 16. He’s going into his sophomore year in high school, but he is eligible for (and will be taking part in) the 18+ program. He will stay in school, getting some extra help, socialization, job training, and lots of other good stuff until he’s 21.
Five years might sound like a long time, but anyone with a child can tell you that it’s not. It’s the blink of an eye.
At 16, Simon needs to be moving ahead with his life.
He needs to be able to do things on his own.
He needs to be able to let me do things on my own.
He needs to not always need someone to watch him.
He needs to be his own person.
He needs to be an adult.
So while standing alone with a shopping cart while I duck into a bathroom for two and a half minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s the start of a lot.