Accident Schmaccident

Son got bit at school on Friday.

This didn’t thrill me, but I wasn’t angry. Kids do these things, I understand. The boys were arguing over whose turn it was to use the bathroom (is anyone surprised this story is potty-centric?). I wanted to find out what happened, how it was handled and what, if anything, needed correction. I was not irate about it, I just was being a responsible, parent, following up on a incident at school.

This morning as I dropped Son at school I approached the teachers to talk about it. The head teacher proceeded to tell me what happened, emphasizing that she didn’t see the actual bite occur, as she was outside on the playground. She told me that Son had gone inside “without permission” and tried to enter a bathroom that another boy, who HAD gotten permission, had just entered (Son, obviously, should have waited his turn).

What I didn’t like was the teacher continually stressing that Son didn’t have permission while the other boy did. If she had mentioned it once it would not have risen my ire, but with every question I had she just kept hammering that point home, never really answering my questions. I maintained that if Son was inside without permission then:

A. Neither Son nor the other boy were being properly supervised, and

B. Whether or not he had permission to be inside was irrelevant to the other boy choosing to bite and the school’s subsequent handling of the incident.

I couldn’t get her to get past the permission issue to give me the details of what actually happened. I understand that she’s just trying to mitigate her own culpability (which the school director later dismissed as “human nature”) in this molehill incident, but her unwillingness to shift and discuss the actual incident was giving me a mountain of frustration and irkedness.

The other thing that kept me from just letting it go was that they kept calling it “an accident”. I immediately took issue with that characterization. It was most decidedly NOT an accident. Dropping a book on one’s toe is an accident. This was a deliberate act; an incident; the result of a poor choice. This is not an indictment of nor judgment about the child, but he – and Son – and the other children – need to understand that it was a poor choice to bite. NOT an accident. I don’t believe it serves Son or the other boy to whitewash what happened, or give them a way to dismiss poor behavior by shifting the accountability from themselves to whatever nebulous being in the karmic universe causes accidents.

Completely unsatisfied by the conversation with his teacher, and given that the teacher was unable to give me any more information, she suggested I speak with the school director. She wasn’t there yet, so I arrived before the normal pickup time to meet with her.

It was equally unsatisfying, for more reasons than I’ll talk about here. First, her story about what happened was very different from the teacher’s. I pointed out to the director this was not the first time I’d seen children slip unnoticed from the playground into the building, and have in fact stopped a few myself. This she dismissed with excuses that the children see their mother is coming (sometimes, but often I am the only parent approaching), and that the teachers are busy trying to ensure that each child leaves with the correct parent (a very important task).

I’m sorry, but if your system isn’t working develop a new one.

In my meeting with the director I also learned why the word “accident” is used so liberally, and incorrectly. When something like this happens each child gets a report in their file. The “offender” gets an “Incident Report”; the “offendee” an “Accident Report”. It’s so very ingrained in their vernacular to use the word “accident” that getting the school to use a more fitting word just is not going to happen. These are government forms. A very poor choice of words, likely designed to discourage litigation. Anyone think I can get the state to change the name of the forms? Me neither.

I’m a pretty good communicator, at least most of the time. I know and understand that often these things happen so quickly they’re over before even the most attentive parent or teacher can react. I did not enter Son’s school today planning to make a big fuss about the incident. Just find out what happened, have them tell me, have them assure me that if there was anything they could do better, they would, and if there was anything I could do better, they’d tell me that, too. Then move on.

Apparently that’s too much to expect.

Should it be?


5 Responses to “Accident Schmaccident”

  1. Kate Says:

    They can’t tell you the details, and shouldn’t tell you the other child’s name – it’s privacy laws, and to protect the other child from retaliation from the offendee’s parents. I understand that *you* wouldn’t, but some parents would. Just another case of the same rules being applied to all, even though they’re intended for the lowest common denominator.

    I’m glad your son didn’t bite back, at least.

  2. BeThisWay Says:

    Lowest common denominator indeed! I pinky swear that I didn’t even think of giving him a dirty look. They’re just kids…

    In this case the school told me who did it immediately, even though I hadn’t asked. If I had asked what happened and been told, “Sorry, you don’t get to know any details, and you don’t get to know who did it,” I would have removed Son from the school immediately, never to return. And it would have taken every ounce of self control I could muster to keep my temper in check.

    My opinion is that I have a right to know what happened, and who did it. If Son had been injured to the extent of seeking medical attention or, G-d forbid, been permanently disfigured, I would have every right to look to the biter’s parents to pay Son’s medical bills and other compensation for Son (if warranted for a permanent injury). I don’t consider that retaliation in any way, shape or form.

    I’m quite relieved that neither was required in this case. I’m not sure if the school showed gross incompetence by telling me the boy’s name and the details (the director happily shared them). If it was gross incompetence then it’s one mistake I’m glad of.

  3. copyeditorsdesk Says:

    Typical. Your problem is that teachers and school administrators are bureaucrats first, educators second. They can’t get beyond that because a) it’s ingrained into them in Colleges of Education; b) to a large extent it’s forced upon them by the law; and c) they’re not the brightest lights in our species’ marquee.

    When my son was in the first grade — we’d just moved him to a “traditional” school (a very tony private school, I might add) from a Montessori preschool — his teacher, who should never have been allowed around small children, actually gave him a nasty write-up for not keeping his shoelaces tied at all times.

    The kid was reading fluently at the time he started in this fancy Episcopal day school: I listened to him read the front page of the Wall Street Journal aloud at the breakfast table. He also read copy, aloud, from Folio Magazine, a trade journal whose title was a word his first-grade teacher admitted to never having heard in her life. Before he was half-way through the first grade, he decided he couldn’t read, because he hadn’t been formally taught to read at the school. The teacher had him convinced that he was not SUPPOSED to be reading and so he COULDN’T read!

    And, using the Open Court system, he did not begin reading adequately again until the end of the third grade.

    Today, if I had it to do over again, I not only would not send my child to the unholy public schools here, I wouldn’t put him in private school, either: with a Ph.D. in English and a husband with a good income, I could and should have home-schooled him.

  4. Who’s Watching Your Children? « Are You Going To Be This Way The Rest of The Time I Know You? Says:

    […] Watching Your Children? March 23, 2009 — BeThisWay I’ve had a few issues here and there with Son’s schools, but most of the issues have been dealt with and we’ve […]

  5. Should I Stay or Should I Go Now? « Are You Going To Be This Way The Rest of The Time I Know You? Says:

    […] did not go well.  This isn’t  surprising, considering this is the woman who still thinks one child biting another is an “accident”.  Her defense of this poor excuse for a teacher (and the fact that this is a very […]

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