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?
I’ve written before about Simon’s serious aversion to birds, and I still agree with it – birds can be super creepy.
When the weather comes in around here, suddenly the parking lots are filled with not only big black grackles (which terrify him if they get too close), but also with sea gulls.
This makes it hard to walk through a full parking lot. All the birds swooping, crying out, and even landing on cars or lights can make Simon panic. He’s gotten a lot better, and now he’s prone to say, “Shoo birds!” whenever he notices one anywhere nearby.
But it still makes it hard to walk through a full parking lot.
It was one of those weather-coming-in days when Simon and I went to the grocery store.
Simon has an accessible parking tag for situations like this, and I was going to use it.
The parking lot was huge, and I knew that trying to get from the end of the lot to the front door was going to involve a lot of ducking, dodging, and potential freaking out on Simon’s part. There was no reason for him to lose control on the way to the store, and especially no reason for him to risk in engaging in a dangerous behavior like running in front of a car if a bird got too close.
It seemed that all the accessible spots were taken, so I did a few circles around the parking lot.
Then I spotted it – a car with Georgia plates sitting right there in one of the accessible spots.
No marking on the plate.
No tag hanging inside the windshield.
Sure, it was possible that they had forgotten to hang their tag in the front window, but it was just as possible that they had decided it was too hot and they didn’t want to walk or they were assholes who didn’t care.
Because of that, I want to put this out there – please, please, please DO NOT park in a spot unless you are actually authorized to park there.
People might see Simon and think, “well, he doesn’t have a *physical* disability so he doesn’t need it,” but that ignores the safety issue. Being able to walk is a plus, but walking in front of a car because of fear and lack of safety awareness…not a plus.
We did manage to park somewhat close to the accessible parking, and Simon clung to my arm while we told the birds to shoo.
Good shopping trip, but, as we came out, the Georgia car was still there, taking up a spot that they may or may not have been authorized – or needed – to use.
We had one more errands to run, and when we got to that store, there was an accessible spot right up in the front, so we snagged it and went in. The spot was attached to the zebra crossing, and we could walk right up to the door without having to walk in the parking lot itself, making it a lot safer and easier.
Coming out, I was thankful that we’d been able to avoid the dangers that go along with those evil birds.
A formation flew overhead, and I pointed to them.
“See, Simon? It’s okay. They’re not bothering us!”
And that’s when one of the evil birds shit on the front of my tank top.
Evil, evil, evil birds.
On Monday, Simon’s high school had an active shooter drill.
On Tuesday, I got a message that Simon didn’t do well during the drill.
On Wednesday morning, I spoke at length with his school case manager who detailed the problems and changes they’d already started to implement.
On Wednesday afternoon, seventeen students were shot to death at a high school in Florida.
Simon didn’t like the active shooter lockdown drill. He does fine with the tornado drills, but the active shooter one…he couldn’t do it.
He stayed in his seat. He stayed in his seat because it was time for PE, not time to go sit quietly in the corner of a darkened room. He stayed in his seat because he wanted to run around and play basketball in the gym. He stayed in his seat.
He screamed. Loudly. So loudly that one of the vice principals came into the classroom to try to calm him down, but it was too late. He screamed.
He cried. Tears went down his face. He cried.
He stayed in his chair. He could not be quiet.
My mind skipped back to the most depressing show that I had ever seen – the M*A*S*H final episode, “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.”
In that finale, Hawkeye has broken down completely and is working with a psychiatrist. He recalls a time on a bus when there were soldiers outside, checking to see if there was anyone on the bus, anyone for them to kill. A woman had a chicken on her lap, and it kept clucking. But then it stopped.
I found the dialogue for the scene:
Hawkeye: “There’s something wrong with it. It stopped making noise. It just–just stopped. Sh–She killed it! She killed it!”
Sidney: “She killed the chicken?”
Hawkeye: “Oh my God! Oh my God! I didn’t mean for her to kill it. I did not! I–I just wanted it to be quiet! It was–It was a baby! She–She smothered her own baby!”
My mind jumps back to thoughts of Simon at high school, Simon not being able to be quiet when someone wants to kill people.
Simon’s high school is working with him for the next time there is an active shooter drill. They are changing the appearance of his schedule to make it easier for him to deal with changes. They are making sure that there is some sort of computer that he can take into a corner with a set of headphones so that he can be distracted and still stay hidden. All of that is awesome.
What if it doesn’t work?
What is he stays in his seat?
What if he screams?
What if it’s not a drill?
My imagination runs wild with thoughts I don’t want to have.
Tomorrow is Monday.
Simon goes back to high school.
Like a lot of people, I have my email come to my phone.
Yesterday morning, I checked it while I was getting up and discovered two that stopped me in my routine.
The first one was that a 12-year-old autistic boy was missing.
The second one was that the 12-year-old autistic boy was found “in the water.” (At the time I’m posting this, he was taken care of in the hospital because he was suffering from hypothermia. A sergeant saw his wet clothes and dry shoes at the shore, spotted him, and then went in to rescue him.)
But I didn’t know that he was still alive when I saw that headline.
I thought he, like so many other autistic kids who elope, was found dead in the water.
And I felt sick.
Sick like someone had punched me in the stomach. Sick like I couldn’t breathe in and out anymore. Sick like I had to sit down for a minute with my head down.
It didn’t matter that it wasn’t my kid. It was a kid. It could have been my kid.
Last week, we had an incident at school.
There is some he said/she said going on, but I have faith in the version of the story I heard from the bus aide and the bus driver:
While were loading up a kid with a wheelchair onto the bus, the aide noticed Simon.standing alone. No one was near him. No one was watching him. No one seemed to notice him.
According to the aide (and the bus driver), he seemed confused and had begun wandering from the bus area towards the car rider line.
So not cool.
So not cool it’s dangerous.
They did spot him, and they did get him and put him on the bus.
Nothing bad happened.
But all it would have taken was a one or more people not paying attention, and Simon could have been in the ocean (metaphorically since we’re quite far from the ocean).
Wandering down the road isn’t much better. It’s a busy road, and if he had gone in one direction, he’d wind up near some woods. If he’d gone in the other direction, he’d be heading towards the main highway that goes from Galveston to Dallas and beyond.
Neither of those options are much better than the ocean. Neither of those options are safe. Neither of those options make my stomach feel good.
How does this end?
Simon’s teacher is instituting a few new policies to try to make sure it never happens again. But we’re human. It most likely will happen again, even if it’s not on her watch.
This is life with an autistic child.
Nothing exciting happened. But one quick thing worth mentioning.
It was raining today. Off and on, but enough to bring out lots of birds.
Which is one of the times when we’re happy that Simon’s pediatrician gave us a handicapped tag oh so many years ago. Because when the birds are out, Simon kind of gets freaked out.
I’m not sure what it is about the birds that bother him: the way they move? The noises they make? I mean, I’m not wild about birds, either, but to him, they are totally freaky. He jumps, he runs, he tries to get away from them. So using the handicapped tag works great on days when we have to go somewhere (like the grocery store) because then we can park close to the store. Trying to navigate him through a large parking lot is probably not the safest thing in the world for him. Or for us.
So not a big deal. Everything ran smoothly. And Simon went to bed happy.
Let’s see if there’s a ball game tomorrow or if the rain continues…