**EDIT** Folks that know us in real life, please don’t mention this to your kids. I thought a lot about Zoo Keeper’s privacy before posting this and decided that bullying is something that needs light shone on it to wither and die. What I didn’t realize was the possibility that his friends would find out, by good intentions on their parents’ part, and they would treat Zoo Keeper differently. I don’t want that. What you can do, is talk to your kids about what bullying is and what to do if they witness or experience it.
It’s happening again and I’m just so very tired.
Zoo Keeper is being bullied at school. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The bullying has been going on for Zoo Keeper, in one form or another, since his first month of kindergarten. Before then, actually, but right now I’m just talking about incidents at his current school. He’s in third grade now, so we’re coming up on four years of bullies.
Just this past week, Zoo Keeper was called names and locked out of his classroom after an emergency drill. Ironically, the kid who helped him get into the classroom was his predominant bully earlier this year. The one who threatened to slice our dog’s head off and kill the rest of the family, leaving Zoo Keeper an orphan. My brain doesn’t really know what to do with that knowledge.
I had a talk with one of Zoo Keeper’s therapists on Friday that upset me enough that I decided to go to school with Zoo Keeper every day to sit next to him, protecting him with my presence. Because I haven’t been able to protect him with complaints to the school.
I wrote an email to the advocate I hired to help with his IEP (Individual Education Plan) asking her to edit my email to the school about bullying. She replied that it’s totally unacceptable that he’s experiencing bullying like this and there are legal protections we need to discuss. And that I shouldn’t have to sit in the classroom to keep him safe.
We discussed options on the phone this morning and she’s going to draft an email to the school tomorrow. She asked me to give her an idea of all the bullying Zoo Keeper has experienced, so I went through emails with the school dating back to September 2012, when he started kindergarten.
Here’s the first paragraph of email in response to her request:
He’s experienced bullying every year since preschool when he was 4. It generally takes the form of following him, mimicking him, excluding him, lying to him about how something bad (he’s going to die from his cough or have to go to the principal’s office…) is going to happen to him, pushing him, pulling him by his backpack, closing doors in his face, and calling him names. One year the name of choice was shrimp, right now it’s grandma.
Looking back through all those emails reminded me that I have been proactive about the bullying over the years. While it relieves me a little to see that I haven’t just ignored the problem, it infuriates me that my actions have not improved Zoo Keeper’s school experience at all. He thinks school means getting bullied and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
So I had a talk with Zoo Keeper. I told him that the advocate and I have been working on getting him a better IEP – and that an IEP is the document that tells the school what kind of things he needs to learn, like that he needs a fidget and a wobbly stool to sit on and his Neo. And that we realized that the bullying is the thing he needs to stop the most, the thing that’s keeping him from really learning at school, so we’re going to meet with the school to figure out what to do to make sure it stops this time. Because it’s been what’s normal for him and he needs to know that’s not okay and shouldn’t be the norm. He said that would be great.
I also told him that they might try switching him to another class first, to which he said that won’t work. I think because lots of this happens on the playground, so it doesn’t really matter which class when they’ll all be at recess together and he is well aware that there aren’t enough teachers out at recess to notice what’s really going on. I told him I agree that it won’t work, but the school may want us to try it anyway.
And he agreed to tell me when bullying happens so that we can tell the school and get them to really do something about it this time.
As the advocate and I finished up our phone conversation this morning, she asked if I felt any better. I told her the truth: no. I think I’ve been worn down by the lack of results almost as much as Zoo Keeper has and it’s hard to believe that anything will ever change.