Monday, September 10, 2007

The School Saga Continues

As Tamara stated, the saga continues.

The school did not respond appropriately on three occasions and sadly I stood by as an idle witness the first two times. I thought, wrongly, the school is the authority and if they believe this is the appropriate action, then that must be the appropriate action. I was wrong, and now I must provide the report of wrong doing, and allow the school the opportunity to reconcile themselves to us, the one they have wronged.

I don't like fighting. I am not very good at fighting. I always assume others have my best interest in mind. It makes for a bad fighter. I don't follow that fundamental rule of fighting that every good hockey player knows - don't stop fighting until the referee peels you off.

But as I fought for my son this week I began to see him through new eyes, and wondered if I have fought hard enough for him and my other children thus far in their lives and made new commitments to myself to continue fighting for them.

To help me keep my nerve up I carried a baby picture of Spencer throughout the week as I prepared for meetings, held meetings, talked with friends and aquaintenances, etc. At the end of the week after my meeting with the School District Offices I broke down and cried in the car for at least 5 minutes. I was so tired and worn out from the fight, that I just let everything out.

Here is the beginning of the story from my point of view:
I tried to call the school on Monday afternoon after Tamara told me about the incident and reached no one. I was furious. As I thought about the incident throughout the afternoon I felt that we should invite the boy to our house and give him a chance to apologize. I thought that would be easy. Go home, call Spencer's teacher and then call the boy's parents and move on. I was sadly mistaken.

I got home at 6:30 p.m. and started making phone calls - the teacher could not be reached, and had not called us. No one from the school had called us. I didn't know what to do, but then I remembered that our landlord's husband is a lawyer, so I called them and left a message.

Gratefully I called them because the landlord called back and explained many details about the school system here in Germany that I did not previously know (role and influence of the parent teacher association (PTA), need to fight for your children, i.e., witnesses, written statements, complaints at the school district offices - Schulamt, and the importance of dressing up - she actually called me back to tell me that, but it proved very important).

I called a friend and fellow parent from the school to get the name and number of our class' PTA representative (elected by all the parents in the class, but I didn't have the name or number). The class PTA representative did not have the information for the other class' PTA rep., so she sent me to the overall school PTA rep. There I was able to find out the information I was looking for - the parents of the boy who had punched Spencer. It was also through the school PTA rep. that I found out that the boy was living in a Foster Home.

Reaching the foster family at 10:00 p.m. that night gave me the first ray of hope (other than speaking with friend and our landlord). The foster mother was very distraught and glad that I had called. She had been working with her foster son all afternoon on how he could apologize to Spencer. At this point the stories were still not lining up, but she was willing to listen to Spencer's version of the story. She also thought Spencer's tooth was loose. I proposed that we meet, so that their foster son could apologize to Spencer. We decided upon Wednesday afternoon for dinner at our place.

If I were sensible I would have gone to bed at this point. I don't remember doing anything very productive (i.e., writing notes, planning strategy for speaking with the school, etc.). But I remember deciding to dress in a full suit and take in my laptop. I would set the laptop up and ask for an opportunity to interview and record witness statements. At about 2:00 a.m. Tuesday morning I fell asleep.

We made it to the school about 15 minutes early. I was still furious. I walked up to the principle and said I would like to meet. She was talking with someone else and asked me to wait a minute. I said fine and did not move. She then asked me to move back a few feet so she could finish her conversation. A moment later she shuffled us into her office and went to get the teacher.

The teacher did not know that Spencer had been attacked by two boys in Spencer's first week in Homberg. She also interviewed Spencer and the boy who punched Spencer on Monday together at the same time (never watched Colombo). She had a class all day on Monday and forgot to call us because she thought Spencer's tooth was just a loose almost falling out tooth.

When the principle came back in I said this is the third Spencer has been attacked in less than a year and you don't even call me. She asked "3rd time?" She did not know that Spencer had been attacked by 6 boys in school in February, just after the new class was founded with Spencer's current teacher (children are in the same class - room and teacher - for all grade school years). She also thought that it would be better if we made an appointment for such things. I talked for at least 15 minutes after that comment. Then I made an appointment for Thursday morning at 7:15 a.m.

After speaking with the school, we took Tamara to the doctor for a check-up. She has anemia and needed to get her blood rechecked after taking vitamins and getting vitamin shots. When it was difficult to find Tamara's vein, the doctor said "What, did you send all of your blodd to Iraq?" Normally, a funny joke, but after your son gets beat up in school for the 3rd time in less than a year, you begin to wonder.

We then went to the foriegn citizen's office to renew our visas. We received a two year extension. It was a relief not to have to worry about that paperwork for another two years, but very ironic on a day when we didn't really feel like being in the country. When I went to pick up the passports, I contacted the school district offices to make an appointment (part of the school district offices same were in the same building as the foriegn citizen's office). The appointment was for Thursday afteroon at 2:30 p.m.

On my way to work Tamara asked me to to drop off some cake pans at a friends house. Tamara was supposed to be in the church on Tuesday night to bake cakes with the young women. But since we had so many appointments during the week I had to go into work sometime. I told the husband, who is also the president of the Elders Quorum in our congregation (ward) about the problems I was having and he listened. At the end he simply asked me if I would like a priesthood blessing. I started to cry and tried to say yes.

In the blessing he stated that I would be powerful in the German language, that I should work with Spencer, and be patient as things in the school work themselves out. He then stated that the Lord was pleased that I had come to Germany with my family. I started to cry again.

I went to work and didn't get much done. I worked a lot on plans for my meeting with the school on Thursday. My main goals were the following items:
- an agenda for the meeting
- a list of steps for responding to school violence (to compare what the school did, with what I as a parent would expect - I came up with 19 steps).
- a list of steps towards reconcilliation (when two children fight, how should the aggressor reconcile himself to the one he has unjustly harmed - things such as a punishment, a confession of wrongdoing, a commitment not to repeat the offense and to take care of the one you have harmed like a best friend, a gift to the one you have harmed, such as a card)

I received help from colleagues at work with the German structuring of sentences.

On Wednesday evening the foster family came to our home. Again, that same feeling of peace returned (a ray of hope in this dark week). Spencer was still an afterschool activity in the school when they arrived, so I spoke with the boy and told him that Spencer was so sad about this week that Spencer had decided not to eat dinner (b/c he did not want to see the boy). I told him that if a boy goes without dinner, it must be pretty bad (he and I both being boys, I told him we knew how sad Spencer must be if he did not want to eat, because eating comes before most everything in life). The foster mother said, why don't you go and meet Spencer, apologize, and walk home with him. I was a little nervous, thinking and beat him up, but gave the boy a chance. He and Spencer (and Shantal) all came home laughing, or at least smiling.

The mom told me that she was able to get a full confession (regarding the boy punching Spencer) by rubbing creme on his elbow the morning after the fight. She said it would help his elbow feel better. The boy then confessed that he had in fact punched Spencer. Smooth mother. The Foster mother and father were grateful that we had invited them over expressed their worry about their boy and his situation. The boy had backed muffins, written a letter of apology, and gave Spencer 11 Pokemon cards (had stolen 5 two weeks earlier).

Tamara made tacos, which the family enjoyed, and we felt very comfortable with the family. Who wouldn't feel comfortable with Tamara's cooking, but that is a side story. The foster parents have served a service mission in India, and the mother is the boy's Godmother in the Lutheren church as well as the foster mother. They are worried that their foster son because he has very few friends in the school. His home family life does not have much order and structure and he goes home every weekend, which would be hard for any human, especially a child.

I watched Spencer and the boy play together and realized that they played like brothers and seemed to be very happy together. As I watched this I thought of what has happened to Spencer this last year - lost his country and familiar surroundings, lost his extended family (yearly visits are wonderful, but challenging for a young boy), lost a lot of his father's time to extended hours at work (back in the states, I worked fewer hours and was home much more often), and lost a lot of his mother's energy, first to a new baby brother, and then to anemia, and has to deal with three sisters around him, who don't always want to play light sabre fights.

I felt that they both needed someone hoped that thay may have found someone through this difficult experience.

I thought of the scripture in the New Testament that I believe answers the question - why do good thing happen to bad people?

John 9
1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
(my translation - why do bad things happen to people? - it must be because they are bad in some way or another, right?)
3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him . . .

6 When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay,
7 And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.

I came forth from that evening seeing a bit more clearly and felt, again a warmth and a peace that was missing throughout the rest of the week. I felt a great love for Spencer.

And, I believed the peace will come, with the school, with the boys who harmed Spencer in December, and in February, but not without a fight. And that is what I am fighting for - to give the boys, and the school a chance to reconcile themselves to Spencer for the wrongs committed against him. They may choose not to do so, but I must give the report of wrong doing, otherwise, the wrong did not happen and I would be making the same mistake I made in February and December, standing by as an idle witness to people harming my child.


Jo Anne said...

Gardner and Tamara,
I think through some really horrible circumstances, we can recieve some truly great blessings. I think you are seeing that with Spencer now. Who knows if the fight brought together two lonely boys who just needed to be brought together? It's tough to get through but I think you speak very well of your love for all your children and the adjustments you are going through. Thank you for sharing with us and God Bless You all!

Jo Anne

Gardner said...

Thanks for the kind words. We believe the light will come (and has already come in many ways). And how much more does one cherish the light when it comes after a hardship?

March 2007