In a situation that leaves a parent feeling helpless and fraught with worry, the school administration, Department of Education, and even the police are aware, yet a troubled young man continues to sit in the same classroom as my daughter. “My Daughter’s Life Is in Danger at School,” is a stark reality we’ve been grappling with for the past year.
He had a list of girls whose physical harm he fantasized about inflicting on them. His fellow students informed his high school teachers and guidance counselors about his threats to hurt himself and others. He has difficulty interacting with others, considers himself antisocial, and is a fan of a particularly violent and dark subgenre of heavy metal music known for its celebration of gore and corpses.
The Dayton Shooter needs to be presented here. This young man lives next door (technically, several blocks away). He is white, he lives in a desirable urban neighborhood, and he is the son of upstanding parents in the community, but he harbors fantasies of bringing a fish knife to high school and using it to cut my daughter’s neck open in the science lab. He is also a fan of the color white.
I am aware of this because he explained everything in an email he sent to my girlfriend a year ago. Because the threats were brought to the attention of the school authorities and the Department of Education as soon as possible, they are aware of them. Reports have been filed, so the police are aware of the situation.
But even threats of physical harm or even murder are not enough to keep this troubled teen out of the school hallways, where my daughter is uncomfortable because he gives her “creepy stares.” He and every other child have the right to receive an education. However, because of the concerning state of his mental health and the social impairment he suffers from, he is given priority for classes that are suited to him. This is the case even though it means that my daughter will have to sit in the same room with him to obtain the classes she needs to fulfill her college requirements and achieve her goals.
“In the least restrictive environment,” the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensures that emotionally disturbed students have access to full educational opportunities.
Do I have the right to believe that the school’s top priority ought to be helping him get treatment for his mental illness and protecting my daughter rather than ensuring that a troubled teen has equal access to honors-level chemistry?
It Began on the Internet.
The nightmare started in the fall of last year. My daughter had been diligently working on her assignments, pausing only occasionally to watch videos on YouTube or text her friends. As a parent, I couldn’t be more pleased with her level of commitment and hard work, not to mention how much she’s accomplished. To achieve mastery of the material, she is willing to go the extra mile by exercising self-determination and staying up late.
She was in the middle of completing a task on this particular evening when all of a sudden, she barged into my room. Trembling. In her grasp was an email sent by a disgruntled fellow student. He was thinking about slicing my daughter in two and cutting himself in two after that.
Any threat should be taken seriously, but it is generally accepted that threats accompanied by detailed plans should set off alarm bells. He had already decided where he wanted to carry it out and what kind of weapon he would employ.
Additionally, he was aware that he was troubled and that he required assistance (he said so). When I got my hands on my daughter’s device, I found a trove of emails from months prior in which he had turned to her, frustrated about his inability to get girls he wanted to “bang;” in turn, she tried to guide him on how to conduct himself socially. When I got my hands on my daughter’s device, I found a trove of emails from months prior in which he had turned to her, frustrated about his inability to control his thoughts.
I contacted the school directors the same night the threat was made against my daughter. They responded in a very timely manner. In the days that followed, there were conversations held over the phone as well as meetings had. However, in the end, the school decided not to notify the appropriate authorities. They seemed concerned about potential legal repercussions, and it was inferred that I should report the incident to the authorities on my own.
Choices That Are Hard To Make
You might believe that reporting the incident to the police is an obvious next step. To tell you the truth, I had a lot of trouble making a choice. Before officially filing a report, I made three trips on foot to the local police station. I should have known that the teenager couldn’t keep his thoughts in check. I didn’t particularly like the idea that a record might follow him, possibly reducing his already slim chances of leading an everyday life. However, he required significant assistance. And she needed to be safeguarded.
The fact that the school had not called the police surprised the authorities. One of the officers I spoke with stated that he had never seen anything comparable to the emails I presented to him. In point of fact, he was concerned about the safety of my daughter. According to the cop’s observations, the schools very rarely force the offender to leave the campus.
In the meantime, the administrators at my daughter’s school said they would take precautions to ensure her safety. But they wouldn’t tell me what those measures would be or confirm that action had been taken—nor would teachers be made aware of the threat on the life of my daughter: the young man’s privacy would be protected in accordance with the federal HIPAA law, which was designed to protect mental health information for those living with mental illness. In addition, teachers wouldn’t be made aware of the threat to the life of my daughter.
It would appear that the fact that he had made these threats was a piece of sensitive information.
One year later, the question of whether or not he received an adequate psychological evaluation and treatment that he could actually use is still unanswered. Because of this, it’s unclear whether or not he received the necessary help.
My daughter is making an effort to shrug it off. She would rather not discuss it at this time. It’s fine; she’ll reassure you of that. I tell her, “It is not acceptable. Even though you might be fine, it is never acceptable for someone to treat you in this manner, nor is it acceptable for authorities to tolerate it.”
It Isn’t Over Yet
As this is being written, it is the beginning of the weekend morning. The children are enjoying their final moments of freedom before the beginning of the new academic year. My daughter is thrilled about the variety of classes she will take and the possibility of running into old friends.
She has concluded that the young man who harassed her the previous year is following her online, specifically on social media. She stands in his way. He doesn’t waste any time and starts a fresh account right away so that he can see her. She is aware of this due to the fact that this particular platform reveals the identities of users who view specific posts. Within the space of five minutes, he observes her from three different accounts, using monikers that he creates, names that reflect his tendency toward antisocial behavior, and his fondness for death masks.
He is still keeping an eye on her.
The Opinions of Some Pros
According to Karen Siris, Ed.D., co-founder and president of School Leaders for Change, all of our kids should be able to grow up in places they feel secure. “One of a child’s basic rights is to feel comfortable in their classroom. There should never be a scenario in which the person who has been victimized is the one whose situation is put in jeopardy because of an aggressor.”
She claims that there are anti-bullying laws in every state. For instance, the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) was enacted in the state of New York, which is where Siris is headquartered, to enforce a policy of zero tolerance for discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and bullying among students. According to Siris, if you feel your child is in danger, you should contact the school immediately. You should be ready to work your way up the chain of command if that is necessary, from the principal to the superintendent to the department of education at the state level.
Robert Harnick, an attorney working at Harnick & Harnick in New York City, has represented students who have been harassed and threatened by other students. His first piece of advice to parents is to “Send a certified letter to the school,” which is also the first thing he does himself. It clearly indicates that they are on notice, and the school will be responsible for anything that may occur due to this action. According to Harnick, this will cause the other party to give much more consideration to how they will prevent your child from coming into contact with the other child.
You should follow up any conversation with the school you have in person or over the phone with an email or letter that summarizes the conversation and what the school has agreed to do to protect your child and the rest of the student body at the school. According to him, there are some situations in which a protection order might be appropriate.
According to Siris and Harnick, the schools will not necessarily call the police in response to an incident, but a parent is free to do so on their own accord. The takeaway from what Siris has to say is that parents should be persistent in approaching the school, returning there, and demanding action for their children’s safety. “Refuse to back down.”
*The contributor’s identity has been changed to protect their anonymity; the name has been changed.
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