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.
2 moms found this helpful
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.
1 mom found this helpful
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
1 mom found this helpful
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
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.
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.
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.