I don’t know whether to post about this. Or what to post, exactly. Or who would want to read it.
These are the usual concerns, though, and I rarely let them stand in my way. So, here goes.
On April 30, I turned in my two final papers for the year. I was looking forward to six weeks of being out of classes, while everyone else in the house was still in school, to work on my First Year Exam (FYE – you’re going to hear a lot about it, so I may as well give you the acronym) and do some projects around the house that I’ve been too busy to get around to. That content and hopeful feeling was obviously an invitation for the Universe to fuck with me. I see that now.
On May 1st, I got a call from the school at 9:10 saying that my son had been “displaying a knife” at school, and that I needed to come and escort him to the police station for questioning. By the time I got to the school (I walked.), the principle had upgraded “displaying” to “brandishing,” and at the police station, it was clear that they thought he had threatened somebody. I rode in the back of the police car with my twelve year old and sat through a couple of threats of felony charges and juvenile detention which Gavin clearly didn’t understand. The officer explained that he was going to be read his Miranda rights “just like you’ve seen on TV,” but I can’t think of a single show that we watch where Gavin would have seen such a thing. The officer’s presumption that Gavin knew what was going on was way off, but I had no idea how to course correct him.
During the questioning, it became clear that Gavin had picked up an exacto knife (with a protective cover on it) from the end of our driveway (Maybe it fell out of my scrapbooking box when I cleaned out the trunk of the car? I really don’t know.) and took it to school thinking that it might be his art teacher’s. He showed it to his best friend who said, “Hey, I have one of those,” and pulled out his pocket knife for comparison.
You can see how this looks.
They put the knives back into their pockets, but by then another kid had reported that there were kids with knives in front of the school. They got hauled into the principal’s office, separated, and questioned about the “altercation.” For an hour. Then the police arrived, and the school called me.
The boys’ first statements (which I got to see – eventually) make it clear that they have no idea what they are supposed to be describing. Gavin thinks he’s supposed to be saying how he found the knife, and writes that he “subconsciously collects shiny things.” The other child thinks he’s supposed to explain why he routinely carries a pocket knife and mentions “anonymous death threats” that have nothing to do with Gavin. The boys were interrogated by admin until they revised their statements to include the idea of a fight. Neither of them does a good job of it since they have no idea what they were supposed to be fighting about. Gavin says that he “got mad for some reason,” and that “he knew that [he and the other boy] would never hurt each other because we are friends.” The other child fares no better since he doesn’t know what the “altercation” was supposed to be about. The newspaper article about the event (slow news day+police at a middle school=this made the news) states that what took place “cannot be characterized as a fight.”
The eight “witness” statements range from kids who plainly state that they didn’t see anything, to kids who ramble on about other times when they were annoyed by one of the two boys. There is one statement by an adult – who did not see anything even though he was standing only a few feet from the boys while he was on before-school duty – who reports that a child reported to him that there were “blades exposed.”
It was important for admin to question the two boys extensively before notifying their parents because what Gavin was carrying could not be classified as a weapon without establishing that he intended to use it to hurt somebody. They worked hard to establish it, and I don’t think they did a very good job, but the school board upheld the charges because the principle pleaded at the hearing: how would it look if Gavin were allowed back at school after bringing a knife?
So, apparently, it is the look of the thing, not the truth that was his primary concern.
I get it. It’s fine. Of course, I was NEVER going to let Gavin go back to that school after the way they handled this. So he really didn’t need to concern himself with how it would look. Gavin was stupid to take the thing to school and deserved to be suspended for that. He did not deserve to be pressured into admitting to something he didn’t do for the convenience of appearance. The principal had all the power in this situation, and he used it to coerce children and then hid behind a defense of protecting the innocent.
So Gavin is suspended for the rest of the year, and he’s supposed to complete his school work at home and send it in for grading, but since the school’s curriculum is the absolute worst we have seen in all our contact with schools, we went ahead and withdrew him. At the hearing the principal indicated that Gavin could return to the school next year, but I don’t think we will go that route.
I keep wondering what I could have done differently to avoid all this. If I had kept up the routine of walking him to school, if I had not made a nuisance of myself about the bullying and curriculum issues at school, if I had talked with him about knives… but I don’t think that line of thinking is all that productive. I feel like I failed to equip him in some way – for the way he might be misinterpreted, for the way people might try to make him into something he’s not, for the recognition that tools might be seen as weapons under the right circumstances. I don’t know how I could have had these conversations with him in a way that would have helped him put all of these pieces together, though. I have (as a result of this) advised both of my children never to answer an administrator’s questions without asking to have a parent present. I don’t think this principal would have gotten away with such behavior in the presence of an adult. I’m sure that’s part of why I wasn’t called until an hour and ten minutes after the boys were hauled into the office.
I feel a lot of (probably unnecessary) worry about how people will think of him if they don’t know the whole story – or of how they will think of him if they hear my story and think that I am just making excuses for horrible behavior. Also, not productive. For the first week, I didn’t feel like I could talk about it with anybody. Now that it’s all wrapped up, and the world hasn’t stopped spinning or anything, I’m more able to talk about it. And I keep trying to come up with things for him to fill his time now that he is completely isolated from his peers. It’s stressful. School has always been challenging for Gavin, though, and he seems to be doing 100% better now that he doesn’t have to try to fit into a system that has never really offered much in the way of support. I want to believe in public schools, but right now my faith is being seriously tested.