My Child Is Unfairly Punished
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Strategies to help Solo Moms contend with their child’s maltreatment
As a Solo Mom, you try to place your child in the best school available. Whether it is public, charter, or private, you send your child to school with the expectation that everyone involved is doing his or her due diligence so that your child can get the most value from his or her education. You might expect a call or two from the teacher about your child’s homework and progress in school or any disciplinary issues. It’s not uncommon for children to get into skirmishes with one another or have problems adjusting to school rules. But you begin to notice that you are getting calls weekly, if not daily, for offenses your child has “supposedly” committed—or worse—repeated suspensions. You begin to feel like your child is being targeted. Unfortunately, you are not being paranoid; many Solo Moms are struggling with this issue.
Black students are suspended or expelled three times more than white students. They also have more punitive punishments for subjective offenses such as calling out in class or talking back. Conversely, white students most often will receive suspensions for more provable offenses such as smoking or vandalism. According to a 2014 study from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, this trend starts in preschool. The study also claims that “black children represent 18% of preschool enrollment, but 48% of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension,” while “white students represent 43% of preschoolers but only 26% of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension.” Boys definitely outweigh girls in multiple-suspension statistics as well, with three out of four boys having been suspended from school multiple times and/or expelled. For black students, the daunting reality is that these punitive punishments for infractions can escalate, especially with police officers serving as disciplinarians in schools. The stakes for black students are high, and the school-to-prison pipeline is a real crisis affecting communities.
With these grim statistics and your frustration level rising, what is a Solo Mom to do? It is easy to feel powerless or feel like there is no way to protect your child. The sad truth is that it is not easy to change people’s minds if they have a bias and have already targeted your child. There are no simple fixes, but below are some ways for you to handle the situation from multiple fronts.
1. Breathe—a lot. Count to 1,000, if necessary. Yes, this is a repeated injustice. Yes, you have a right to be upset. I know this is “easier said/written than done,” but speaking to your child’s teacher or the principal when angry will only add more fuel to their bias.
2. Understand the school’s rules and regulations. Schools have begun to be extremely strict with nuanced rules for everything from uniform violations to generic insubordination. You might not know the consequence for every infraction a child might be accused of committing, so it’s important to ask questions to get an understanding of why your child is being punished and to get clear and specific answers.
3. Understand your child’s development and how he or she learns. Every child learns and develops at a different pace. Although that seems like it should be common knowledge in the education field, many teachers hold biases (and, let’s face it, racist views). Some kids like to move around; others are very vocal. Some schools try differentiated learning techniques, but most do not. Having a conversation with the teacher about how your child learns is a strategy to engage the teacher in an alternate dialogue about your child and will perhaps help the teacher see your child in a different light. Negotiating with the teacher about the appropriate response to your child is a strategy that can be used to advocate for your child.
4. Advocate for your child by creating a spirit of partnership with the teacher and principal. Let your child’s teacher and the school principal know that you are an involved parent committed to your child’s success in school. Stay away from blaming or criticizing them, which will most likely put them on the defense. Offer to help create a behavior plan with the teacher. Ask the teacher what kind of positive reinforcement behavior techniques he or she is using or if he or she is using restorative justice models for older children. Also, inform your child’s teacher about changes at home. Are you moving? Is a sibling or close relative ill? These life changes could cause changes in your child’s behavior and might warrant compassion.
5. Keep a file. In worst-case scenarios, there might be a need to take action. Keep track of every call and every note sent home, and include the name of the person who called or sent the note, the date, a brief summary of any interaction that took place and the outcome. If you want to file a complaint with the school district, make sure that you’ve done your due diligence in addressing the issue, which means you will want to go up the chain of command. Start with the teacher, then the principal, then the district head, and then the superintendent. School systems are designed to protect themselves, so this will not be an easy road. You might need to review the chancellor’s regulations for your state to figure out how to file a complaint. Private and charter schools have their own regulations. You might also need to contact an organization to help. In New York, the educational and charity organization Advocates for Children of New York has a hotline that can offer support. If the violation to your child is egregious, you should consider taking your claim outside the educational framework and seek legal counsel.
6. Talk to your child. The realities of these kinds of situations can damage a child’s self-esteem, and talking with your child on how best to handle the school environment is tricky. Children often hide information or assume that you will take the side of the adults who are involved. If possible, find out what is happening in school from your child’s perspective. Create an open dialogue by giving your child an opportunity to express his or her feelings, and try not to blame your child. Engendering trust and good communication during these challenging situations is vital. Seek outside counseling if you notice drastic changes in your child’s demeanor.
7. Talk to other parents. Given the statistics, your child most likely is not the only one being treated punitively within the school. Seek other parents for support, if possible. Again, this is not easy to contend with, but it can be more manageable when you band together with others.
There are no easy answers here, and as a busy Solo Mom, it can be crushing to feel like you can’t fix the problem. The reality is that our education system is, at times, heavily compromised. There are cases where people have resorted to homeschooling and have created consortiums with other parents to do so. Sometimes getting radical about your child’s education and treatment in school might be the only way to protect your child.
Sister Chat is a place to find out how other Solo Moms deal with this difficult situation.
Tanisha Christie is an interdisciplinary performing artist and filmmaker. After years of working at the nexus of arts, media, social justice, and healing, she is currently finishing her master of social work (clinical specialization) at Hunter College in New York City. A child of a Solo Mom, she loves to ride her bike to the beach.
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