On Wednesday February 1st, one of my TeenSHARP students was physically assaulted by another student at her school. The attack had been unprovoked, as proven by a video recording taken by a bystander.
But despite clear surveillance evidence, my student was given a 2 day suspension and asked to go home. Fortunately today, that suspension was revoked. But I want you to see the arduous process we had to undergo just to prove a child’s innocence:
- The student who assaulted our student [known henceforth as “the attacker”] walked out of the classroom she was supposed to be in without anyone stopping her.
- The attacker walked into the classroom and starts yelling at our student. The teacher interfered by stepping in between the attacker and our student, who had her back to the girl so as not to elevate the situation.
- The attacker dropped her backpack, pushed the teacher aside, and began to throw punches at our student.
- Our student is thrown to the ground, where the attacker sat on top of her and started pulling her hair.
- Our student managed to push her off but the attacker still gripped her hair tightly.
- At this point, the principal walked in and separated them.
- The students were led to separate rooms. No testimony from our student was written down, and she was immediately given a 2 day suspension and asked to go home. (Red flag #1- No investigation was completed prior to assigning this consequence.)
- Today, mother calls us at TeenSHARP and asks us to attend a meeting with the principal the following day. The advocacy agency Education Voices, Inc. also files an appeal with the school.
- The principal says he cannot meet with us until 1:30pm, as he apparently needs even more time to investigate (Red flag #2- it’s been over 24 hours at this point, more than enough time to interview witnesses). It is now 11:30am, meaning our student will have to miss almost another full day of school.
- He claims not to have seen the video, so mother and daughter quickly pull it up. Despite seeing the attacker lunge to initiate a fight, he still claims that the fight was mutual and delays a decision on the appeal.
- After waiting in the office for over an hour, we finally see the principal again. As we sit, he accuses the mom of recording this meeting, even though she wasn’t. (Red flag #3- If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear.) Meanwhile, I started recording.
- The principal opens a file full of statements from witnesses and admits that our student was wrongfully accused, and can return to class.
- We asked about next steps, as in, what is the school going to do to ensure this doesn’t happen again. He said the only action they take once a student returns from suspension is a one time mediation with both parties. This is the conversation that followed:
*The girl Amy that I referred to was a girl who was assaulted and killed by her peers at Howard High School just over a year ago.
**Note the silence that follows after I asked if we could count on him for support, should the mother and daughter decide to press charges. What you can’t see is that at that point he walked away from us and got on the phone. (Red flag #4, why was the student and her mother never given the option to press charges in the first place?)
Not recorded: We asked if we could get copies of the testimonies, as they are connected with both students’ records. He said no and that he intended to shred them.
Moral of the story: This school made no promises to keep our student safe moving forward. A policy needs to be made to guarantee these assaults are not recurring. Options include:
- Increased monitoring of repeat offenders, including greater access to rehabilitative/support services outside of a one time mediation.
- In school “safety from abuse” gaurantees (i.e. restraining orders)
- Adding an appeal process into the suspension policy (currently doesn’t exist in their handbook)
- Adding a justification clause to the suspension policy in the handbook, where administrators are required to investigate prior to assigning a suspension
When a victim has to prove their innocence, there is no justice. Where a principal chooses not to protect a child, there is no safety. At one point in the video you can hear him say “there are police on the streets but bad stuff still happens”. Translation: I accept that my school is unsafe and choose to do nothing about it.
If this bothers you, read your student’s handbook and see if these components are missing, attend the next public school board meeting, and share your concerns.
(Permission to share this video was granted by the parent.)