When I came in that Tuesday morning, no one had to tell me that I had a teleconference scheduled at 10:00 a.m. I had requested the impromptu conference the day before. One of our more challenging students- Peter Jefferson - had reached a new low when he started making lewd and disgusting comments to girls in his class. Neither his teacher nor I felt that it would be wise to hold off this matter from the School Based Support Team (SBST) another day. The team worked from our site on Wednesdays and Fridays. The other days they were assigned to their main office in our district.
Peter was in third grade and had been acting out in class for some time. His behavior was beyond disruptive– and his teacher was at a total lost as to how to help him and keep his behavior in check. We all were.
As far as those sexual comments and gestures, one upset father, Mr. Smith, had already come in to complain. That whole scenario was surreal. Mr. Smith was a small man in stature- maybe around 5’4, but his small size didn’t stop him that day. He surprised us all. As soon as he walked in the general office, he started hollering his head off – banging his fist on the counter - demanding that something be done about Peter.
Trying to calm Mr. Smith down took a lot out of me that day. I never saw this otherwise, calm parent behave that way. He was a reserved man, always pleasant and supportive. In fact, he was the last person, you would imagine screaming at anyone. But to tell you the truth, when I was able to decipher what all the fuss was about, I knew in my heart that Mr. Smith had every right to be upset.
His daughter, Sonya, was a good kid, a real sweetheart of our child. Peter had gone too far. He never should have grabbed his daughter, and made those lewd remarks. No eight-year old child should have to deal with that. And no parent should ever have to address such a matter. It was wrong, and outright disgusting. Mr. Smith was right: something had to be done.
Our session began on time. I was directed right away to put my phone on speaker mode. Once I did, each of the members of the SBST personally addressed me. I did the same: Included in the group were the school psychologist, social worker, and educational evaluator. They were all nice, pleasant ladies. I liked them all.
Before we discussed Peter’s recent lewd behavior I officially shared with them some new anecdotal material for Peter’s file. In just a spam of a week – not counting the sexual piece - there were tons of other new stuff to report. Poor teacher, poor mom, and then I grimaced and thought, poor me.
At any rate, when it got to those sexual gestures and remarks he made, I got right to the point, and gave them what I thought was a thorough, principal-like account… I was proud of myself.
“ On the day in question, Ms. James, Peter’s teacher, informed me that Peter grabbed Sonya Smith by the arm, and asked her to perform oral sex on him. He then told the frantic child that he wanted to have sexual intercourse with her as well. According to Ms. James, Peter said all of this in the presence of several classmates. I have their names and personal statements. I will give them to you tomorrow when I see you.”
Before I could take a breather and give myself the proverbial pat on the back for my professional account of what happened, the educational evaluator, quickly jumped in. “From your statement, Mr. Black, it is clear to us what Peter said and suggested, but we need you to tell us, verbatim, his exact words. I am sure Peter didn’t use terms like oral sex, and sexual intercourse.”
Starting to sweat a little, I told her no. “His exact words, I explained, “were really lewd and disgusting – certainly not fitting for an eight year old child – and not at all proper and gentleman-like for me to cite in mixed company.”
“We understand Mr. Black. We understand that he used foul, disgusting language, but we need you to tell us, exactly what he said. We know that this is not how you would talk in our presence or anybody else’s.
Hesitating, I still couldn’t belt it out right away. I felt tongue-tied and embarrassed – and I ended up sugarcoating his words once again. This time, instead of using the term oral sex, I used, head;” instead of sexual intercourse, I simply said, screw.
As suspected, the team wasn’t having it and again insisted that I give them an exact quote. “Mr. Black, you know we can’t use that statement. We need his exact words.” Although I heard the educational evaluator loud and clear, I said nothing for more than a few seconds. “Mr. Black, are you still there?”
At that moment, I felt uncomfortable, and very uneasy. I felt like hanging up, and running out my office, even going home… I was talking to middle age women on the phone. Women I knew: Women who were dignified and respectful.
At that moment, too, for some inexplicable reason, I had flashing images of each of one of them, inside- of all places - a church. For example, I saw the school psychologist who was a gentle and soft spoken, Italian lady in her early fifties, down on her knees with a rosary in her hand, praying to the Virgin Mary.
The other two ladies- both African-American- hadn’t been at our school nearly as long as the school psychologist, and I didn’t know them as well, but I knew them well enough to know that they were also church going, God- fearing women.
With their Sunday best on and hats to match, I could see the two of them in the first row of a huge, Baptist church, singing and clapping their hands with that spiritual glow in their eyes as they hollered out one amen after another.
How could I possibly use such language in front of any of these ladies?
Far worst, I was drawn back 30, 40 even 60 years as images of my parents resonated in my head. In all those years – as a child and a young adult - I never heard a foul word or curse come out either mouth.