Posted in Advocacy, Catholic education, Catholic leadership, leadership, Parenting, School governance, School Leadership, Teaching

Focusing on Forever: the Difficulty of Catholic School Administration in a Here-and-Now World

As a school principal and a parent, I get a few things about education in a way that other parents and principals might not.

First, I get that school is a “right” in a theoretical sense.

But I also get that administrators have to balance rights against each other.  In other words, they have to make school safe for the majority with the limited budgets they have.

It was that understanding of reality that made me decide to homeschool our Autistic son.  There is no way I can expect him to be in a group of other chatty people and have him have any sense of happiness.  Perhaps if we had found my school with me as leader when he was younger (as in, pre-kindergarten in his case; his school damage was gigantic), it might have been different.  We didn’t, and he doesn’t even like the idea of going back to school, so he won’t at this time.  I figure, that’s okay, we’ll make it work.

But we have enough privilege to be able to have jobs that involve working at home.  I used to score standardized tests at home, and my husband does testing for an Autistic-friendly company.

Not everyone has that, which is why I’m glad to have my school.

As a Catholic school principal, I am not merely charged with getting kids ready for college.  I am, however, charged with getting them ready for college, work, to be a mom, dad, religious sister or brother, priest, etc. as well as getting them ready for heaven.

We take the long path.  We are focused on much, much more than grades and college-preparation. It is a slow, winding journey with many missteps.  We sin, we fall, but we confess and we learn and we do better the next time.

It is not as easy as preparing kids for college.  There is so much more at stake in a Catholic school.

My kids know this and are good at forgiving each other for mistakes of all kinds.  At least, they normally do.  Long-term parents, also, know, that little dust-ups shall pass, and they move on pretty fast because they know the kids love each other and this is a safe place.

However, sometimes parents can be a bigger issue than the kids.

I had an issue this week with a parent who was upset because a student struck her child.  He was uninjured.  He hit back.  She was uninjured.

Here’s what happened, and how the parent over-reacted because she was too busy advocating for her own child at the expense of other children.

Don’t be this parent.

Imagine this scenario: your child got held down and hit twice.  Other kids allowed it to happen.  The teacher and principal seem mad at your kid.  You are mad.  You feel justified.

But then you learn that your child was badgering the one who hit him.  Relentlessly harassing with words.

Do you insist that the words are nothing compared to the hitting?

Do you feel your child hitting back was justified?


But what if you find that your child had been harassing the other kid every day with his words?

Would that help you to understand the series of events a little better?

As an Autistic parent (not an Autism mom), I understand a little better, I think, the need to balance kids’ needs.  No, she should not have hit him, but hitting is not (assuming no one is injured, and even then) objectively worse than name-calling or harassing language, particularly when the language is directed at someone who has sound sensitivity.

Both were wrong.

Both needed to learn from the consequences, but the consequences are real-world in my school a lot.  We break down what happened, and why, and what other people think of you because you did whatever it is you did.  We analyze our behavior and its effect on others because I am trying to overtly teach human relationships.  I’m playing a long-range game here.

I recently posted about our friendship rules, and how I have to overtly teach new rules to offset whatever nonsense they learned in their previous schools.  This dust-up was largely due to the fact that he (and she) had learned friendship from other environments.  He learned that bullying-through-teasing was funny and because she was older than he was, he decided, after being told not to repeatedly, he could keep doing it since I had taught that we don’t tease people who are younger.

BUT we also talked about stopping when people ask you to.  Repeatedly over the past week or so.  He was not understanding the damage he was doing.  It is difficult for all people to recognize that other people don’t think the way we do.  Everyone assumes his or her own level of sound sensitivity, for example, is the same as everyone else.

But we Autistics know better since we know that some of us hear far, far better than others.

Let’s analyze things a bit more to see what I say that the parent couldn’t fully appreciate since I can’t reveal some things to parents that are confidential.

The student who was being harassed by the constant chanting did not move directly to hitting.  This was immense progress.  She used her words.  She was patient.  Using words is hard when you’re being inundated with sound.

He kept tormenting her after being told to stop.

She hit him.  She likely was melting down at this point, so it may or may not have been a conscious choice.

He hit her back.

She complained to the office about him hitting her.  This makes me think that either she didn’t get that he was retaliating or she had blacked out the part where she hit him.  If she didn’t remember it, then it was definitely a meltdown and I can’t very well punish her for melting down.

They both got into trouble.  She is always willing to trust me if I say she hit someone during a meltdown, so I can try to coach, even if I know she couldn’t have stopped what she did.  We have a great relationship because of that.

My discussion with both children should have been the end of it.

Overprotective mom comes in to complain about her son being hit.  She didn’t care about what happened beforehand, nor did she care about what bullying he had been doing because the public school would have suspended or expelled her for hitting.

First of all, she wouldn’t have been suspended or expelled.  This is a manifestation of disability.  She hit because she is sound-sensitive and he was taking advantage of this.  He did not KNOW/UNDERSTAND what he was doing, so it’s not as horrible sounding as it could be, but her reaction is the kind of thing for which you CANNOT suspend/expel because it is due to her lack of ability to control herself in that situation.  She was most likely melting down.

Second, it would have been wrong to suspend or expel her in that situation, the same as it would be wrong of me to suspend him for harassing her because both of them are working on re-learning how to make friends right now because of all the damage that was done to them by previous environments.  They are trying.

Mom was convinced I’d have done something different if the situation were reversed.  I told her I wouldn’t have.  I repeated that both were working on a skill now.

She will likely pull him out of the school because I let her son be hit.

But I have to balance the whole group, not the individual.  In the long run, it is good for her son to learn not to harass and intimidate with his words.  Being struck is a natural consequence, even with a neurotypical.  It is also good for her to learn, now that she has mastered asking people to stop first, to moving closer to the teacher to have us help explain (for the forty-fifth time) why he needs to stop making those noises, to help prevent lashing out in meltdown.  It is good for him to learn, too, that other people have different levels of hearing and what he’s doing is a lot worse to her than he can ever know.  All this, however, takes time, and because both have been at the school for less than a year, they need more time to unlearn the damage done to them by their previous schools where they were allowed to relentlessly tease and torment each other and somehow tormenting others would result in the tormenter being popular.

Mom’s argument is she should have known her son was bothering her and wanted to “see the documentation.”

She’s not wrong.

We didn’t document after September because things got better, then worse again.  Also, we wanted to give her a break from bad news since he was working on getting better.   No parent struggling with a child’s neurological differences wants to have constant phone calls.  You want to know it’s okay because it would have been had he not blown this out of proportion.

He learned how to make a mountain out of a molehill from his last school, too.

We like to take the long-view and focus on what improvements have been made.  She was name-calling and saying mean things less (she’s done it a fair amount, too), and he seemed to lay off of the younger child he was teasing.  This is progress.  It’s hard to focus on the progress when you have a list of each transgression.  Besides, we’re Catholic.  Confess and it’s all cleaned away, at least in terms of sin.

I am also skittish about documenting because it creates a record.  The record can help us in a lawsuit, but if we don’t ever get sued, I am afraid some future principal might make sure it follows our kids around to places I don’t want it following them because they’ve worked on the issue and it might well resolve itself.  I want to believe that when a child leaves my school he or she should get a fresh start, always, and only send what I am legally obligated to send…no frills or extras.  If you want more information, call me, and I can give you the context you need to interpret anything else. If he leaves, I want to be able to explain what he was doing and celebrate his improvements, not focus on the negatives.

However, we live in the real world.  Lack of documentation was, in fact, a mistake.  We will document again.  We must document again.  It is, of course, the smart thing to do, but it doesn’t allow me to reset my brain every day to give each child the dignity of a fresh start each day because each child is learning and growing.  Opening a log to see time after time of bad things happening does not make me happy.

I think I need to work on material to “onboard” parents so they understand our reluctance to document and that all children are balancing their own struggles.  It’s not like we go around hitting here, but in order to take in new students, parents need to be able to understand that there is always work to do because of the damage done to them by previous, non Neurodiverse-friendly environments.  We replay old tapes.  We try to use what we learned in the old environment, not necessarily knowing that what we learned was not the best.

But parents need to trust me, and to trust that I’m not preparing for right now, but I’m preparing for forever.  That’s a big ask in our secularized world.


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