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I have a son in high school who was physically assaulted by a fellow student yesterday, and the response from the school has been bizarre, to say the least. Because the principal cited a federal law as the reason for her failure to act, I'm hoping someone here might be able to explain this to me, and give me some suggestions about what I should do next.

More below...

My son was attacked by another boy after trying to diffuse the situation and retreating, only to be forced to hit back to defend himself when he had no other choice (the kid chased him and there were witnesses). Both the vice principal and the principal refused to provide details, including the name of the perpetrator or what would be done to resolve the situation, citing privacy reasons. Privacy of a bully? In fact, they didn't plan to discuss the matter with us at all. My husband was called by the vice principal and told to pick up our son outside the school - where he was left with no supervision or concern for his safety after being attacked. When his dad went inside and insisted upon some kind of explanation the VP refused to give any, stating "school policy" as the reason.

When I contacted the principal via email, she backed up the VP's actions, with no further explanation about the incident except to say, "The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits school personnel from disclosing student information from student education records without the consent of the parent. This includes school discipline records." She then ignored my requests to call me to discuss the matter by phone (am I wrong for thinking a physical assault warrants a same day call back?). Note that when I left the phone message requesting the return call, the principal's secretary refused to pass on the message unless I would divulge every detail about why I was calling. I guess privacy only works one way!

Are you kidding me? Someone can hit my kid on school grounds and I don't have a right to know who it was, or what happened? I guess I'm probably going to have to file a police report to learn the facts, and my son is begging me not to because he just wants it to be over. He doesn't want more problems with people he has to see every day.

This is absurd! I can't believe the intent of this law was to protect bullies and prevent the parents of the victim of an assault from finding out the details. Of course my son told us his side of the story, but are we not entitled to know the "official version" and the results of any investigation?

What would be the best way to handle this going forward?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Posted this very late Hawaii time (5+ / 0-)

    hoping any responses received before my morning might set me on the right path first thing when I wake up. I'll be here a little longer but I'm fading, so I might not be able to respond to comments right away.

  •  I hope someone can help you with this. (5+ / 0-)

    I would be just as outraged as you are. Mine aren't in public school now, so I can't really advise you with this one. Does your son know who it was who attacked him?

    "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

    by FloridaSNMOM on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 02:37:39 AM PST

    •  Hi, yes he does know the kid's name (7+ / 0-)

      but you could have knocked me over with a feather when my husband told me he was refused that information after three direct questions to the VP. This was before we had a chance to talk to our son. What if he was molested or killed? Are they going to tell us it's none of our business who did it? For privacy reasons?  It feels like we're living in the twilight zone, and although our son wasn't hurt I think there is a larger issue here that should be addressed.

      Thanks for the supportive words.

      •  About the only thing I can think of (5+ / 0-)

        is ask for a meeting with both kids and the other kid's parents to discuss the incident. Since you know the name, let them know you know it when you request it. Since the other parents are there at the meeting, privacy concerns should be moot at that point.

        But we have several good educators on cite who should be able to help. I know TeacherKen has had experience with this sort of thing, but he's been busy with personal issues so not sure when he'll see this.

        "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

        by FloridaSNMOM on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 03:02:14 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Get a lawyer. It's the only thing they respect. (8+ / 0-)

    What everyone saw with their naked eyes is not contained in "student records".  It's just what happened.  They don't know what they're talking about.

    The elevation of appearance over substance, of celebrity over character, of short term gains over lasting achievement displays a poverty of ambition. It distracts you from what's truly important. - Barack Obama

    by helfenburg on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 03:33:39 AM PST

  •  File a police complaint (13+ / 0-)

    This isn't something the principal should be handling--obviously doesn't know the law. Schools are an odd mix of public and private law. (I'm a former school superintendent.) The principal can't hand you the other child's school file, but must cooperate in a police investigation.

    Yes, a disciplinary action against another child might be subject to FERPA. But the action is an assault, and the police need to deal with it. You also have the option of civil action against the child, and against the school if appropriate supervision was not available. Your administrator is mixing up apples and oranges.

    Please don't be shy about it. The next time, the next child, might not walk away from the bully.

    Then (here's my mom-to-mom advice since my own brilliant son was bullied way too much) think about counseling. There are some behaviors that invite bullying, and some sound behaviors that prevent it, and they are worth learning.

    •  Good idea. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      weck, Me Again

      I would if I was assaulted.

    •  And please understand (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JamieG from Md, weck, Me Again

      I'm not actually suggesting the other child should be arrested, or his parents sued--necessarily. Children and parents think they can manipulate the school system. By involving the police (probably as counselors in this case) you make the point that this is assault and not some minor violation of school rules. It is independent of any courtesies that are in the school handbook, and the other child needs to know the potential consequences.

      •  I'm not interested in having him arrested either (0+ / 0-)

        I believe that would be making a mountain out of a mole hill, since no one was hurt. It's more the school's reaction that is bothering me, and they are almost forcing me to involve the police when I would just let it drop otherwise. I'm flabbergasted that the principal wouldn't even return my call, and I can't let that stand.

        My son has several years of taekwondo training so I'm not worried about his ongoing safety so much, but they are taught not to fight unless they absolutely have to in order to defend themselves. I think the other kid was taken by surprise when my son fought back, because he initially tried so hard to walk away and that may have been perceived as weakness. Not anymore. He doesn't think it will happen again, so we probably don't have to worry about an ongoing bullying situation. I will definitely call the police if it happens again.

        Thanks again for taking the time to reply.

        If anyone is interested I'm going to reply to the ex-principal further down in the comments with the reason this all started.

        •  Police are great counselors (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Me Again

          For the administrators! Don't assume you are contacting them for legal action.

          PS You have introduced a very good topic. Hope you are comfortable talking about it.

          •  Agree about police lighting a fire under admin (0+ / 0-)

            But as the principal down thread pointed out, that can end up backfiring if my son gets charged as a mutual combatant. Our PD has never been much more fair or responsive than school admin, so anything could happen. It's a Hawaii thing.

            I'm definitely willing to talk about it. Of course I would prefer to be talking to people at the school, but as of this writing they are still ignoring me.

            Not sure if you saw my other comment about what started it, but another kid ended up in the hospital in a related incident the previous day. I had to send my son back to school today with no reassurance whatsoever from the principal that anything has been done to end to this feud. It's almost unbelievable.

            I'm ready to go all Harper Valley PTA on these people in an op-ed to the newspaper.

  •  The school CANNOT release any records such as (9+ / 0-)

    what consequences the other student has.  The school CAN arrange a meeting between you and the other student's parents so THEY can discuss the consequences, but that's about it.

    There are laws involved here.  The school is correct about that.  If you want the full story, you may want to explore all the options.

    And if you feel that your child was placed in jeopardy by the school's actions, then by all means contact an attorney.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 04:01:47 AM PST

  •  I can't believe they left your child outside (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    moose67, weck, Me Again

    alone after being attacked.  Wow.  It seems very irresponsible.  There are privacy policies but obviously, your son can tell you who attacked him.  Definitely contact an attorney.  Good luck.

    •  Yes, it was very disturbing they left him outside (0+ / 0-)

      Everything about the school's reaction is disturbing.

      He left before I woke up this morning so I need to ask him later to verify this, but I think they may have sent both kids out front of the school to wait for parents.

      Nothing happened, but it sure could have! Such poor judgment from our so called professional educators.

  •  My perspective - first things first - (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nance, weck, Me Again

    get your son out of that school.  

    That's the first talk I'd have with the attorney.  What are your options for getting him enrolled somewhere else?  What does your son have to say about it?  Would he prefer to go anywhere else?

    At the very least it sounds like he shouldn't have to attend that school every day while you are going forward with attorneys, police complaints or whatever.  Even if it's temporary, if he wants it he should have somewhere else to go while all of that is underway.  

    It just feels like, with everything that's going on, it's crucial that you keep showing your son not only that you listen to him, but that his input, his needs are heeded and given first importance in any plans you make.

  •  A few thoughts (11+ / 0-)

    I am a former school principal and am now a professor of educational leadership.  From your description of events I have some comments and questions.

    I always hesitate to second guess the specifics of incidences without knowing the full story, but based on what you said it is pretty clear there is at least questionable judgement by the school officials.  Had they not called you AT ALL, and you found out about the incident after your son came home it would have been especially bad.  But it sounds like you were called by the VP, and I assume he provided some explanation at that time.

    While the school cannot share the punishment they sanctioned against other students, there is nothing to prevent them from sharing the details of the incident with you.  In fact, it is clearly unprofessional on their part not to.  In other words, they should tell you what happened (or at least what they think happened based on their investigation.)  If they are not really clear what fully happened, and frankly that happens a lot if you don't have adult witnesses are relying on student testimony, they should at least say that.  "We are not fully sure what happened but this is what we know so far."

    The administrators should at least sit down with you and your son and attempt to get the story at such a meeting.  Perhaps at that point things will be more clear.  I would strongly advise our students in ed leadership to take this approach.  It aids the investigation and serves as a communication avenue for you as a parent.

    In practice, I was rarely a proponent of getting student parties and their parents together.  But that is because where I was a principal many of our disputes were actually neighborhood issues, and the parents were oftentimes as guilty as the students in keeping things going.  You may be better served if your school has some sort of conflict mediation that is done with the students only.  

    Some of this changes based on what the school decided to do about any punishment of the students.  Was anyone suspended?  Was anyone injured?  To what degree are they satisfied that this is "over" and what do they base that on?

    If no one was suspended or injured, and you are given reason to believe that this is "over" I would advise not involving lawyers at this point.  There is no reason to make this adversarial---yet.  

    What you really are seeking at this point is to just get the story.  While they could provide names (and in some cases where history of conflict is present it is actually important) they are not obligated to do so.  But there is nothing to prevent them from telling you what happened.  Check the school and district policy handbooks, because there is a chance they are violating their own policy.  Also check to see if there is some type of peer mediation/conflict resolution that can be done between the parties involved.

    Good luck.

    •  The explanation was simply... (0+ / 0-)

      your son was involved in an altercation, come pick him up he is suspended for the day. Then they sent him outside to wait, with no intention of even meeting with his dad. The other kid was also suspended for the day. As I said in another comment above, I think the kids were sent out there together, but I need to verify that with my husband and son. That could have turned out very badly, but thank goodness nothing else happened.

      My son thinks it is over and that it won't happen again so I would prefer not to call police or lawyers, but there is just so much about this situation that screams poor judgment by school administration that I don't feel I can I just let it drop either.

      They were friendly acquaintances before the fight, but not friends. What started it was that there was a fight between two other kids the day before, one of whom ended up in the hospital overnight with a broken nose and concussion. The injured kid is my son's best friend, and a bunch of other kids were taunting my son before school with, "Waah waah did your wittle friend end up in the hospital?" and the like. He verbally defended his friend in response - told them not talk about him that way - and some fifteen year old testosterone factory decided that earned him a beating of his own. Witnesses confirmed my son's version of the story to me, but of course they are his friends so I can't know for sure exactly what happened without having been there. I do generally trust my son to tell me the truth, though.

      I guess I'm going to insist on a meeting with the principal, and see what she says in person. It's not so much that I don't think I was able to garner enough information on my own, but I do think the school owes me the respect of an official explanation, and certainly not to ignore my phone calls.

      •  Now I think the school was really wrong (0+ / 0-)

        They must have felt the incident with you son was not too serious if they only suspended him for that day. That's fine, and probably a good thing.

        However, if this was related to a fight the day before I am not sure how they can diminish a situation that  1) was severe enough to hospitalize someone and 2) was a continuation of the first event---at least related to it.  This is especially more true if the earlier fight happened at school.

        You would think they would want to get it fully stopped.

        What might make a difference is how much experience they have with dealing with situations like this.  Although it sounds contrary to logic, schools that have to deal with more conflict and disturbances are oftentimes the best with dealing with those situations---if anything just due to experience.  If your administrators are not really used to situations like this, perhaps that explains it.  

        However, given that you mentioned school security I am guessing that they are not inexperienced.  

        But after all that transpired to just leave your son waiting alone for a parent with no explanation offered is pretty questionable leadership from the administrators.  Had your son been assaulted while he waited it would very likely be negligence on their part.  I don't know how they could justify it.

  •  One more thing (7+ / 0-)

    The police complaint may or may not get what you want.  This depends a lot on your local police, size of the city, etc.  If there is little chance the police report will ever amount to charges being filed, they may not want to bother.

    If your son was injured you may want to file a report in order to preserve some rights for any action you take later.  But I  would caution that in many jurisdictions the position of the DA and/or police will be in a situation like this it is a case of mutual combatants, meaning all parties will end up being charged.  Self defense may count later in court, but as for charges, there would be a chance it would be all or none.  You might not want to go there.

    •  Our police department is as lazy as school admin (0+ / 0-)

      He wasn't hurt. Security broke it up before anything serious happened, but the other kid has a bruise on his face. Probably neither one of them would be charged, but I certainly have to consider the possibility that my son could be charged as a mutual combatant, as you said, and I definitely don't want to go there. Sometimes it's the kid with the least amount of visible injury who gets in the most trouble, even if it started out as a self-defense situation.

      Thanks for taking the time to share your expertise.

  •  Do you know a School Board member ? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Me Again

    If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever. &

    by weck on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 08:06:18 AM PST

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