My child asked me for a gun

City Diary

March 28, 2001|By Petula Caesar

MY 9-YEAR-OLD daughter asked me for a gun.

She asked me for a toy gun -- "a fake one that looks real," she said. She saw the look on my face and added, "Mom, I don't want to hurt anybody. I just want the kids at school to leave me alone."

My daughter attends Fort Worthington Elementary School. She is a quiet, shy youngster with wire-framed glasses and a slightly awkward way about her. She loves to read and speaks with excellent diction. She's less worldly than many kids are and more childlike.

The school year started with my daughter being teased by classmates. The teasing eventually turned into harassment. My daughter told me she was afraid to go to school. I tried to contact her teacher and principal, but my phone calls were not returned. I visited the school several times, walking the halls and peeking into classrooms.

Children were yelling, even swearing, at the top of their lungs. Students were tossing balls. Fights were breaking out in the halls. And when staff members appeared on the scene, the students continued yelling, swearing and fighting. Fear of disciplinary action was completely absent. I understood why my daughter was afraid.

I contacted the school's regional headquarters. The same day I placed that call, three students stopped my daughter in the hall, cursed at her and hit her. I arranged to meet with the school's administration the next day. My daughter was afraid to go to school the next morning, but I sent her off, saying, "I'm sure those kids got suspended yesterday. They won't be at school today."

I was wrong. They were there. Two of them carried out a similar attack against her during recess.

At the meeting, the teacher claimed to have no knowledge of anything out of the ordinary going on in class. One of the offending youngsters and her mother came into the office, and the principal spoke to the child about her behavior. She sent the child back to class.

When I asked how else she was going to be punished, the principal said the school didn't have the resources to discipline students. Keeping kids after school "was more punishment for the teacher than for the students," the principal said.

Then she told my daughter to return to her class -- the same class where she'd just sent the girl who beat my child.

Between the last three weeks of February and the first two weeks of March, my daughter went to the office eight times because of being hit, kicked, sworn at, or harassed by students.

Sometimes teachers or staff took her to the office. Sometimes she went there by herself. I did not receive a call from the school or a note from anyone.

I met with regional office personnel and was told someone was sent to visit my daughter's class before our meeting. This person commented that my child was not "interacting with her classmates effectively."

The school system offered my daughter counseling, to help her better interact with these children -- the same kids who have been tormenting her for weeks without being reprimanded.

The regional office also developed "strategies" to address my daughter's problem. Her problem -- not the school's. These strategies included the principal speaking to my daughter's class about their behavior. To date, the principal hasn't spoken to the class.

So my 9-year-old daughter asked me for a gun. She asked, "Why won't they punish those bad kids?"

I ask the Baltimore City public school system: What do you suggest I tell her?

Today's writer

Petula L. Caesar is a resident of Baltimore City with two children in the public school system.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues of concern to Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

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