This week, I’d like to share with you a story about a young man with whom I have worked this year.
This year, I had my hands full with Mark. Mark transferred to our school for 8th grade, and we did not know he had an IEP until 2 weeks into the school year. Mark shouted out profanities in the classroom, struggled to keep his hands to himself, was constantly off-task, and, in all honesty, put a strain on the culture of our school as a whole. He regularly made other students feel uncomfortable, touching girls’ hair in class and elbowing boys in the hallway. He was quite a large young man, too, so he could sometimes be intimidating to adults and kids alike. It seemed Mark didn’t quite know his own strength.
However, Mark would often tell me about all of the lofty goals he had for himself. He wanted to go to college (and be the first in his family to graduate) because he knew that that’s how he would get a good job. He dreamed of being a firefighter or a police officer because he wanted to spend his days helping others. He wanted to be a good role model for his young niece, and he wanted to always make sure she was happy and safe.
About a month ago, I got an email that Mark was going to be suspended for seven days. I wasn’t shocked that he was suspended, as he often had behaviors that lead to suspension per our student code of conduct– getting physical with other kids, extreme levels of disrespect to adults, etc. I was, however, surprised by the length of his suspension. Seven days seemed like a lot. I immediately emailed my dean, asking if we could set up a meeting to discuss Mark’s situation.
In our meeting, my dean informed me of what Mark had done. He apparently had brought a box cutter to school with the intent to use it as a weapon. At the end of the day, he cornered a group of boys in the bathroom and threatened them with it. Terrified, one of them ran to find an adult. Many parents had called the school about the event, questioning whether their children were safe at school. Ultimately, this situation led our school board to consider Mark’s expulsion.
Mark’s expulsion hearing was a somber meeting for us all. Mark’s mother was a no-show. It was not until we called her to ensure she was on her way (after being 15 minutes late) that she informed us that she would not be able to make it, asking us to hold the meeting without her. Mark’s behaviors were outlined in detail, describing the way his behavior seemed calculated– waiting until the right time and going to a place where he knew no teachers would be present– as opposed to impulsive. The behavior team was able to prove that this behavior was not a cause of his disability, which I agree with. But that didn’t make it any less sad.
The whole time, I could not help but think about where Mark would go after being expelled. Would he be given another chance at another highly-ranked school? Or would he be stuck in an alternative high school in the city, where gang members and leaders would be more likely to recruit him? What would the school’s decision communicate to him about where he was wanted? Would we be telling him that we did not believe in him enough to give him a second chance?
Maybe Mark would find a school for students like him– a highly-structured setting where students with behavioral disorders could thrive. That’s the hope.
Mark was ultimately recommended for expulsion, and I will likely never see him again. I walked away from the meeting feeling numb, imagining what Mark’s future had in store for him.
When we think of inclusion, we must think of the value added when we take every single student’s well-being into account. Of course, safety for all students must come first (and is the source of my internal conflict), but it is difficult to imagine the future of a child who has consistently been told he or she does not belong. We must find a way to tell every child that we believe in him, that we know he can achieve so much, and that we want to see him successful.
With a heavy heart,
— Written by Elise, KIT Blog Editor
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.