To the Editor:
I’ve always viewed the word “community,” as the foundation of togetherness, regardless of opinion. As I sat through the latest School Committee meeting, it became very clear to me that Warwick is anything but a place of true community.
I’m not here to speak on classroom staff, or what resources may or may not be inside a classroom setting. I’m not here to split hairs on a lawsuit between an educator and his/her administrators. That is far beyond any of my business, nor do I truly know every side of that situation. What is my business and, in fact, is actually all of our business, are the children in this city.
I truly, without hesitation, feel that they are the most important in any school environment. I’m a born child advocate. I am the mother of my own three and to every child, figuratively, that comes my way. I quietly sat, watched and listened as some parents, one by one, spoke of our most vulnerable children. I understand they were driven by emotions, however, they negatively spoke freely of those children with special needs, Autism and big behaviors. I don’t know any of these parents. I don’t personally know anything about Oakland Beach Elementary School, other than where it is. I have, however, always heard wonderful things about this school. Unfortunately, that has changed recently.
Truthfully, none of that matters to me personally. What I do know, and what does matter very much to me, is the way adults were speaking about “THOSE” children. Detailing, publicly, specific, confidential, behavioral issues of OTHER people’s children. The children spoken about were very much “MY” daughter, too. Someone said, “THAT boy doesn’t belong in her child’s classroom.” She could have just as easily used my daughter’s name in that sentence. She, too, is behavioral, and disrupts classrooms. Does she NOT belong either? What right does ANYONE have, to say those words?
“THAT” child who lashes out is probably disabled by an unseen disability or trauma. The child who swears, maybe pushes the others, kicks, self-harms, or threatens suicide at seven years old is also “MY” child. Beyond those behaviors is significant mental health issues that are not known to other parents or children, and maybe not all other adults in the schools. You see, one of my three daughters, is very much special needs. She is EXACTLY, who those parents stood up against. “SHE” is the child that was said to be “ruining” your child’s education. I was gutted, heartbroken, sickened by the pure hate and prejudices thrown towards OUR children in this city.
The most vulnerable we have in these classrooms are those who need the most support by others. It was very clear that special needs children are not welcomed by some amongst our schools. Of course, those who spoke are likely very much the minority in those beliefs. However, I believe just one person is far too many. This is beyond unacceptable. It is wrong, gross and plain vile.
Like I said, I am not here to debate staffing, teachers, or who did what to whom as the reasons for bringing up the children. I am here to say this is wrong. All of it was so wrong, and it can’t continue. This is not helpful, productive, or kind. It’s not showing our children to be accepting, or inclusive to all friends. We, together, each of us, as a “community” are failing our kids. It’s easy to be ignorant to the situations plaguing others, it is easy to see who can scream the loudest on Facebook, or at meetings, about a topic. Of course, it is easier to BLAME others than it is to take ownership.
What is NOT easy is to be a child hurting so desperately that you lash out. What is NOT easy is to be “THAT” child’s mother. A handful of parents stood up and belittled, freely discussed other people’s most precious treasures, like they were less than, due to a disability. We are better than that. We are being blind to the bigger problem in this city. We are continuing to fight against each other at every chance we get. It needs to stop. We need each other. We need support, more than arguments.
Think about the little people who are hurting, think of your child, my child, their child, the other parents waging battles we know nothing about. We really need to come together. We have to figure out how we can do better at this. Regardless of ANYTHING, or the he-said, she-said, we are all responsible for these children. We are accountable for our words, and our own actions.
I implore each of you in this city to imagine, if “THAT” child, was YOUR child. What if your baby was in crisis? Instead of blaming, reach out a hand, do some research on things. Make no mistake on this, every single child, human being, belongs here. Right here, we belong, all of us.
Jennifer St. Jean