Suspend the Homeless

blog post
Some things are not what they seem to be or should be.
Substitute administrators don’t always have the full story about students with whom they must deal. I substituted as a principal or vice principal at several elementary schools with a majority of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches. I learned that knowing a student is in the program is a good indicator for me to look for possible other problems before I acted on the obvious one.

Lunch supervision was generally on the agenda for substitute administrators because they have no continuing managerial duties; they have no authority to make operational or policy decisions. Lunch duty for the most part was watching and reminding students of applicable behavior when they were on the edge of inappropriateness. However physical disputes sometimes broke out without preceding oral outbursts.

I didn’t see the fight start, nor did I hear inappropriate vocabulary until after first blows were struck. A pair of equal size fifth graders were wailing away, sometimes in the air and sometimes on target. By the time I got to them through the wanting to see a fight lunchroom crowd, they were being separated by two para educators, but still wailing away in the air and cursing.

Neither seemed to have any fear of me but stopped shouting and struggling as the two women pulled them farther apart. At my request, the ladies escorted them to the office area.

Witnesses were as hard to find as ice cubes in roaring fire. Students were back at their tables as if the pizza of the day was catered to individual orders.

I interviewed them separately and both had the same basic story – he started it for no reason. Protocol said I should suspend both boys for fighting because they had priors. One had two priors for fighting and the other had just one. Neither would give a reason nor change from, “He started it.”

Progression procedure allowed me to make a third offense suspension of two weeks and the other for one week. But I had an option of one week for the third timer and three days for the second timer. That’s what I did.

I was on the phone with second timer’s parent when third timer’s mother came in to pick him up. She and he were gone before I could excuse myself from the call. A little later, while ensuring the boy had been logged out of school, I overheard two office workers. One said, “I could die for the boots his mother was wearing.”

“Me too,” the other said. “And she dresses like…”

I didn’t hear the rest of the conversation.
I was at the same school when the mother of third timer signed him in after his week away. Again, she was out of the office before I could speak with her. The school secretary who had been busy on his suspension day took me to the side saying, “Wish I’d caught you last week. Before Ms. Xx, (the principal) went on family leave, she’d decided third timer would be on inhouse suspension if another fight occurred. It was in her sub instructions, but you were in for the VP. I couldn’t get an override on your decision from her long-term sub, and even if I did, I couldn’t get a call to his mother. She told me this morning her cell phone was out of minutes until the end of the month.”

I asked, “No home phone?” When this happened nearly everyone had a home phone, and a few had a cell. I continued, “She appeared by her clothing to be well enough off.” I looked toward the two assistants at their desks and said to the secretary, “They said something about her boots last week.”

”The boots are knock-offs. She’s the cleanest homeless person I’ve ever dealt with. They live in a 1960s something Suburban. Don’t feel bad, you had no way of knowing.”

That didn’t help very much how I felt, but I decided to expand my checklist before I suspended another student.