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?

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