April 24, 2008,
P.M. asks from Menlo Park, CA on April 16, 2008
How to Deal with School Authorities After Kindgergartener Suspended for Maximum
My 5 year old was suspended from school for 3 1/2 days this week. He was guilty of finding a cigarette lighter on the way to school, unbeknownst to me, and bringing to schoool with the intent of having a 3rd grade friend use it to start a campfire in the after school program. He very clearly stated to the school that he didn't plan to the lighter himself since he was too young but he thought his 3rd grade friend would be able to use it. The afterschool program had a pretend campfire during summer camp last year and all this school year the entire afterschool program has played at making pretend campfires. In addition, he has developed a "special relatiosnhip" with one little girl whom he considers a friend but who also constantly annoys him. He responds inappropriately to her advances, usually doing something mean when there are no adults to intervene or ask help from, so the school had mandated that they stay away from each other. This little girl regularly disobeys this mandate and my son gets punished. Yesterday was a twofer with the cigarette lighter and another incident with the litte girl. We feel that the school was excessive in their punishment, that inequity continues to prevail in his situation, and are looking for advice about how to deal with the school.
So What Happened?™
Many thanks to all of you who took time to respond and the great advice we received. We ended up talking to two attorneys - one who specialized in special education law and another who we knew from LAPP (Legal Advocates for Permanent Placement). (SELPA is the San Mateo organization for special ed and is a great resource.) The latter attorney wrote our letter requesting an IEP. (We initially requested an IEP the year before he started Kindergarten and were turned down.) We also wrote a letter to be attached to the suspension form that shed a different light on the events that put a more reasonable slant on what transpired than the malicious intent the school was assigning to a 5 year old's actions. We have just now signed the request for assessments and the school expects to be able to complete all the assessments that are needed to make a determination if an IEP is possible before the end of the school year so he can start 1st grade on the right footing. My son was completed demoralized after the suspension and we had to have several visits with a psychologist to rebuild his self esteem - it's still a work in progress. I have been spending time in the classroom supporting my son when his sensory integration disorder causes him to be disregulated. Since I work I cannot continue to be his in classroom therapist but it has helped to observe the classroom dynamics and the large number of difficult children this teacher has to deal with. He has now had several non "oops" days which helped his mood and self esteem tremendously. Unfortunately, there will be no changes to how my son is treated if he becomes disregulated due to his SID- he will still be punished for misbehavior rather than treated for the physical condition that it is. I may still have to spend time in the classroom for the remainder of the year to offset this which is particularly tough on a dual income household.
Many thanks again!
S.M. answers from Stockton on April 16, 2008
The school is probably exessive in their disipline, but it is a life lesson he must learn. It is important that his teacher not treat him like a criminal when he returns to school. He is five, and I am sure he will not play with lighters anymore.
I realize the pretend campfire was probably what gave them the idea, but he is still responsible for his actions. This situation can be made positive by showing him how our actions have certain outcomes. He is not a bad person, he just didn't follow the rules.
I read an article once that when a child completes their punishment, the family will celebrate with going to ice cream or some other treat. That way the child realizes they are not bad, and they have done their "time."
About the girl, that is sticky. Since he can't control the girl, he can only control what he does. Another life lesson that he may be too young for, but it is worth a try.
About the public school thing, are the teachers meaner to him than other kids because he may be challenging? Since he is five, you could pull him out and have him return to school later. He may need more time at home, boys don't develop socially as fast as girls.
There are books out there about the "spirited child" and how to raise them. I like that term because it stays in the postive. Also if he is really bright, public school will be boring for him.
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M.S. answers from Sacramento on April 24, 2008
Is the school providing him services to deal with his SI dysfunction? They should be. You can request, in writing, that a comprehensive assessment be done by the district - including SI and mental health (if he is officially diagnosed with Opp./Def. disorder) services (referred to as 26.5 in the school district). A child with these two co-existing disorders requires a tremendous amount of support to succeed in a regular ed. classroom. The incidents are symptoms, and until the appropriate services are put into place - they will continue. I would write up a dated request for a full assessment, as stated earlier, and walk it into the Principal today. They then have to, by law, follow a timeline to complete the assessment. I would also request that further disciplinary action be put on hold until he receives the proper assessment, and an interim plan for addressing his needs be immediately developed and implemented. You should be included in developing that plan. This will be a frustrating process - however, you and your child are entitled to this process.
:) M. S
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L.C. answers from Sacramento on April 17, 2008
Hi P.. With the diagnoses your son has, I would assume he has an IEP or 504 plan. If not, he needs one. If he does have either one, they cannot suspend him if it could be attributed to his disabilities - which it very well could. So first thing I would recommend is to get in touch with your local family resource center. If you don't have the number, go to http://www.frcnca.org/directory.html and click on your county. I would recommend asking them for information on getting an advocate. Usually your local Area Board will provide on for free so make sure you ask them about that.
Is homeschooling an option? I have 6 kids, all special needs and all homeschooled. It totally saved their self-esteem and are thriving from not being in a public school. Let me know if you want more information on this.
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M.K. answers from Chico on April 16, 2008
As a former teacher, my biggest advice is not to discount the school's punishment in front of your son- He is too young to fairly assess what is harsh vs. what is fair in any menaingful way and you risk his developing defiant behavior if he believes that you do not respect the school and the school's decisions. On your end, be sure he knows it was wrong to have the lighter at school, the danger of fire, and what he should do if he finds a lighter in the future, etc. (Stuff you have probably discussed already...)
That said- I don't always think the schools are right in doling out blanket punishments and the harshest ones for the youngest students, especially on a first offense for a 5 year old. I don't know anything about your school, but I would suggest making an appointment with whomever suspended your child- calmly, without accusation (because they'll tune out your concerns if you are belligerent and angry)ask them how this policy was developed and how it is applied. Also voice your concerns about the after school program emphasizing the building of campfires (or is that the kids' pretend game?). If you like his teacher and have a good rapport with him/her, you may want to start there and talk about your concerns. If you dislike the teacher or have a poor relationship, maybe a parents' club person could be your starting ground- they might have advice for how to talk to the authorities. You are in a large enough area that perhaps a transfer to a different class or school might be helpful. I didn't understand in your "about me" section what you mean by "sensory integration and opposition defiance," but I sense that he's getting in trouble a lot, and maybe a different teacher might be better able to help your son mature without making him feel bad... It's tough enough to be little in the best of circumstances!
I have no comment about the little girl issue because you didn't explain much about it- but that may be something to address at a different time than the lighter incident.
Good luck- I know it is hard to talk to "authorities", but they are after all just people, and they have kids' welfare at heart 98% of the time- even when it sometimes seems contrary. Hopefully they will be open to discussing things with you, and if not, you can try talking to the school board.
1 mom found this helpful
M.S. answers from San Francisco on April 16, 2008
I think you should talk to the school and find out exactly why they suspended him. If you aren't satisfied with their reasoning, move him to another school where you share the same values. It would be different if your child was older, but he's 5!! That is crazy to suspend him. Good luck to you and I am sorry your son had to go through this.
D.W. answers from San Francisco on April 16, 2008
If that were my situation, I'd involve my family attorney to make sure the school is treating this situation legally, as well as make sure they know that you are going to make sure that your son is treated with the correct discipline. I've found that schools can be rather extreme in their punishments, or lack thereof. I think if they knew that you were well represented and informed of your rights they may treat you a bit differently.
Of course, playing with lighters isn't good, but I think that the core issue is to make sure that the school is fair and even handed in it's punishments.
A.K. answers from Sacramento on April 16, 2008
i think the punishment was a little harsh... he's 5. not 10 and well aware of what he was doing. he's just barely not a baby anymore. all you can do is talk to the school, the district office if you have to. tell them you feel the punishment was too harsh. that will be on his record forever and will target him as a trouble maker.... i'm sure you talked to your son. i dont' know there is much else you can do. i'm so sorry to hear that you are going through this. we are parents and try our best to teach our kids right from wrong, and then sometimes things you have no control over happen. keep your chin up
N.D. answers from Sacramento on April 16, 2008
I agree with Marlene. You should calmly go to the school first and speak with the administrator and find out why they felt that this punishment fit the crime. You can also let them know that you find it excessive (as do I. I don't know if there have been other infractions with your son but this does seem a bit much for a 5 year old. Did the other child get suspended also?
I would NOT advise bringing in an attorney or even mentioning that. I work in a school and that is NEVER a good tactic if you want to be heard. We respond much better to calm parents who come in and have a conversation with us about the event. Then everyone can re-evaluate and come to an understanding.
Good luck! I would work hard to keep him away from that child.....you didn't go into detail but I hear how worried you are. You can also voice your concerns about her to the staff and have them help to keep them apart.
P.W. answers from San Francisco on April 16, 2008
I believe that kids need to be taught to obey rules, no matter how trivial they may be. So in this case you let the school mete out their punishment, and tell your boy that rules must be followed. However, I think you should support him and tell him you know he didn't mean to break the rules and it wasn't his fault. By this approach he is not made to feel bad about himself but he is reminded that he needs to obey rules. It is never productive to make a child feel bad about him or herself. And your boy is only 5.
I don't know what to say about the situation with the little girl, as I don't really understand it.
Why don't you consider an alternative school? I highly recommend a charter school, though I don't know what's available in your area. At my kids' charter school the children become much more emotionally well-balanced than many of those who emerge from a regular public school.
K.F. answers from Salinas on April 17, 2008
Sounds to me like the punishment is very excessive and I wonder what would come next if he does break another rule? I mean lighters are dangerous and he needs to understand that but he did not actually use it and suspension for a 5 year old seems ridiculous. Sadly, my take on most public schools is that they are under so much pressure to raise and maintain test scores they just do not want any children who may be more difficult to teach or just more of a challenge in the classroom. I know there are exceptions to this but many of our classrooms have become so rigid and rules are not applied according to the individual situation. What do you think of the school as a whole? Do you feel they will give your boy an excellent education in the long run? If so it is worth having a meeting just honestly and calmly discussing how to best deal with this. After all it is as much or more about the teacher, school administration & you as his Mom then it is about a 5 year old making a bad judgment call. How the adults in his life respond to his mistakes is so important to his development. If you don't feel the school will provide him with a positive, enriching education throughout grade school then look into alternatives. Our family (two girls 5 & 9) has had great experiences with two different charter schools (we moved and found another in our new area). Neither one would have ever dealt with this situation with suspension in Kindergarten. Better still, there is an emphasis on raising the whole child, critical thinking and mutual respect between teachers, admin. & kids. If you feel it's right look for an alternative school, you might be surprised at the options you have. Good Luck!!!