Power, Peers, and a Sad Evening: Part II

I met with the high school principal, The Boy’s special education teacher, and the band director last Friday. It was their last day before break, and it was apparent the principal wanted to clear her plate before she left for two weeks. She explained that they take any hint of bullying very seriously, and she wanted to speak with me right away without delaying the conversation two weeks. Potato, pot-ah-toh.

Let me preface this by saying it was not an adversarial conversation. The principal and I did most of the talking, and we understood each other to a great extent. But, she lost me when she could see both sides of the issue. I bit my tongue, let her finish her thought, and promptly explained that I used to be a band director for a living and that behavior was never, ever acceptable. You don’t touch other people’s instruments. She didn’t disagree.

She felt it wasn’t malicious, and therefore it wasn’t bullying but an extremely poor choice. The kids involved felt The Boy was playing wrong notes, and that they needed to apparently stop him from doing so. She said she questioned them on that when she spoke to them, asking who had given them the authority to do that. They couldn’t answer. They were very remorseful, she said.

We talked more about whether or not The Boy is included in the band class, and in the school as a whole. She said she thought I saw different things at home than they did in school. “He has a group of people that he hugs and gives high fives to every day,” she said. “I know, but he doesn’t know the name of the kid he sits next to every day in band,” I said. They went back and forth between trying to assure me that no one has negative feelings toward him, and highlighting how he keeps to himself and insists during sectionals that he knows the material. She admitted that one of the students she spoke with about the incident “guessed” that The Boy was autistic because as he explained it, “I don’t know anything about autism, so that must be what he has.”

Ugh.

They continued to prove my point while it continued to go over their heads. She insisted that they would have done the same to any other students who might have been playing wrong notes, and I knew that was preventative defense against further action from me. Because that is a load of horseshit, if you’ll excuse my language. They know my son doesn’t have the verbal agility to defend himself or get the attention of the teacher, or even explain what happened after the fact. I only found out because a friend’s kid watched it go down. They took advantage of him precisely because of his autism. If this wasn’t bullying, it was a shocking display of the bias that exists in the school culture that students with disabilities are “less than,” and that excluding others from participating will get you a stern talking to from the principal and that’s it, because you didn’t mean any harm, and are “good kids.”

Before the meeting ended, as it was clear the principal was ready to get to her vacation, I requested they investigate peer to peer programs and seriously consider implementing something so that a “poor choice” like this wouldn’t even enter their minds in the future. I got some vague promises to look into it, and the meeting was over.

But it’s not over.

I’ve already drafted a follow up email to be sent with my further reflections on the incident and how it was handled. And I will also be following up with the various and sundry promises made. I can be a magnificent thorn when I want to be.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Power, Peers, and a Sad Evening

The Boy’s first concert of the “sit-down” band season was last night. We bought a tux, and traveled two hours last weekend to get a tux shirt, cummerbund, and bow tie combo. We were looking forward to this.

After the first song, The Boy pushed his chair back, put his tuba on the floor, and exited the stage. I sat in the audience with my family, my heart pounding, just knowing a meltdown would ensue any moment. But it didn’t.

The band director seemed to check on him between songs, but The Boy didn’t return to the stage. After the concert was over, I asked The Boy what happened, and he said, “They didn’t like my playing.” He was sad, not angry. I was confused.

Back in the band room, while waiting for The Boy to say goodbye to all of his little friends-who-are-girls, my friend and her sons who are both in the band were there, and I spoke to her. One of her sons spoke up and told me that the other kids in The Boy’s section had taken his mouthpiece away so he couldn’t play.

I’m sure I turned about six shades of purple.

I let the timer run down for how long The Boy could find friends, and then I told him we needed to find the band director. When I found him, he was standing right next to that skunk of a middle school band director. I explained what had happened, and he seemed mildly surprised and said he would “talk to the kids” about it. I reminded him that it could have ended very differently, with a screaming-and-throwing-things meltdown in the middle of his concert. He repeated that he would talk to them.

The Boy and I went to the convenience store to get him his promised ice cream, and we talked. I told him how very proud I was of how he handled the situation, and that those kids had no right to do that to him. I let him know that I was angry, and he expressed disappointment that he only got to play one song. I told him he had every right to feel that way, and that what they did to him was very wrong.

On the way home, I decided to go up the ladder without waiting for a response from the band director. Based on his less than promising response, and suddenly remembering the two week time period where The Boy had no concert music because his section leader had failed to give it to him. Repeated targeted negative behavior directed at one student is the definition of bullying, and that’s what we have here, folks.

I knew going in that the culture of this student group wasn’t all that inclusive. But for those students to take away my son’t ability to participate as if it were their choice to do so is pretty telling that there is something deeply wrong here. I’ve written an email addressed to the band director, the special ed teacher, and the principal highlighting my concerns, and requesting a meeting. Whatever this is ends now, and they have got to start teaching neurotypical peers how to deal with autistic kids in their midst. They are targets that are just to easy, and it’s time the adults in the building did something proactive to protect them.