Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bullying By a Teacher - UNACCEPTABLE

By now, many of you may have read about the boy in a Washington state middle school who was bullied by classmates AND the teacher in charge of his care and safety. There's no "he said/she said" here - the ordeal was video-recorded on someone's cell phone.

At this point, the teacher, John Rosi, was reassigned to a different school within the Peninsula district and suspended without pay for 10 days, then placed on paid administrative leave when the community balked at what they considered a slap on the wrist. Not surprisingly, parents Randy and Karla Kinney are urging the school board to take bullying more seriously. What DOES surprise me, though, is the fact that people are actually showing Rosi support in the aftermath of this incident.

I have two kids in school, one of whom is an almost-13-year-old boy in middle school. As you might imagine, that fact puts a very personal spin on the story for me. When I view that video, my stomach flips. I don't care that Rosi wrote in a letter that this incident was "horseplay"; in my opinion, this is a clear case of bullying and assault.

My kids' schools have an established "zero tolerance policy" on these types of behaviors, so I decided to go to the websites for the Peninsula School District and the Kopachuck Middle School and see what I could find. Perhaps there was no such policy in place, or perhaps there was nothing instructing teachers on appropriate classroom conduct for students and for themselves. I mean, why else would the Peninsula School District opt to put a teacher who not only allowed a student to be "ganged up on", but also participated in the incident on paid administrative leave rather than firing the teacher the moment the video was brought to the attention of the district.

Turns out, though, that there is plenty of clearly stated documentation that the behaviors seen in the video are in direct conflict with the codes of conduct expected from students and, one would presume, staff as well. What follows is the information I found and thought relevant to the situation. It's a long, tedious read (for which I apologize), but I think it is enough information to support the Kinney family's request that this incident of abuse be taken very seriously, and to support those who are calling for the firing of Rosi and who believe he should not be allowed to teach again. The highlighted parts (emphasis mine) are, in my opinion, a pretty clear illustration of everything Rosi did WRONG.

Perhaps armed with this information, the Kinney family, and those who are outraged that a teacher was involved in bullying a student and got off with a slap on the wrist, can finally get satisfaction from the school district and justice for the boy who endured this ordeal. In fact, I support anyone who wants to share this blog entry with Kopacheck Middle School, the Peninsula School District, the Kinney family and the media.

From the Peninsula School District Student Rights and Responsibilities Parent / Student Handbook and Activities Conduct (not dated): 
Rights, Responsibilities, and Authority of District Staff  
All certificated and classified staff shall share responsibility for supervising the behavior of students and for maintaining the standards of conduct, which have been established.
All School District staff shall have the right to expect students to comply with school rules and maintain good order in the classroom, in the school, on the playgrounds or other common areas of the school, while riding on the school buses, on field trips, and at all school-sponsored activities. 
Use of force - an employee may use such reasonable force as is necessary for maintenance of order, self-protection from attack, and prevention of injury to others
Maltreatment of students - it is unlawful for any employee to maltreat or abuse any student by administering any unreasonable punishment or by inflicting punishment on the head of a student. 
Student Rights and Responsibilities  
Students who do not comply with the following student responsibilities will be referred to the Principal/designee who shall take appropriate administrative action resulting in discipline, emergency removal from class, Emergency Expulsion, Short-Term Suspension, Long-Term Suspension or Expulsion. The following acts are specifically prohibited on school grounds, on school-sponsored transportation, and at school events off school grounds:
The conduct marked with an asterisk (*) (identified as exceptional misconduct) has been judged by the ad hoc citizens’ committee and Board of Directors to be so serious in nature and/or so serious in terms of the disruptive effect upon the operation of the school(s), that students may be subject to a suspension for a first-time offense. 
*5.Assault/Threat of The use of excessive physical force or threatening the use of physical force against another person, including use of a weapon or other instrument for the purpose of inflicting injury. 
*14. Disruptive Conduct Use of violence, force, noise, light (e.g. laser light pen), coercion, threat, intimidation, fear, passive resistance, or any other conduct to cause the substantial and material disruption or obstruction of any lawful mission, process, or function of the school.   
*20. Fighting Intentionally causing or attempting to cause physical injury or intentionally behaving in such a way as could reasonably cause physical injury to another person 
*22. Harassment  a. Intimidation and Bullying  The District is committed to a safe and civil educational environment for all students, employees, volunteers and patrons, free from harassment, intimidation or bullying. "Harassment, intimidation or bullying” means any intentional written, verbal, or physical act, including but not limited to one shown to be motivated by any characteristic in RCW 9A.36.080(3), (race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or mental or physical disability), or other distinguishing characteristics, when the intentional written, verbal, or physical act:Physically harms a student or damages the student’s property; or has the effect of substantially interfering with a student’s education; or is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or threatening educational environment; or has the effect of substantially disrupting the orderly operation of the school.
Note: ‘Student Harassment’ (commonly referred to as “bullying”) means a knowing and willful course of conduct by a student directed at another specific student (or students) which seriously alarms, annoys, harasses, or is detrimental to the harassed student(s) and which serves no legitimate or lawful purpose. The course of conduct shall be such as would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and shall actually cause substantial emotional distress to the student. The term “course of conduct” means a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of purpose. “Course of conduct” may include sending an electronic communication. Constitutionally protected speech or expression is not included within the meaning of “course of conduct.” 
*28. Intimidation To force into or deter from some action by inducing fear. 
38. Simple Assault (deleted from secondary) Unwelcomed touching or application of undue force to another person.

From the Learning & Teaching Standards for Quality Professional Practice rubric (dated  September 22, 2009):    
Classroom Management & Student Discipline 
Unsatisfactory - Staff does not respond to misbehavior or does so in a negative manner. 
Unsatisfactory - Student interactions are characterized by conflict, sarcasm, or put-downs.
The classroom is not safe and fails to support the learning environment.

From the Peninsula School District's "Harassment, Intimidation, or Bullying (HIB) Incident Reporting Form (dated December 2011): 
Definitions Harassment, intimidation, or bullying is an intentional [...] physical act that 
- Physically harms a student, or 
- Is so severe, persistent or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or threatening educational environment 
The aggressor may be another student or it may be an adult member of the district or school staff. 
(Some of the boxes to check when describing the aggressor(s) behavior includes:)
  • Hitting, kicking, shoving, spitting, hair pulling or throwing something at the targeted student(s)
  • Getting another person to hit or harm the targeted student(s)
  • Teasing, name calling, making critical remarks or threatening...
  • Making rude and/or threatening gestures
  • Making the targeted student(s) fearful

Monday, April 2, 2012

Adulthood - do I have unreasonable expectations about this?

I realize that by writing this post I am, in a sense, doing precisely what I'm about to rail against. However, these issues continue to swirl around in my mind and I've got to find a way to let it out. I've got far more important things to think about than immature drama. I'll be using real initials of real people, so I'm certain I'll get some backlash, but as some of those involved refuse to stop the drama anyway, I don't guess it'll make any difference.

If you don't have time to read the whole blog, here's the gist of it: 

  • We are all (supposedly) adults. If you don't want to approve a friend request, just click "no thanks". Don't be childish and ask someone else to deliver the news for you. That's cowardly, it pulls others into drama you created the moment you asked someone else to do the talking for you (which is a shitty thing to do to a friend), and it's just plain stupid.
  • An ADULT alternative to this sort of drama is to speak for yourself. If you're not the confrontational sort, just a simple "sorry, but I can't" will suffice. If you are more mature and have an issue with someone, the ADULT thing to do is speak directly to that someone and say "here is the problem as I see it". Yes, that can be an intimidating, hard thing to do, but it speaks VOLUMES about your sincerity and your maturity.

I guess I'm just naive, but I truly thought (at 41 freaking years old) I'd left the elementary school drama far behind. You know, the whole "I'm not talking to Jane, so can you tell Jane I said ___?" thing, rather than just speaking for yourself and not dragging others through a bunch of self-made b.s.? Unfortunately, I was very wrong.

First, here's some back-story about one of these recent drama incidents:

Recently a woman I've known for many years, C.H., created a group on Facebook with (it appeared initially) the best of intentions. In this group, she stated, she wanted to create a safe place for a small number of women to express themselves in an authentic manner. In this group, she proclaimed that she wanted to learn how to sit quietly with her feelings, to learn how to address some of the issues that continued to crop up in her life, and to allow the other members she hand-picked to do the same. In essence, it appeared she created this place as a way for her to improve her life as well as to offer a place where others could learn and grow.

Having known her for so long - having, in fact, even worked with her in a sense - I immediately had a feeling of hoping for the best but expecting the worst. While she is a woman who has been through many hardships and survived them, she is also (in my opinion) a woman who is very ill. Given my personal experiences and education on the subject, it is my strong belief that she has untreated ultra-rapid-cycling bipolar disorder.

Initially, things started out well. This small group of women got to know each other a bit better and new friendships were formed. Soon, however, drama started cropping up, and most of it had C.H. at its center. She would post about some pretty erratic behaviors, then become upset if other members didn't respond with support for her inappropriate behaviors or didn't respond at all. Some days, she absolutely flooded the group with post after post, creating new ones when she didn't get the responses she wanted.

C.H. has a history of deleting her Facebook profile, and so I and a another mutual friend (J.B.) tried to gently but firmly remind her that if she deleted her account, the group and all of the connections and wonderful discussions would vanish. C.H. also has a history of deleting comments or entire posts, thereby attempting to "rewrite history". Both J.B. and I began sending out friend requests to all of the members of the group, preparing ourselves for C.H.'s inevitable deterioration.

Things quickly went downhill. Dealing with C.H. became the source of ongoing drama. Some women limited their postings to cute photos or uplifting quotes, but stopped sharing much of their "real selves". Others (myself included) tried in vain to be peacemakers or simply walked around on eggshells. This push-pull emotional roller coaster began to feel like abuse. There would be a day or two when C.H. was kind, thoughtful, and open. Then, something would "set her off" and the group watched as she would bring up old hurts, state that apologies made for any upset wasn't the "right" apology, and otherwise take everyone on a bumpy ride through Anger Town. I can't speak for the others, but as for me, I cried almost daily thanks to the building drama. I ruminated about what I could have said differently, about what ways I could have eased tensions. I felt like an emotionally battered woman, trying to figure out what I'd done to get punched so I could try to avoid getting punched again.

A couple of weeks ago, things came to a head. C.H. had, once again, been just - and I'm sorry for the expression, but it fits - off her freaking rocker. I couldn't take it any longer. My friend J.B. called me and couldn't even understand me through the sobs and gasps for air - she'd caught me in the middle of a building panic attack. I was in the process of writing a post indicating that as much as I had come to like some of the members there, the drama was having an incredibly negative impact on me and I wanted to let them know that while I'd enjoy remaining Facebook friends I could no longer remain in such a volatile group.

J.B. is my best friend, and she is a pit bull, mama bear type when someone she loves has been hurt. C.H. had been picking, picking, picking for WEEKS, holding J.B. up as a villain. J.B. has a long fuse, but hearing the pain in my voice was the last straw in a metric ton of emotional straws. She went, in basic terms, batshit crazy on C.H. She finally called C.H. out on a lot of her issues. I was having a yard sale that weekend, attempting to make a little money and get rid of some things, so I missed out on the whole back and forth between J.B. and C.H.

I logged back in later that Sunday evening to formally remove myself from the group as I'd stated I'd be doing. The first thing I saw was that I'd been made an administrator of the group! So was J.B.

C.H. had removed herself from the group. Um...what!?!

I started reading through things and catching up on the latest drama. J.B. was already apologizing to the group for losing it, and there were a few women who let her know that they understood that she'd been pushed and pushed and pushed by C.H. and were kind of amazed it took as long as it did for her to fight back.

Still with me? AMAZING! Okay, so we're pretty much caught up with the back story.

Naturally, after this roller coaster, some people removed themselves from the group. Some stayed but remained quiet. Then came the behind-the-scenes, note-passing, childish bull that drives me nuts.

One of the former members both J.B. and I had sent a friend request to (we'd both found her to be intelligent, interesting, and one who'd tried to combat the drama with uplifting posts), had told C.H. she didn't want to approve our friend requests, and had C.H. relay the message to J.B. and I through a mutual friend. So this woman, L., couldn't just click "no"? She had to do the "I'm not talking to her, so YOU tell her blah blah blah" thing?

One of the women who'd stayed with the group but had remained silent apparently started "reporting" on the goings on in the group to C.H. Now, this group was supposed to be a safe, PRIVATE, space - and people were passing along information to a non-member? Not! Cool!

During all of this, C.H. was having second thoughts about handing over the group, and started letting us know (through the same mutual friend) that we'd "hijacked" it, that we'd "stolen" the group from her. She continued to make requests/demands (remove certain posts, give the group back to her, etc.).

Here's the thing. If you and I have a problem, just talk to me. I recently had a really difficult discussion with a good friend of mine. She said some things that were hard and uncomfortable to say, and that were hard to hear. Yet she had the maturity, and the kindness, to express her thoughts and feelings to me directly in as kind and gentle a way as she could manage. It would've been SO EASY for her to just slide it under the rug, or avoid me, or have someone else tell me what she wanted to say. But instead, this friend made the effort to carve out some time so we could sit together privately, and she talked with me directly. It was hard - for both of us - but I respect and appreciate the fact that she conducted herself as a mature adult, and it makes me respect her all the more for the efforts she made.

Back to the C.H. drama. I've done my best to maintain myself with her. I've wished her nothing but wellness and good. I wasn't even online during the big showdown between C.H. and J.B. I've made myself available to her - she knows how to contact me via email and phone. But because when she asked me why I hadn't responded to her post about her very inappropriate, unhealthy behavior, I honestly stated that I didn't know what to say because I didn't agree with her actions, I'm now an enemy. I truly hope C.H. gets evaluated for ultra-rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, but she has gotten VERY angry whenever that's been suggested.

I only expect adults to either be direct, or to just remain silent if they are afraid of confrontation. What makes me angry is when other people are put in the unenviable situation of being dragged into the middle of something that need not involve them.

Let's break this down into really simple terms by using "dos and don'ts" examples:

I've sent you a friend request on Facebook and you don't want to be my friend.
     DO click on the "no thanks" button
     DO, if you have a problem with my request and want me to know that, speak with me directly.
     DO NOT contact a mutual friend and make them be stuck in the middle as the messenger.
I've sent you an invitation on Facebook to join a group, and you are not interested in joining.
     DO click on the "no thanks" button
     DO, if you have a problem with being invited and want me to know that, speak with me directly.
     DO NOT contact a mutual friend and drag them into the middle by making them your messenger.

How hard is this concept to grasp? I mean, really? How old are we again? My 11 year old knows better, for crying out loud.

I've got PLENTY of drama in my life that I need to focus on, including little things like:
  • my children struggling in school academically or socially/emotionally
  • my family dealing with losing the only home my son has ever known and the only one my daughter truly knows
  • my family not knowing where, or even being able to look for until this house sells, we will "land"
  • my family dealing with the massive medical bills that have been incurred over the last 2 1/2 years
  • my health challenges that include (but aren't limited to) constant pain, memory problems, and enough medications to call breakfast on their own
  • my husband's recently being the victim of a sleeping driver wrecking his car (and totaling hers - it's a miracle she's okay)
  • my daily struggle against worsening depression
So please, alleged "adults", just STOP with the freaking drama already. In other words, can we all please just grow the hell up?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holidazed and Confused

I'm prepping to do something this weekend that I haven't done in years! I'm actually inviting people into my home!

To put it in the simplest terms, my house is so embarrassingly messy and cluttered that it's prevented me from inviting friends over to just hang out, eat, play games, watch movies, or whatever. One reason it's this way is because things have spun out of control in terms of my housekeeping efforts. I already had fibromyalgia, which slowed me down considerably. Then, in July of 2009, I broke my leg and dislocated my ankle, which resulted in permanent (painful) nerve damage to my foot. Another reason is that we emptied out our storage unit so we could use that monthly fee to deal with other monthly expenditures. Finally, my husband and kids pretty much stink at things like picking up after themselves, putting things back where they found them, and such. Oh, and our dog sheds a lot. And the house is surrounded by evergreens so we're forever tracking in pine needles.

Anyway, I am tired of it. Years ago it didn't bother me so much that we weren't a family of clean freaks, because I didn't really have friends who lived close by. Now, however, I've got the most excellent gaggle of girlfriends I could possibly ask for, and I want to finally be able to return the hospitality they've all shown to me so often. (Plus, there's nothing like planning for people to come over to serve as a nice, big push to get off our duffs and clean!)

Naturally, I've got some major anxiety surrounding all of this. My friends are all generally neat and clean and organized and have mad kitchen skills. Generally, a meal served by me comes from a can, box, bag or restaurant. So in addition to fighting this uphill battle to get somewhat clean and organized, I'm also fighting the familiar old refrain of "I'm not good enough" that my brain seems to automatically start running on a loop when I'm feeling intimidated. Logically, I know my friends love me, that they are aware of my physical stuff that impacts the amount of stuff I can do, that they are coming over not because of a clean house or food but for love and friendship (and wine). That's what my LOGICAL mind knows. But it's that darn emotional brain that seems to be the most persistent. My emotional brain says I'm a failure, I'm not good enough, that I'm stupid, that it's only a matter of time before my friends "catch on" to the fact that I'm lacking and dump me. Part of this stems from perfectionism. I used to think I couldn't be a perfectionist with such a messy house, but I read somewhere that sometimes perfectionists can sort of throw up their hands and say "if I can't do it perfectly, I won't do it at all".

I'm really rooting for the logical side of me to win this round! I'm trying to focus on what I can do, and trying to let go of the things I just can't accomplish by Saturday. I'm trying to figure out a menu that tastes good but is easy enough that even a kitchen-phobe like me can pull it together. I'm actually getting excited more than freaked out and weary, which is a great sign that logic may rule the day. I think I've finally got my menu lined up, too. One of my friends is bringing a salad or some sort of side dish, I believe.

Holidaze Party Menu (so far)
Appetizer - baked artichoke squares
Meat - apple bourbon country-style pork ribs (slow cookers seems less intimidating to me)
Veggie - mashed potatoes with side choices of fresh chives, bacon crumbles, sour cream, and cheddar cheese
Sweets - red velvet cupcakes, Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bars
Drinks - Maybe try some Dark n' Fluffy or other mixed drinks, wine, sparkling juice for anyone not drinking (or to use as a mixer), and coffee

Think that'll be good enough? I hope it turns out all right.

Missing toddler Sky Metalwala

As we approach the weekend, I find myself pondering the case of  Sky Metalwala, who was reported missing on the morning of November 6. This coming Sunday will mark six weeks since little Sky was reported as missing by his mother, Julia Biryukova. Her story rapidly fell apart, yet there have been no new leads for weeks now. Mommy and her family still refuse to cooperate with the police. Julia seems to be in hiding. Meanwhile, Sky's Daddy is working like crazy, passing out fliers and asking businesses to display fliers in their windows. He voluntarily took two lie detector tests. He's staying in close contact with the police, answering any questions they have and seeking all sorts of ways to try and find his son. Solomon is trying to stay positive and continues to have faith that Sky will be found alive and well.

None of this makes sense to me. The last time anyone (aside from the mother and sister) saw Sky was at least two weeks prior to his disappearance. Days before his allegedly being taken from the car in which his mother had abandoned him to go get help as she had ran out of gas (although in truth the car had gas, as investigators soon learned), she and estranged husband Solomon Metalwala was in an 11-hour mediation session where they were trying to work out a mutually agreeable custody and visitation plan for Sky and big sister Mailie, age 4. Julia and Solomon had gotten in trouble a couple of years ago when they left a sleeping Sky in their car while they went inside a Target store in below freezing temperatures. They were both charged and had to attend parenting classes as a part of their punishment. Solomon has stated very clearly that it was the biggest mistake of his life and he learned from it and would never do such a thing again. Apparently Julia didn't learn her lesson, though, as is proven not only by her allegedly leaving Sky in the car on November 6, but also (in my opinion) by leaving the two children alone for about 12 hours on the day of that grueling mediation session. Otherwise, why wouldn't a babysitter come forward and say "oh, yes, of course I saw Sky just a few days before his disappearance!"?

The more we learn about Julia's past, mental health status, family of origin, and that she wanted to undo all of that work in mediation so that Solomon would never see the kids again, the more concerned I am that something happened to Sky on the day of the mediation while she'd left him alone with only a 4 year old to supervise him. Yes, 4-year-old Mailie did tell FBI agents specially trained to talk to children that Sky had been in the car "wrapped in a blanket" on that fateful Sunday morning. However, listening to Julia Biryukova's blog, it seems apparent to me that she knows very well how to talk to her children in such a way as to manipulate them and make them fear and distrust their father. I wouldn't be at all surprised if little Mailie had been told little Sky was just sleeping. Or, heaven forbid, that she was the one who'd go to jail if anyone learned that Sky was dead because it happened while she was supposed to be babysitting him. I honestly wouldn't put it past Julia to brainwash and manipulate her daughter in this way.

One bright spot in all of this is the fact that Solomon has not only finally gained full custody of Mailie, but was told that a mistake was made when the children were given to Julia back when they first started the custody battle. I just hope that mistake hasn't resulted in the death of Sky, either accidentally or at the hands of Julia. While I pray that little Sky is alive and safe and warm, as time marches on it seems less and less likely that he'll be coming home to Solomon alive. If Julia does know the whereabouts of Sky or his body, I hope that she will share that information so there can be at least closure if not a happy ending. And if she did, in fact, harm him in any way, I think death by fire ants would be too kind.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

When "cutting spending" results in tragedy

As many of you know, I've been a long-time advocate of mental health issues. My ex-husband is on permanent disability due to his bipolar disorder (which was well-treated until insurances changed and he had to switch to a doctor who I personally believe is responsible for making my ex-husband into a man who can no longer work). My daughter was diagnosed with Early Onset Bipolar Disorder (NOS - Not Otherwise Specified), ADD, and other issues. I have battled with the demons known as depression and anxiety nearly as long as I can remember. I had severe postpartum mood disorders after the births of both of my children.

So believe me when I say that I feel strongly about the issues surrounding mental health insurance coverage, stigmas, access to treatment, and so on.

As someone who has worked for many years within the interests of postpartum mood disorders, I've unfortunately become familiar with those rare but tragic cases in which a mother suffering from psychosis has harmed her child. I've also tried to educate myself about other issues tied to the health and well-being of families.

A trend I've noticed getting worse in our tough economy is that there is more violence against others, both within the family and outside of the family. In so many of the cases in which someone goes on a shooting spree, or abuses a spouse, or harms a child, we find that the perpetrator of the violence is experiencing high levels of stress and very often has an untreated or poorly treated mental illness.

When so many people are struggling just to find or keep a job, struggling to feed themselves and their families, struggling to make ends meet, it seems completely irresponsible to cut funding to outreach programs, to affordable mental and physical health care, to eliminate or greatly reduce the availability of support systems in place to help the very ones who need it the most.

It seems that whenever our governments - from the national level down to the local level - need to cut spending, the first thing on the chopping block is the absolute LAST thing that should be cut. We need to encourage our leaders to offer support to those in need, not pull the rug out from under them. We need to reach out to our communities and ensure that there are options for those who are struggling financially, so that they can at least maintain their health.

Until we start making the mental health of our people a priority, start making mental health services available everywhere to everyone that needs it, we'll keep seeing a rise in crime. We'll keep reading tragic stories about parents harming or killing their children. We'll keep seeing suicides rise.

Without affordable, available mental health care, we take away what is already so hard to come by in these trying times - hope for a better tomorrow.