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Friday, April 29, 2016

"I Know What It's Like To Be A Black Woman." Really?

I am in a stew. A bunch of moms standing around at Daisy and Brownie Scout pick up, and I heard from another mother that the principal of our school--a blonde woman of Norwegian ancestry--told this African-American woman,  "I know what it's like to be a black woman." 

How's that? Yes, she's married to a black man and also has step-children of color--but she does not walk around in brown skin. 

The mom said, "The top of my head about blew off. I told my sister, and she is a big, tough, imposing black woman--she can be scary--and she said, 'Let me at her.' But I just said, 'No. Let me figure out how to deal with this.'" 

The worst part was, this mom was in to have her child's IEP (individualized education plan--made to support a child with special needs) reinstated, or at least have him reevaluated  which is her right under federal law. But the principal also said, "Oh, no. We can't do that. We're not an IEP school." Another "say what?" statement. And a flat-out violation of federal law. It is not possible to not be an "IEP" school. Particularly not for a public school. The law requires that we, as a society, support our children with special needs while also providing them with the least restrictive education possible. 

I absolutely believed this mother. Why? Because her story repeats word for word what our principal said to another mom five years ago, when her son was terribly bullied--being called "fat, black and stupid," in the classroom, though the principal said, "I have been in that class and I see no bullying. And the teacher sees no bullying." Then, she crossed her arms over her chest and went on to lecture my earlier friend. "I am a mother of four, and let me tell you, by this age, we just can't get involved in their social life. I know what it is to be a black woman. Our children have to figure out how to handle this on their own." 

Months of struggles later, this earlier friend, (a widowed mother of two, with Multiple Sclerosis, no less, and living less than two blocks from our school) had to pull her ten-year-old son and home school him. This was because little Warren came home one day and said, "I've figured it out, Mom. The next time they call me fat, black and stupid, I'll just stab them with a pencil. That will take care of it." Months of an effective, experienced mother trying to get the teacher and the school to cope with horrible bullying in his classroom. I know. I had a child in the same classroom. My kid used to come home, terrified. "I have to keep up, Mom, or they'll treat me like they treat Warren." 

I told my friend I would explain that to the principal, to the assistant superintendent, to the press. I begged her to file a complaint with the state. 

But no. She felt helpless. I understood why. When your child is in trouble and the teacher refuses to do anything and the principal refuses to do anything and the assistant superintendent refuses to do anything, and the superintendent is crazy, and you don't have the thirty-thousand dollars necessary to go to an educational attorney, and the free Disability Law Center in your state has 2.5 attorneys who have to cover the whole state, (meaning your problem is not as much of a crisis as the mentally-ill teenager shackled to his desk) sometimes, you just give up fighting and try to do your best for your own child.  

Now, this terrible, evil principal is retiring at the end of the year, walking home with a pension. She took off half of this year because of some stress-related illness, which I can understand, because the parents and staff mostly despise her. I am not the only parent who has spent the last few years doing my best not to look at her when we pass in the halls. 

Then, I had to speak with her a few months ago on behalf of one of my children. After we had finished our little discussion, she sitting behind her big, dark office desk, she folded her hands under her chin and leaned on them and asked about the child of mine that she had failed as badly as she failed little Warren. 

I told her, calmly, what she had done to my kid. I laid out the consequences of her actions--possibly life-time consequences. "That's on you," I said in a voice as politely as if I were asking her to pass the tea. "When you decided not to support this child's disability. That's your responsibility, when you decided not to follow the science, when you refused to do what we know actually works. That's on you--you and the district. Your actions really harmed this child." I did not say I don't know how she sleeps at night, but I'm sure it hung in the air. 

She sat there, chin on folded hands, and nodded and made pursed her lips to look sad and said, "Oh." I nodded back, and got up and left, feeling surreal.  So many times, I had imagined what I would say to her, so many times I have tried to figure out how not to say, "You  ##$$&#&! You $##@###$$ my kid." I never imagined it would come out as calmly and rationally as that.

The odd thing is, the mom today heard me out and then said, "Maybe your conversation had something to do with it. Because suddenly, mid-February, I think, she calls me and says we should initiate an IEP evaluation." 

Mid-February would be about right, I think.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if my calm, unrighteous honesty had some positive effect? "We're not an IEP school," and "I know what it means to be a black woman," indeed. 

For shame wouldn't even begin to state it, but you've got to start somewhere. For shame. 

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