Q. My 14-year-old son, a high school freshman, was taking two intensified classes, had a 3.86 GPA, was on the honor roll and enjoying daily chess games after lunch when the school called and told us to pick him up immediately. He needed an emergency risk evaluation at the county’s
mental health facility, the caller said, because he had used such words as cadaver, corpse, suicide, homicide and decapitate in his English journal.
My son said that these were his vocabulary words, that he was writing fiction and that the teacher had said that no one would read what he wrote. Nevertheless, the counselor said that he
was a serious threat, even though the vice-principal said that he was “not a threat, not in trouble and not suspended” and that he could come back to school if the evaluation was favorable. And it was.
We got a call that night, however, saying that our son was deemed a threat after all, that he was suspended for three day, that one of his classes might be changed and that we could appeal his case. She also said that we could see his journal entries, which seemed like horror story retreads to me, but she never produced his evaluation as she had promised.
Our son was shocked by this experience, especially after the school’s police officer came over to see him while my husband and I were at work. Although this policeman was quite nice, he said that the journal incident might be put on his criminal record and that he could be arrested if he was found on school grounds during his suspension.
Despite these threats, I thought the problem would blow over but I was wrong. The vice principal met with us and said that almost all of his classes had been changed, that he had to eat lunch at a different time and place and that he wouldn’t have time to say goodbye to his friends and his teachers.
My husband thinks that she is being vindictive and that the school suppressed our son’s favorable evaluation for four days rather than disagree with the counselor, but our son says that the school is a big bureaucracy, that no one cares about the students, that he can’t trust the leadership and that he doesn’t know what his old teachers think of him. This worries him greatly
because he had really bonded with them.
We love these teachers, too but can we trust the principal and the vice principal? I know that they should investigate any child who might be a risk but this display of naked power frightens us.
A. The terrible murders at Newtown, Virginia Tech and Columbine have taught teachers and counselors (and parents) to be careful if a student looks or acts or talks in a threatening way. But sometimes they can be too careful, and this sounds like one of those times.
Maybe the English teacher showed your son’s journal to a super-anxious counselor because the writing made her uneasy; maybe the vice principal didn’t stand up for your son because she isn’t as experienced or confident as the counselor. Maybe the principal said, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” Or maybe your son is more troubled than you know.
It’s time for you, your husband and your son to meet with the counselor, the vice principal, the principal, his superior and the teacher who gave out those grim and grisly vocabulary words so you can nail down the facts. Once you discover the truth — whatever it is — your son should see a psychologist who has many young patients and knows that teenagers have a lot of goofy ideas bouncing around in their heads.
If your son is in the right, six to 12 sessions should get rid of his anger and his grief so he won’t start drinking, using drugs and hanging out with the wrong crowd, as people often do when they feel bad about themselves. If he is in the wrong however, he needs some therapy to get rid of his demons before they get him into much bigger trouble.
Whether your son is right or wrong, you should stand by him and stand fast so he’ll know that you love him, no matter what he did or didn’t do.
You also should get a written apology from the school because they didn’t handle this situation as well as they should have. And if they won’t give it? Tell them about the study which found that people who apologize are much less likely to get sued, even when they’ve made some bad mistakes.
And if that doesn’t work, you might try sending your son to a different school in the fall.
Questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.