I’m going to say it right of out the starting gate. I’m not going to mince words, so if the topic of Juvenile Criminal Sexual Conduct is a trigger issue, or if reasonable discussion of FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education) in regards to it isn’t something you want to talk about, don’t read any further.
I’m going to say it. It breaks my heart, it tears me up inside, it has been my only cause--my only waking thought and the reason I can’t sleep at night--for months.
My child was the victim of a predatory sex crime. Sexual assault. Criminal Sexual Conduct in the 2cd Degree. Not just once. Repeatedly. More than seven alleged offenses, three of which were prosecuted.
The crimes were committed by another juvenile. In school. In a public school classroom.
It has been my worst fucking nightmare come true, and if I can make it through this writing without choking on my sobs—impotent cries of anger and outrage and disgust and heartbreak—if I can get this out and off my chest and somehow find it in myself to share a story that needs to be told without vomiting violently, then maybe some new perspective will be brought into the discussion regarding Michigan’s public education debacle. Maybe it will be clearer as to why I of all people (given my history of advocacy and activism) cannot find it my heart to give a shit right now, while this issue remains unresolved.
People, readers, may not like what I have to say. They may not agree with me, and believe me, I will say some things I never—ever—thought I would. If readers can listen to this story and discuss it with compassion and kindness—support which my family and my child desperately need right now--and if they can perhaps offer some good solid advice or input or see this issue from my point of view, then please go below.
But, if judgment, hostility, disbelief, or staunch defense of any reader’s own personal talking point might compel someone to throw reprehensible bullshit my way (which I won't link to)—for god’s sake, just don’t go there. Just fucking don’t.
Because, when the very worst thing you can imagine happens to your child, it changes everything. It’s a Game Changer.
First, my child’s story.
It was a beautiful day this past spring—one of those picture perfect Michigan days when the sun is shining brightly and we open the windows to let the sweet, warm breeze come gently through our homes.
I received a phone call in the late afternoon. The kind of phone call that is any parent’s worst nightmare. A phone call that instantly, irrevocably, changed my life. The information told to me that day completely changed everything I thought I knew or understood about my child’s safety, School of Choice, FAPE and about the state of public school policy and administration. It made time stand still, an experience I’d never had before in my whole, long life.
The vice-principal of my child’s school was calling to inform me that my child was being sexually harassed. That’s what the VP said…harassed. They proceeded to describe an incident that sounded like, for lack of a better word, a ‘wedgie’. The person assured me that, although the staff and students were on their way home for the day, I could rest easy in the knowledge that they would be all over it come morning. Alarm bells were ringing violently in my ears and I knew deep in my heart, my very core, that I was being told some major bullshit right from go. And after hearing my child’s story, it was crystal freaking clear that it was not, not ever, harassment that happened, it was a crime.
My child was repeatedly victimized by a student in shop class. My child barely knew the perpetrator—had only just met them weeks before at the start of the class. The perpetrator began ‘clinging’ behavior almost immediately and rapidly escalated the level of violation over just days, barely a week and a half, into Criminal Sexual Conduct. The offender touched my child through their clothing, forced their hand up inside my child’s shirt, down deep into my child’s underwear (inside, hand on bare skin), pressed into my child from behind grinding their penis into my child’s buttocks. My child was left completely alone with this other student in the classroom on at least one of these occasions, was left unsupervised on several more. All told, the perpetrator sexually assaulted my child on at least seven different occasions, at least two of which took place in the hallway or doorway where other students or staff surely should have noticed.
But nobody did. Nobody noticed, for almost three weeks. Until my child said enough was goddamn enough and somehow found the courage to report the crimes. I cannot even fathom how a child so young and innocent could even possess the strength to do what it took to confront their assailant, to actually tell the story using words that are not socially acceptable about body parts and touching to both a male teacher and a male vice-principal, but somehow my baby did.
Later, days after reporting these crimes, my child came to me alone at home and told me that she never thought about committing suicide. If anyone wants to know what it feels like to have your heart ripped out of you, imagine hearing your child talking about whether or not they wanted to die, and them telling you this for your sake—for your peace of mind. My child told me, “I didn’t want to kill myself, Mom, I want you to know that.” She then told me that she had to tell on her assailant, because she couldn’t live with it anymore. My baby, my precious, my only reason for finding goodness in this world, told me that she was terrified and ashamed and felt so bad, so depressed, so helpless and that she felt like there was nothing she could do to make it stop.
…this is the point where I falter…where the images and ensuing horror get to be too much, too painful to look at…
I kept my child home from school the next day as it had been explained to me that the accused student had a right to due process and would still be attending school. I met with the principal (after calling and screaming at the Superintendent’s office demanding to know who was in charge and why the hell I was even dealing with a vice-principal in the first place, not the highest administrator.)
In that meeting the first thing the principal said to me was “you need to work on this at home!” Wow. Just fucking wow. A) if that was meant to imply that I had somehow been remiss in teaching my child how to protect and defend themselves, any parent of a school aged child can tell you that we ‘work on this at home’ Every. Single. Day. And B) the crimes were committed in school, in a classroom that parents are not allowed access to (this is a middle school, so the parents are not allowed the same kind of active participation as we were in elementary school, where we were allowed to volunteer in classrooms occasionally, subject to background checks), so clearly ‘working on this at home’ wasn’t even part of the equation, the crimes were committed in the classroom.
The second thing I was told by the Principal in that meeting was that if it were their child, they would go to the police, but that they were advising me not to. Because, I was told, the police might not be as easy on my child as the school was. In other words, I was warned that they wouldn’t believe my child’s story.
Well, that pretty much sealed the deal for me. I felt intuitively I was being coerced, strongly urged not to notify the police that a sex crime had been committed on school property, for the sole sake of protecting the school and its administrators.
We went, as a family, to the local police station and filed a report. And I can tell you with all honesty, it was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. I knew the consequences of the crime committed, I knew what it did to my child and I knew what the punishment for the juvenile perpetrator could potentially be. I AM the mother of a child the same age, how could I not know? But I could see as plain as the sun in the sky that the school was going to do absolutely nothing to protect my child, in fact, had done nothing to protect my child from the moment they let the offending student enroll in the school.
You see, the perpetrator, the juvenile who repeatedly preyed upon my child in a classroom at the same time every day—this student was not a resident in my community or district. The student was enrolled in my district through the School of Choice policy.
The report was filed and sent to what is known as a Liaison Officer, a policeman stationed at the local high school who acts as a liaison between local law enforcement and juvenile offenders in schools. The officer interviewed my child, attempted to interview the perpetrator (whose family had by then laywered up and refused to cooperate) and sent the final report to the county prosecutor.
In the meantime, the school district had continued to avoid disciplining the offender, and even after I was told to my face by the school Principal that the student was suspended, they let the perpetrator right back in school one day later, let the kid sit literally ten feet away from my child in the lunchroom. Because the juvenile sex offender had a right to due process.
My head was fucking rolling. I was in contact with the Super’s office, the Executive Administrator of Secondary Education, the liaison, the whole damn district. I was deflected. I was not allowed to speak with the Superintendent. I was lied to. And my child was put right back in harm’s way. All for a juvenile sex offender’s Due Process rights and a lousy $6900 in foundation allowance money for the district.
I was told that the perpetrator had rights and that the kid denied all charges and that it was my child’s word against the other student’s word. I was told the school could only discipline after investigating, which they said in no uncertain terms would involve them interviewing other students and asking them if they had seen what happened to my child—yes, they actually threatened to tell other middle school students my child’s name—all for due fucking process.
What about due diligence, I asked. I demanded to know whose job it was to approve school choice applications, how these transferring students are vetted, and why this district wasn’t keeping children safe. I was told, and I quote, that if I didn’t like school of choice then I should “take it to Lansing.” Holy shit—really?! Been there. Done that. Would you like to see pictures?!?
So on it went, that is, right up until my constant pressure forced the school to look at surveillance video and they found not one, but two separate pieces of video evidence catching the perpetrator right in the act of criminally sexually assaulting my child. Yes, you read that right—we now had irrefutable proof.
The student was suspended for ten days. Not expelled, even though Michigan state law requires that A) Criminal Sexual Conduct is cause for immediate expulsion for up to 180 days B) the school should notify the authorities (they didn’t, I did) and C) the district school board of education must be notified.
I demanded to know why the student wasn’t expelled. I was told it couldn’t be arbitrary. I was told “fraud” and “assault of a staff” were both reasons to expel, but “not this sort of thing” and “not something like this”. What about assault of a student?? They said they needed proof. Well, they already had it. So what it really came down to was the district maintained that it was not CSC, they continued to act as though it was harassment and disciplined the offender as such under the school board and student code of conduct harassment codes.
At that point summer break started, and it was then that the county prosecutor approved and filed three charges of 2cd Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct against the offender. I spent a long, difficult summer helping my child heal and providing all of the love and all of the professional support needed to get her through this. I was notified in late August (by the court assigned Crime Victim’s Advocate, NOT the school) that the perpetrator was voluntarily no longer enrolled in my district and that there was a strict no contact order in place.
The perpetrator was convicted and sentenced in October and is now being dealt with by the court, dealt with very liberally and leniently, although I have to say in a fair manner. We are not done yet, we will back in court next spring, so that is all can really say about the criminal side of it.
But, when it came to holding administrative feet to fire, when it came to notifying the school board and the authorities, it was all on me. The School Board President had never even heard of this until I told them about the sentencing. The teacher didn’t even remember my child’s name when I confronted them at conferences a couple of weeks ago—didn’t even remember!
And, the worst insult of all is that none of them—none of the staff or administration even fucking cared. Not until I forced them to. I’ve been all over this for months on end, and what it comes down to is they broke the law. They violated state board policy, they violated my child’s right to a safe educational environment, which I believe falls under Title IX, and they protected a juvenile sex offender. The only ones who actually did give a shit about my child were the court, the PHD. Sex Crime Victim counselor, and now the School Board President (but only after I had to be the one to notify them).
There is supposedly an investigation going on as to whether there was teacher negligence, fraudulent application to the district etc. etc. so I won’t comment further except to say that the board president called me last week and said that it was glaringly obvious that there was a complete failure—“a series of very serious screw-ups” as they put it . However, it doesn’t even matter anymore, not to me. Not to my child. Because they already failed. The harm has already been done. For a stinking pile of school of choice bullshit and an ideological agenda to force market competition into public education. A deficit reduction policy choice that puts every K-12 student in our schools at risk.
You see, every student has the right to Free and Appropriate Public Education under FAPE, and that is as it should be. Right up until they commit Criminal Sexual Conduct, at least as far I’m concerned. If a juvenile is a known sex offender the justice system is by law required to notify the school administrators where the student is currently enrolled, however, the school district is NOT required to notify the community—or even the victim—because the offender is a minor and their privacy is protected under different statutes than an adult would be.
And even though the ACLU completely disagrees with me on this, unlike them, I think letting convicted sex offenders right back in to public school classrooms after time served is a really bad fucking idea. I don’t care about studies that show that juvenile offenders have a lower rate of recidivism if they are not incarcerated or not put on the sex offenders registry, and that they tend to not commit other sex related crimes when they are mainstreamed and given counseling instead.
I don’t care that studies show that certain populations are disciplined at a much higher rate in public schools or that juvenile detention actually contributes to higher rates of dropouts or further criminal activity. I don’t give a flying fuck. My give a damn is broken. My child suffered. My whole family has suffered. I looked this kid in the face, and their parents, too, in the courtroom and said “you were a GUEST in MY community. YOU broke the law, and you hurt someone.” I told this kid that when you touch someone against their will, when you engage in predatory sexual behavior, it has a real and lasting impact on your victim.
And the thing about this that I must express here right now, in no uncertain terms, is that the very school of choice policies that let an at risk student into my school district and led to this crime are the very same school of choice policies that are my family’s only option to get our child of harm’s way.
I am just as pissed as I ever was about what the Snyder Administration is doing in Michiganright now. I cared enough to offer support to this community and I cannot tell you how much I need and appreciate the support of two Dkos members in particular these past few days—I really mean it and I am proud of you and proud of us and I thank you.
But, when it comes to being asked “will you care now?” No. Not so much. Would I be willing to give one more piece of my self, one more bit of my volunteer time (because I do this as a volunteer out of civic duty, not as a for-profit hack), my resources, and my heart, especially when it is met with fallacious accusations by someone who clearly has other problems? No.
Not unless and until FAPE no longer protects Juvenile Sex Offenders, not if it means my money and my resources are used against my own child’s safety, well-being and best interest. No matter where in Michigan I live or how much money my school district has.
I Really. Don’t. Care.