This is the final post in a series about my son’s recent experience with bullying at school.
After heartbreak, frustration, a friend’s inspiration, and talks with other parents and the school counselor, we got busy. We met with the principal of the lower school. We met with the principal of the middle school. We met with the head of school. We met with a dozen parents in the school counselor’s office. And then we made a plan with those parents to host a meeting with the entire lower school—all 280 families—facilitated by the school counselor, to talk about what we wanted the school to do about bullying. We set a date, prepared an all-school invitation, secured a location, planned the agenda.
And then things started to shift.
Before we could hold that all-school meeting, the administration asked to meet with us. Ian and I were nervous, beset with that old sent-to-the-principal feeling. We reminded ourselves of all of our reasons for holding the parent meeting, our justifications, our rights. We prepared for a fight.
But instead of a fight, the administration offered contrition. We’re sorry, they said. Sam should have never have had to suffer at the hands of his classmates, they said. We realize it’s our responsibility to keep Sam safe, they said, and we have failed.
They told us that it is their job to make sure that each child who comes to the school is supported, and sees themselves reflected in the school. They told us that they had fallen down on that job, and wanted to make things better.
And then they outlined their plans for immediate, intermediate, and long-term bullying prevention work. The plans include hiring a new school counselor with anti-bullying experience, making bullying prevention the couselor’s top priority, launching a preventative anti-bullying curriculum in all grades, starting LGBT diversity training, and engaging parents through a parent/faculty/administration committee and teacher/parent education workshops.
This was so not the reaction we were expecting.
Then they asked us not to hold that parent meeting we’d been planning. We hear you, they said; making clear that it would not be helpful to have hundreds of parents telling them what they already knew. And though we’d been prepared to justify our reasons for moving forward with the meeting, we agreed. It didn’t make sense to antagonize people who were doing just about exactly what we’d asked them to do.
As we left I said to Ian, “Wow, I feel bad that we were amassing a parent army when they were planning to do all this work.”
Ian said, “Why do you think they’re planning to do all this work?”
Right. They’re doing this because the looming threat of hundreds of angry families got their attention. They realized that many parents care, and many children are facing the same issues Sam has been facing. And they seem to understand, at a fundamental level, that this work is essential to the wellbeing of their students. By broadening our focus from gender-specific diversity training to bullying in general, we’d engaged allies we hadn’t had before, and brought in people we never knew cared about LGBT issues. And our voices, together, cut through the mess of competing priorities that make up a school administrator’s life.
I am so immensely, entirely, deeply grateful to the parent group who gave this work the power it needed to become reality.
And so, although we had one plan, we made a different one. The new plan involves trust and optimism that the administration will follow through with their commitments. It involves faith, and a willingness to let go of our anger and frustration. Although, given our multi-year history of of problems for Sam, that faith is tempered with caution and the need to keep a close eye on what happens in the fall.
And our parent group waiting in the wings, watching.
But in the mean time, we’ve decided to trust.