1.) This is not meant to offend ANYONE or to throw anyone on front street. No names (outside of my immediate family) will be used. Some people will like this; some people won’t. But again—this is MY story, and this blog is MY platform.
2.) This is the truth. I’m sharing this for the friends who don’t know, for the friends who know some of it, and for the few people who already know. If you’re going to read my story, you deserve the truth. Not my one-sided fabrication. Nothing here has been embellished or intentionally left out.
If either of these statements strikes a sour chord, you’re welcome to exit out now—no hard feelings. I mean that with deepest sincerity; I truly don’t want bad blood. Consider yourself warned, because the following tale is why I pulled my sons out of a private school a month into the school year. The school they’ve attended their entire lives; the school my husband attended for fourteen years. The school I always thought they’d graduate from and eventually send my grandkids to…
Why I Pulled My Kids: Diary of a Momma Bear
My son messed up.
I admit it. If I had one of those bumper stickers that said My child did the right thing!, I’d have to scrape it off with a belly full of humble pie. It’d be the scrape of shame.
None of this would have happened if my seventh-grade son Robbie hadn’t turned to a friend, rolled his eyes, and said something unkind about a classmate. What he said wasn’t horrific; there were no swear words or vulgarities. In fact, had he said this ten years ago, no one would bat an eyelash. But regardless, he shouldn’t have said it. He was wrong.
This comment made it back to this child, who apparently went to her parents. I know this because her parents accosted my husband Robert in the hallway one Friday morning before school. “Your son said this about our daughter, and now she’s so upset she doesn’t want to come back to school. We have to go to administration with this.”
Robert, although taken aback, was very apologetic. He promised he’d talk with Robbie, and he supported their decision to go to administration. “I’m really sorry. Do what you need to do,” was his mantra, and he felt badly that this poor girl was so hurt by what our son said.
A couple hours later, Robert got a phone call from the administrator. Keep in mind—Robert went to this school his entire childhood, so this administrator was his teacher from fifth grade up through graduation. They had built quite a rapport—a solid friendship—in the last couple decades. “Hey, Robert,” he started with a chuckle. “I spoke with this girl’s parents this morning.”
“Yeah, they told me about it,” Robert responded.
The administrator continued. “I know Robbie didn’t mean anything by what he said. I know he’s not that kind of kid. But you know how it is, I have to protect my students.”
“I completely understand.”
“You know, her parents were really upset, and apparently she was crying, so I have to take some sort of action. I don’t know what to do yet. I can’t give Robbie demerits for bullying, because bullying has to be a continuous harassment. This was just a one-time thing. But I’m going to take the weekend and pray about it, and it might just be demerits for disrespect or something like that.”
“Do what you need to do, and we will support you.”
That evening, Robert came home from work and told me the whole story…
…to which I replied, “Aw, hell, nah.”
See, Robert didn’t know—
There’d been many incidents with this girl throughout the years, and I’d always been leery of her, even though she was very sweet to me and was a friend of Robbie’s (for a while). In fifth grade (well past puberty for her), she choked out the smallest girl in the class. Leading up to this, she cyber-bullied her on Instagram (we had front-row seats to this harassment, because, well, we have Instagram) with incredibly foul language and terrifying threats. Her parents knew about this.
In sixth grade, texts were found in a group chat where she verbally berated one of Robbie’s best friends, who also happened to be one of the two black kids in their class. Seven screen shots of texts full of racial slurs, swearing, and vulgar terminology that my husband and I had to Urban Dictionary—and soon after wished we didn’t. Her parents knew about this, too.
Those are just two examples. We’d be here all day if I listed all the nasty, filthy names she’s called my son and their classmates in texts. And yes, she’d used the EXACT same word toward Robbie that he used, only hers involved lots of colorful vocabulary and adjectives beginning with F. I’d always told Robbie to be careful with her, she seemed unstable. But he insisted that “she’s just a nice girl with a filthy mouth.” To which I always rolled my eyes and monitored her texts more closely. What more could I do? They went to school together, were in the same classes. Had grown up together. Every class has theirs; she was ours. At the end of sixth grade, Robbie told me they don’t speak anymore; they’re no longer friends. He blocked her from his phone. To be honest, I was relieved. We never talked about her again.
So here we are, seventh grade, and this poor, innocent child is crying and not wanting to go to school because of something Robbie said about her TO SOMEONE ELSE. Not even to her face. Something she had called my son hundreds of times—to his face. My husband was unaware of most of this; these were incidents handled among the mothers. So, enter Traci. I told him everything. I showed him all the texts.
He was LIVID. “How dare her parents come to me with this fake sincerity about how horrible Robbie is and how hurt their daughter is when she’s used that same terminology AND WORSE toward Robbie and all their friends?!”
We. Were. Fuming.
It was Labor Day weekend, so we had an extra-long weekend to fume. That Sunday, we were at church, and Robert was telling his brother the situation. His brother’s son—our nephew and Robbie’s cousin—overheard and enlightened us on a whole other situation…
Back in May right after school was out for the summer, this girl texted my nephew. Mind you, they’ve never met. They somehow ended up in a group chat together (Robbie being the common factor), and she found out he was Robbie’s cousin and saved his number. So she texted him privately telling him to—and this is copied directly from my nephew’s phone—“Tell Robbie to shut his dirty ass mouth before I end him next year. And tell him to unblock me I got a lot of shit to say to his bony ass face.”
You know what else it is? A THREAT.
My heart started pounding when I read my nephew’s phone. This girl was threatening my son, and she was making good on her threat because they were only three weeks into the school year and she was already trying to make his life miserable. I quickly grabbed Robbie’s phone to get more information from when he blocked her.
I discovered Robbie blocked her shortly before she texted my nephew, because she was harassing Robbie with the following messages, also verbatim:
(laughing emoji) Ur joking right?? Ur serious?? (after she asked him his middle name and he told her it was William)
Ur so uglyyyy
Robbie replied with, “I blocked you now!” And you’d think that would be the end of it.
Nope. Now she’s reaching out to my family members that she’s never met, threatening my son.
That Tuesday after Labor Day, Robert marched right into the administrator’s office, handed him his phone, and said, “Look at what your little victim has said.”
Together, they scrolled through the messages, the administrator’s face getting more and more horrified as he read combinations of swear words that a grown man couldn’t even concoct. Finally he turned to Robert. “Wow. I’m sorry, Robert. I didn’t know. Wow.”
That entire day, I was worried. I knew this girl was going to get in trouble, and while it was definitely warranted, I still felt bad for her. She clearly needed help, but I just kept going back to a situation from the previous year, when my other son Andrew was involved in a group text where they were joking around about the illuminati, and a girl would have to kill her sister before she could ever join. Every kid in that group chat got a three-day suspension and needed a psychological evaluation before they could come back. They were ten, didn’t know what the illuminati was, and didn’t even know if the girl had a sister. Turns out, she did—a five-year-old. It was a stupid, elementary joke.Regardless, Robert and I went along with it because we respected how the school was taking things like this seriously, and God forbid if something were to really happen later on, the school would be on top of it. Even the administration agreed it was a joke, but “protocol.”
Okay, so what’s the “protocol” on actual death threats? I wondered all day—is she going to be expelled? Did we do the right thing? Did we do it the right way?
That afternoon, I picked Robbie up from school, and he said, “Mom, nothing happened.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“The administrator just called both of us to the office and told us we both were wrong, and that seventh grade is hard.”
I winced like he gleeked on my face. “Nooo, Robbie. You’re wrong. He must have waited for you to leave the room or something before talking to her.”
Robbie shook his head. “Nope. Look.” He pointed across campus, and sure enough, this girl was frolicking around like nothing.
It’s not that I wanted the girl to get in trouble, but if Andrew got suspended for a joke, and if the administrator was so ready to give Robbie demerits for making a rude comment, and nothing at all is happening to this girl, then something is definitely not fair. Or miscommunicated. My kids certainly aren’t perfect, and I’m not defending their actions, but they would have gotten expelled for doing what she did. I beelined to the administrator’s office and asked him about it.
He sat back in his chair and smirked, saying, “Yeah, I just spoke with both of them and told them they were both wrong, and seventh grade is a really tough year. I think I’m going to sit that whole class down and talk with them…”
I quit listening. Robbie was right. I kept waiting for him to say anything about repercussions or discipline, and then he finally said, “I’m not going to punish either of them—”
“Whoa. Stop right there. Did you see the texts she sent?”
“Yeah, but that was just—”
“My son got suspended for three days and needed a psychological evaluation last year for a FRACTION of the things she did! He never even called anyone any names, none of the kids in that group chat did, it was a one-time thing that was a joke!”
He suddenly got very defensive. “Well what am I supposed to do? Go back and punish her for texts she sent last year? And why are you just now showing me these?”
“Because those racist texts were handled amongst the parents. And this threat we just found out about over the weekend.”
Then came the air quotes. “That isn’t a ‘threat.’” No joke—he used air quotes every time he said the word threat. “Honestly, Mrs. Finlay. What does ‘end him’ really mean? She could have been talking about the friendship, she could have been talking about anything. She never used the word kill.”
And this is where I started crying in front of him. What year is this? This man works with hundreds of teenagers every day, and he doesn’t know what “ending someone” means? Why was he so ready to give Robbie demerits over one snide comment he made to another person, and jump at the opportunity to suspend Andrew for three days, yet he’s actually going to DEFEND THIS GIRL?!?!?! To so readily forget the pages and pages of sickening, foul language she’d used toward many of her classmates? To ignore the fact that she harassed my son so much that he had to block her, and then started reaching out to my family members she’s never met to continue her threats?
How much money have her parents given to this school?!?!?!?
We went at it, the administrator and I. Forty-five minutes. It was ugly. It finally ended with him promising to speak to the attorney to see if this constitutes as a “threat.” To see if texts sent over the summer are still under his jurisdiction. How does an administrator not know the answers to those questions? I went home and sobbed. I wept on my bed and prayed. I didn’t know what to do. Something was wrong. There had to be a miscommunication somewhere, and I didn’t know what was happening. Suddenly in the middle of my prayers, I heard God: “Write an email. You’re a much better writer than you are a speaker.”
I won’t reproduce the entire email (you know how long-winded I am), but I basically said that I’m willing to put aside all our differences EXCEPT for the threat. For two reasons:
1.) The timestamp. The administrator noted that it was send over summer vacation, and he didn’t know where he stood. So I reproduced the exact message:
Tell Robbie to shut his dirty ass mouth before I end him next year.
This “threat” states that it will happen next year. That means, next SCHOOL year. That means now. That means at school. That means your turf.
2.) The ambiguity of what “end him” means. I invited the administrator to Google that. Look it up. Take note of how cold your blood runs when you see the definitions and examples. In addition, if someone were to approach you and say, “I’m going to end it all,” would you stop to consider what exactly they’re wanting to end? Or would you immediately form an intervention because this person is going to commit suicide, and you don’t want to take any chances on what “ending” means?
I closed the email with a call to action: please help me protect my son.
I didn’t sleep well that night.
The next morning, Robbie texted me shortly after he arrived at school. She got suspended.
I blinked. Typed back, Who told you?
He didn’t respond; class had started. I breathed a prayer. For Robbie, for the girl, for the whole situation. I didn’t follow up on it, didn’t know if it was true. That afternoon, I received confirmation. Yes, she officially had been suspended for three days and needed the psychological evaluation. Just like Andrew and his friends. Upon hearing the confirmation, I took a deep breath. I wasn’t happy, wasn’t gloating. Instead, I was filled with concern. How is she? Will she get the help she needs? Is there anything I can do?
In my mind, it was over. Justice had been served. No, it didn’t end flawlessly; I was still upset that I had to basically pull teeth to get anyone to take my son seriously, that Robbie was promised demerits over the minute thing he said, yet I had to beg for his protection. But I justified it in my mind: There was a lot going on that day, a lot of things came to light. There were a lot of moving parts. The administrator just didn’t grasp the intensity. Yes, he argued with me, but we’re family. And families argue. It’s okay. I even met with Andrew’s teachers to discuss classroom adjustments for his ADHD. I honestly thought it was over.
Until that evening when I received an email from the administrator. In summary, it said:
Thank you, Mrs. Finlay, for emailing with your concern. We have given her a three-day suspension, and she cannot return until she’s received a psychological evaluation. In turn, Robbie will be receiving demerits for bullying…
My first instinct was to show Robbie the email. “Now look what you did. I’ve told you over and over not to use that word, and now you’re getting demerits. I hope you’ve learned your lesson.”
Robbie looked at me. Looked at my phone. Blinked. Looked back at me. “Mom, I wasn’t bullying her.”
“I know, Robbie, but what you did was still wrong.”
“I know it was wrong. You said I should get demerits for it. But for disrespect or something. That’s only ten demerits.”
“Oh. How many demerits is bullying?”
“Thirty. I’d get three detentions, and it’ll go on my permanent record.”
Then it was Robert’s turn to say, “Aw, hell, nah.” He was livid again. “Robbie should absolutely get in trouble, but he wasn’t bullying her. That’s going way over and above what he did. If that were the case, every single kid in the school is a bully, because everyone says mean things. This girl would be expelled for all the mean things she’s done. There’d be no school left.”
The realization that they were right dawned on me, and the anger began manifesting in my gut again.
Robert continued. “The administrator told me himself this isn’t bullying, because bullying has to be a continuous harassment. Why did he change it all of a sudden? Is she receiving thirty demerits for every name she’s called people? Why is he trying to make an example out of our son?”
Suddenly, this churning anger in my gut transformed into this hideous monster that I can only describe as Momma Bear Syndrome. It was that force, that strength, that intensity that lifts cars off children. I could have thrown a house at that moment and let out a roar that would shake the earth to its core.
My son would not be made an example of.
I felt like the administrator was trying to punish me by forcing his hand to take action against the girl. Like he was getting back at me. He went from, “I’m giving him demerits, but I don’t know what for, but not for bullying because he wasn’t bullying,” to, “I’m not going to punish either one of them,” to, “Robbie’s getting demerits for bullying.” Who do you think we are???
I replied to his email. Thanks for the info, I’m sorry it had to come to this. I’ll be praying for the girl. While I believe Robbie should receive demerits, he wasn’t bullying her. You said it yourself. I even went so far as to include definitions of bullying (annoying, I know, but the alternative was throwing a house, sooo….):
Definition: use of superior strength or influence to intimidate someone, typically to force him or her to do what one wants.
An intentional behavior that hurts, harms, or humiliates a student…
That is copied and pasted directly from my email. I reiterated that Robbie did neither of those things. He wasn’t trying to intimidate her, it wasn’t even intended for her to hear. NOTHING of what he did was considered bullying. I added AGAIN that yes, he should receive demerits for what he said; we even grounded him when it all first happened. But the punishment must fit the crime, and I will not have it go on my son’s permanent record that he was “bullying.” That is defamation of character. Unless this girl and every other kid who’ve said unkind things receive demerits for bullying, three detentions, and have it go on their permanent record, this is unfair.
It was the second night in a row I didn’t sleep well.
The next morning around 9:00 after the boys went to school, Robert and I were sitting in the living room talking about this situation when my phone rang. It was the administrator. I put him on speaker phone.
“Hi, Mrs. Finlay. Do you have a few minutes to talk?”
“Yes, sir I do.”
“First of all, we do not allow parents to dictate how we discipline students. Robbie will receive demerits for bullying, and that’s that.”
“I’m sorry, but no, he won’t.”
And that’s when he started yelling at me. I’m talking—all professionalism gone, a familiarity he had no right taking with me (I’m not his friend), high-decibel, high-volume YELLING.
“Oh, come on, Mrs. Finlay! How can you pretend that Robbie doesn’t deserve demerits for bullying? That’s exactly what he was doing!”
That’s cool. Two can play at this game. I yelled back.
“You told my husband last week on the phone that it wasn’t bullying!”
“I never said that to him!”
See, he didn’t know Robert was sitting in the room, listening. And he lied. He lied to my face, and he called my husband a liar. That is EXACTLY what he told my husband. Robert was so angry, he was calm. And that was terrifying. He actually had to walk out of the room. I thought he was going to spontaneously combust.
Meanwhile, my BFF is still going at me hard on the phone. “Do you research, Mrs. Finlay! What Robbie did was bullying! You can call any school in the county, and they’ll all tell you the same thing! They’d all react the same way to this situation!”
Here’s another thing he didn’t know: I am diagnosed OCD. Like, legit. Like, I’m on medication for it. Shorty DID her research. I actually called other schools in the area and spoke to administrators and guidance counsellors on how this situation would be handled.
Not one of them said it was bullying.
Furthermore, I discovered there is actually a movement happening in schools to stop ill-claimed bullying accusations. Anyone can run to an authority figure and say, “I was bullied!” And then bam—the school is required to do a six-hour investigation that involves talking to the bully, the bullied, and both sets of parents. That means Joe can tell Flo to do something, and Flo can say, “Joe is bullying me because he’s trying to force me to do something I don’t want to do!” And yet Joe can turn around and say, “Flo is bullying me because she won’t do this thing for me, and she’s intimidating me by going to the teachers!” And there is a twelve-hour investigation the school must administer. And in turn, it’s not fair to the kids who really are getting bullied.
See? Shorty done did her research.
“What would you do, Mrs. Finlay, if I went up to another teacher and said something mean about you, and it got back to you? Wouldn’t you be hurt?”
“Yes, I would be, BUT I WOULDN’T CALL YOU A BULLY!”
At this point, we were arguing apples to oranges. He wasn’t listening. He was contradicting himself, concocting strawman arguments, and suddenly, God spoke to me again—answer not a fool in his folly.
We hung up. It was the most exasperating, asinine, juvenile conversation I’d ever had. I started bawling. Why was he so adamant all of a sudden that Robbie was a bully? Why did I—a simple parent—know more about a school’s stance on bullying than the administrator? Why was he lying? Who was this man I’d been trusting to educate my children every day? That I’m paying two thousand dollars a month to?
Robert was done. He was about to drive up to the school and pull the boys out then. But that wouldn’t help either, because then what? They just don’t go to school? We can’t hurt the boys, because after all, this is all about them, anyway.
But then Robert received a call from the administrator, too. “Hey, buddy!” (Remember, he didn’t know Robert heard every disrespectful, loudly-spoken word from earlier). “How ya doing? Listen, I spoke with your wife, and she doesn’t think Robbie should receive demerits for what he did.”
And that was the end. Lie #2. Robert said, “Stop right there. That’s not true. We do think he should receive demerits, but we don’t want our son being labeled a bully.”
“Well, don’t worry. We’ll figure it all out. We won’t put it on his permanent record. Let’s all sit down again and talk about this next week…”
But the damage was done. This man showed his true colors.
And then the cherry to top off this whooooole sundae:
“You know, when I was speaking to this girl’s parents when I had to suspend her, they took it really well. They were very accepting of her suspension. But then they said, ‘Now what about this boy who was bullying our daughter? What are you going to do to him?’ So I gotta keep them happy, you know?”
And there you have it, the last missing piece of the puzzle. That’s why he changed his tune so suddenly on his definition of bullying—to appease her parents.
Folks? I refuse to compromise my son’s integrity.
That is the moral of this story. If you walk away from this with nothing else, let it be that. My priority is my children. Not their school.
How, in good conscience, could we continue allowing our boys to be taught in an environment where those characteristics are employed? The easiest thing would be to suck it up, take the demerits, and move on, but then what would we be teaching our children? That it’s okay to compromise your reputation to appease mediocre parents and to cover up the mistakes and lies of the administrator? That would be condoning everything we stand against. How would we truly be instilling in our kids the qualities they need as adults? This man is exactly what we DON’T want our boys to grow up to be! We want them to be honest and humble. To treat women with respect. Those are three of the most important traits a man can have. And this man—the headmaster of their school—was none of those.
Had he just accepted responsibility, humbled himself, and admitted that he didn’t know how to handle this situation, we could have worked it out. The boys would still be there today. Everyone makes mistakes, I get it. Heck, this all started with my son making one. But instead, this man lied. Instead of admitting he was wrong, he hid behind his pride. He yelled at me, making it look like I was the one who didn’t know what I was talking about. He took advantage of my son and the strong friendship he had with our family, and was willing to put Robbie’s reputation on the line to pacify these other parents.
Not. My. Son.
We had to go. As much as we loved that school. It was time. We needed to put our beliefs into practice, even if it hurt. Even if it meant toppling the boys’ foundation and removing them from their comfort zone. The right thing isn’t always easy. Guys, I felt like someone had died. I grieved. Cried for three days straight. Where would we put them?
Enter rare opportunity. One of the schools that I spoke with about their bullying procedures has a waiting list five miles long; I would have never been able to get my kids in there. But they had a part-time position open, and staff members get to bring their kids. And guess what else? There was one opening in sixth grade and one in seventh. My husband was looking for a part-time job. Providence, kismet, and all those synonyms. If we didn’t jump on this opportunity, someone else would. In a heartbeat. We’d never get that opportunity again. And that was our confirmation that we were doing the right thing.
From one day to the next, we un-enrolled them from the private school, and enrolled them in the new school. Robert was put on their staff. Robbie was put on the basketball team. Andrew received a 504 and has an IEP pending.
I wish I could say this had a happy ending. While I’m confident we made the right decision, my boys are hurting. This new school is tough; the private school wasn’t as academically inclined. Robbie—an easy honor roll student at the private school—is struggling to make good grades. Andrew’s learning disability is finally being taken seriously, and he’s overwhelmed with the tests, evaluations, tutoring, and therapy he’s receiving FOR FREE. I’m moved to tears daily by the love and concern this staff shows my sons, but the boys don’t see it yet. They miss their friends. They miss their comfort zone.
In addition, we hold no ill-will against their old school. I wish them the best, and I’m grateful for the years they educated my boys. We went to one of their annual functions a couple weeks ago, and it was great seeing all their old friends and teachers. I even had a wonderful conversation with the administrator. I still think he is a nice guy with good intentions; unfortunately, he made a detrimental mistake. I’d like to think that if he could do it all over again, he’d do it differently.
I don’t know what the future holds. I’m taking one day at a time. Robbie and Andrew will be just fine. I pray for them daily, that they get through this rough patch and will one day understand and appreciate why we absolutely had to remove them from that environment.
Also, that they stand up for themselves, respect the reputation they’ve worked so hard to uphold. To respect women, and to do the right thing in times of adversity, even if it’s hard.
That they are honest and humble.
To admit when they’re wrong.
Oh, and that they don’t roll their eyes and say mean things about classmates to their friends.