“While we try to teach our children all about life, Our children teach us what life is all about.”
It takes a lot for me to speak on or expose many details of my personal life especially those that pertain to that of my eleven-year old. For many who are familiar with Dude (my son’s nickname since birth) and I it is no secret that we move quite effectively as a unit, where there is he there is me. This was no different when we decided to enroll in KIPP Triumph Academy, a choice charter school located in Saint Louis City[but a much smaller entity attached to a larger national conglomerate]. It was all of the glitz and glamour that was sold to us upon out initial new family tour during the spring of 2015. From the moment we stepped foot inside the school we were more than impressed with their advance curriculum, the dedication of the teachers and of course the super fly uniforms.
However, it wasn’t long before the honeymoon phase was over for us; it quickly became evident as to why the children refer to KIPP as the “KIDS IN PRISON PROGRAM”. Now granted, I whole heartedly support their academic learning structure but the rigorous and overbearing discipline structure is extreme and over the top for children who more likely that not are transitioning from less restrictive public school structures. KIPP serves the “under-privelaged, low-income” urban families in the inner cities, and recruit and employ young first year white Teach for America educators to pay their dues to what they believe to be poor, unfortunate, undereducated children whose parents surely can’t have more than a high school diploma or a G.E.D. [ This is the furthest things from the truth as it pertains to the families attending KTA]. I have been an active member of the school’s Parent Ambassador group, taking time out of my schedule to attend meetings, book fairs and new family orientations to encourage new families to come to KIPP, chaperoning dances, and much much more. Over time I have noticed that the strict and extreme discipline structure gives children more time out of school than in for even the smallest of infractions. My son has been one of said students who no matter how big or small his indiscretion is he pays a hefty price. [No I am not one of those “My child does no wrong mothers, I know my child is a handful but right is right]
This is our story.
On December 14th, 2016 at 2pm I receive d a frantic call from one of the School Leader’s (Principal) minions indicating there was an issue and that the School Leader wanted to speak with me. Naturally my mind went to the worst case scenario and I replayed a million horrifying scenarios over in mind before the principal finally picked up the line. Her first words to me were “Dude is fine but we found weed in his backpack.” [STOP! Immediately I am in panic mode] My question to her was “How do you know that’s what it is and where did he get it?” Unable to provide me with a real answer she hurried the conversation along in saying “I don’t know and thats all the information I have at this time, I need you to come get him now.” Naturally your first instinct as a mother is to want to strangle your child but in my mind I knew that there was much more to the story. Naturally when you walk into a room where there are two police officers and a school administrators your heart drops, all rationale goes out the window and panic sets in. This is exactly what happened on December 14th, 2016 at 2:30 pm when I walked in room 212 at 955 Arcade Ave. So many people including police officers were talking to me but nothing was making sense, it was all a blur I just wanted to see my baby, I needed to talk to him and find out what his train of thought was in that moment. I needed to know that with something this heavy weighing on him that he was ok. Once I was took a few deep breaths and was reunited with my son the full picture came into focus.
Dude was never truly in possession of the substance “assumed” to be marijuana, however there was some blame on his part. Earlier during the ninety-minute block a bagged up substance was found on the floor by another student. Said student informed the teacher and the substance was taken and placed in her cabinet; she continued teaching the remainder of the ninety-minute block. Admist the simple commotion caused by the discovery of the mysterious substance Dude became curious, we all know “curiosity kills the cat.” Following the end of class my son went into the teacher’s cabinet and removed the “mysterious substance” and left the room. It was then and only then did the teacher contact administration to report “her discovery”; but it wasn’t there so a search of all students who had previously left that class was conducted. After being informed that a bag search was taking place Dude realized the possible seriousness of the impulse decision he had just made. What happened next should be of no surprise. The unidentified substance was found hidden in his backpack and immediately(2.5 hours after the initial discovery) police were called.
There are many things wrong within this situation and the protocol or lack there of. Common sense would tell us that upon discovery of what was assumed to be an illegal substance; the substance should have immediately been removed from the classroom and given to the administrator; it was then that the authorities should have been called, not two and half hours later. I admit my child made a very bad and impulsive decision for going into the teacher’s desk and undoubtedly should receive a punishment. But to charge him for having a substance you assume to be marijuana is far fetched. Especially when responding officers cant and don’t verify what the substance is. [Per their police report it was never verified what the substance was. It was never sent to a lab for an analysis so who’s to say it wasn’t dirt or oregano. Just because it’s in a bag and looks like vegetation doesn’t mean its weed. There are no licensed chemists on KIPP property.]
As of today January 12th, 2017 Dude has spent eleven (as well as holiday break) of his imposed forty-five day sentence out of school. He is missing out on valuable educational hours, time with his peers and ultimately suffering from emotional distress from a decision he didn’t even fully understand. What does forty-five days at home do for a child living in the inner city? He is being denied placement in an Alternative Learning Setting so he must spend his days at home. As my Granny always said “The idle mind is the devil’s playground.” Suspending a child and not offering or allowing them the opportunity to attend an alternative form of education dismantles and inconveniences the lives of not only the child but the parent as well. The child falls behind academically, the parent loses wages and the child becomes emotionally withdrawn. Please understand that I am not saying that every punishment doesn’t deserve a consequence but some consequences just don’t fit the crime. And this is one of those instances as due process was not carried out.
Though we have appealed the decision with the Board of Directors, we are still lying in wait as we await a hearing date. These trumped up allegations and the harsh, over-the-top punishment of my eleven year-old is just a glimpse of the educational systems prison pipeline mentality. The lack of follow through on proper protocol and procedures in the event that drugs or weapons are found in school is just the root of this situation. The school is at fault for endangering the welfare of every child in that classroom but refusing to hold themselves accountable. It is standard that in incidents such as these a letter is generated immediately and parents are notified, according to other parents this did not occur. The school leader has a problem with the fact that someone [whom she can’t identify despite there being video cameras in the classroom] brought “drugs” into her school; while admitting that she knows my son did not bring it she needs a scapegoat and who better to blame for the institutional mess up than the little black boy with the IEP. Not to mention she has inserted herself into a personal matter of mine that has absolutely nothing to do with her or my son’s academic career hence she has now placed her sights on my child. Without substantial evidence of the “substance” being marijuana the school has built a case on trumped up charges in an attempt to cover their own short comings. This happens to our[African-American] children quite often and we as parents have an obligation to fight for those whom we know can’t fight for themselves. If we stand for nothing we will fall for anything. We have to stop allowing these so called “do gooder” teachers to come into our urban neighborhoods with the idea that they are the savior for OUR children. It takes a village to raise a child and I ask that for all those who are apart of my son’s village to take a stand with us [With Me] as I prepare to clear my son’s name and reputation in a fight against an educational corporation that is larger than me.
I am not opening up about our situation with KIPP for any other reason than to get the justice that is owed to my son and to warn other parents that this could be their child. This could have happened to any mother as the school dropped the ball on safeguard procedures in instances when drugs or weapons are brought into school. In a school where the dean is called to a classroom for the smallest of infractions not being called when what is believed to be drugs is found seems suspicious in itself. The school leadership as well as regional leadership need to be accountable, not “Place the blame on my child simply because the principal is angry that it happened in her school.” If we don’t fight for our young black boys then who will?
“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” -Rosa Parks