Last June my husband and I were forced into a decision that rocked us. We have four kids, and kid #3 was wrapping up his second year (1st grade) at a little Catholic School in our neighborhood that we loved. Our older kids had attended K-8, and are smart, confident teens. We were very excited to start Zakary there.
Some things had changed but the fantastic teachers and familiar families were wonderful. Until, we had to deal with something serious, we had never really had any issues. What was serious was that there was a child in my son's class that was harming him. Zak had become one of his main targets, and we were shocked with the way events unfolded.
My son's first memory of Kindergarten was being kicked by a boy we will call Sam. We were acquainted with Sam's parents, who were going through a divorce. Sam was also related to one of the faculty at the school. The kinder teacher was aware that Sam was dealing with a lot of frustration and his behavior was disruptive and he seemed unhappy. We felt for the parents as they sorted things out, Sam always seemed unhappy and troubled. Incidents occurred throughout the year and Sam's mother told me she blamed the school for not enough supervision and that they were thinking of leaving. Zakary survived the year, with some confusion and frustration, but nothing we thought would scar him for life. We have four kids, kids have disputes, and life goes on.
Cut to first day of school 1st grade, and Sam is back in line. We see there are special procedures happening for him. Perhaps the school and Sam's parents have figured out how to make things work?
Instead, we experienced a series of events that changed our life. In a nutshell, Sam was witnessed on several occasions physically harming Zakary. We received official reports that Sam had punched Zak in the head and knocked the wind out of him and Zakary ended up with two black eyes. We spoke to the teacher on the phone, in person, and had meetings with the principal. They promised more supervision and that they were speaking to Sam's parents about testing him. His parents refused testing. All agreed more supervision was necessary. Our instincts were to pull him out of school. We took a couple of days off and this is how we dealt with two black eyes.
We then sat down in a meeting with both of Sam's parents, the teacher, and the principal. It was clear in this meeting that the parents could not see what the rest of us all knew. It seemed that is was entirely possible that Sam had special needs and was in an environment that didn't suit him. It was causing him terrible frustration and as a seasoned parent, I could see it, other parents could see it, the teacher could see it, but his parents were young, troubled and they sat in front of us and blamed Zakary for Sam's behavior. They told us they thought Zakary was mean, and was instigating all of it. We then knew there was no way to have this conversation rationally, and ended the meeting. Zakary is far from perfect, but was certainly not mean and his worst flaw in this situation is that he so desperately wanted Sam to like him.
At an extra-curricular activity my husband witnessed Sam hurling a sharpened pencil at his mom's face. At another I witnessed Sam demeaning Zakary because Zakary won something. Within a month we had received more reports that Sam had spit in his face, tried to choke him, made fun of him because Zakary had a princess lunch box he liked, and more. The list goes on. We were now no longer patient. We no longer were concerned about "Sam's needs" and felt worried what could happen next. I had another private meeting with the principal, the teacher and our supervising priest that made me feel like they were more concerned about Sam's parents suing them than Zakary's safety. I ended the meeting with, "What exactly needs to happen for you guys to see this issue is really, very serious? A concussion? A broken bone? What are we waiting for here?" I really felt like I should cut all ties in this moment, but the principal looked me deep in the eyes and said, "Give me a chance. These things take time. Your family is important to us and we will get this resolved." I believed her.
We were both asked to see the school psychologist. Zakary, who was called a "mean kid" by the other parents, drew pictures like this in his sessions. The counselor told me although she couldn't share what Sam's drawings looked like, that her report would be that Sam needs help and needs someone to advocate for him. She was confident that Zakary's mental health and ability to handle all involved was good, and she was confident in his ability to bounce back.
Still, Sam was continuing harm and we decided to pull Zakary out of school indefinitley. I explained I would home school him on their curriculum and bring him privately for tests, while they investigated this situation further and came to a resolution that worked for us. Even though I was schooling at home, I appeared at school to help out with some school tours for enrollment the following year. I kept trying to have faith that all would work out. We had invested so many years in this school. When doing these tours, I witnessed Sam rolling around the classroom floor during a lesson. All of my bells and whistles went off and I ignored them. I'm not sure why, but I was so bound and determined that this could be resolved well for both families, I kept my chin up. After all, there were so many people caring, so many people making promises, doctors, tests, meetings and more. It wasn't being ignored. It HAD to work out.
While we were home for a month, the school demanded Sam be tested, and although I do not know his official diagnosis, I would learn unofficially that he indeed has special needs and required meds and some other intervention. The school begged us to return Zakary to the classroom, and I was promised more supervision by teachers, both in the classroom and on the playground. After Spring Break, we returned. There were occasional issues and encounters again, but they were less often and weren't physical harm. I was noticing there was still not the supervision promised, and I was once again, letting it go thinking things were getting better.
Until June 1, 2015, when I got the phone call I will never forget. "Heather, you need to pick up Zakary. We believe he may have a broken arm." It was indeed broken, in two places, from being yanked off the monkey bars.
I will never in my life forgive myself for talking myself into something I knew didn't feel right. I fought and fought, instead of listening to my instincts. I put what I was HOPING would work out above my own child's safety. I was trying to keep the peace. I was trying to make something work that wasn't. Zakary is the only one who lost and it is, to date, my biggest parenting fail.
Trust your instincts, and don't try to please everyone. It's not worth the consequences. People might think you are crazy, they may judge you and you may lose people you thought were friends. It took me an entire year to come to terms with this and feel like I can exhale. If this helps just one person make a better decision for their child than I did, this was worth writing. Zakary is fine, and more confident than ever. We have lived and learned and will not look back.