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Unresponsive School Staff
Q: My daughter attends school here in Columbia, Maryland. She is in the first grade. When I picked her up from school today she told me an upsetting story. She said while she was standing in line waiting to go to lunch the boy behind her touched her between the legs in her"private parts". She told three school employees, two teachers and one administrative staff about what happened. One had no response and the other two said "He shouldn't have done that." No one called to inform me of the incident. The principal was not notified. This is not the first time something like this has occurred.
The first incident actually occurred in her first-grade classroom with the teacher present. The boy sitting next to her pulled down the front of his pants and showed her his genitalia. She was so distraught she actually vomited when she had to return to class after lunch. She did not trust her teacher or administrators enough to tell them what happened. She believed she would get in trouble for telling on a classmate. Only after I picked her up from the health room and she was safely secured in the car did she tell me what happened.
In both cases I immediately called the principal. The first conversation resulted in my duaghter's seat being moved away from the boy and nothing else. I was distressed because not only was the teacher unaware of this inappropriate behavior while sitting ten feet away, but Sarah felt the teacher was untrustworthy. I was assured something like this would never happen again. I was assured trust would be developed. The school and its staff have failed her again.
How am I supposed to send her back knowing she is not safe? By law we are required to educate our children. I can't afford to quit my job and provide at home schooling. I can't afford to send her to private school. If I could I would have pulled her out after the first incident. I am in the process of writing the Board of Education requesting she be moved to a different school. Is this wise? I don't want her going through life thinking when you have a problem you run away. But how, in good conscience, can I send her back to a school that has failed her so miserably? Please help.
A: I am so sorry your daughter had to go through these ordeals. The teacher and principal have not handled these incidents appropriately and your daughter has learned not to trust her school authority figures. This is no way to be introduced to the world of public education. I will say, however, that two incidents in an entire school year to date do not constitute an epidemic of sexual harassment.
My suggestion is that you do write the board of education and send a copy to this school principal. In your letter refer to Federal Title IX, which is the federal statute that guarantees all children a school free from sexual harassment. You need verbal and written assurances that your daughter will have no further reason to worry about repeated sexual incidents. I would try to see if she can stay in her present classroom if she is enjoying it. It certainly would help if her teacher met with her privately and assured her that she will be your daughter's champion in the school; this may give this teacher a chance for redemption. Your daughter may also benefit from some talented, low-key counseling in the wake of these incidents. You need to walk a delicate line here between quickly and forcefully demanding a healthy response from your daughter's educational system and making sure she recovers from this without thinking that school is a place where boys do these bad things to her and no one does anything to stop them. You sound like you will handle this with the emotional health of your daughter as your guiding light. Good luck and keep me posted if you can.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.