Monday, September 5, 2011

Our Day In Hell Part 6 – A Come To Jesus Talk



India has always attended public school with the only exception being when she was away for therapy.  We’d always wanted to give her the opportunity to learn as much as she was capable of and have lots of social interaction with other children.  We’ve experienced many highs and almost as many lows with the New Mexico school system,  fften finding ourselves having to deal with the red tape and battling the mind-numbing bureaucracy and its tenured minions.  At the same time, we’d encourage and if possible reward the positive aspects of the system.  This was a full time job, not for the faint of heart. There was an event that will haunt me for the rest of my life.  It was one of the few times in my life that I actually felt violent and wanted to inflict harm on another human being.

We placed India in an old and relatively small elementary school in the town of Mesilla, New Mexico.  The surroundings were beautiful, with thousands of Pecan trees surrounding the campus and the historic Rio Grande River flowing just west of the school.  A couple of minutes to the north was the jail where Billy the Kid was kept after he was caught for the last time.

At first all seemed fine—it took some adjustment for India but that was to be expected.  But after awhile, we noticed India becoming agitated and then depressed.  We couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on.  We didn’t necessarily suspect the school was the root of the problem but we checked anyway, several times.  We’d come down to the school to see how our daughter was doing.  Every time we paid a visit, India would be out in the playground with other children or in the classroom working on a project with at least one other kid.  It couldn’t be the school.  We wondered if her depression came from a new realization of her physical condition, a chemical imbalance, or something else that we couldn’t see.

The school year finally came to an end, summer was upon us, and India was back to her old happy self.  We were relieved and went on with life and had a great summer.  We spent several weeks at the beach in San Diego, went to the mountains in Colorado, and watched more movies than I care to count.  But as summers do, this one came to an end.  It was time to brave the long lines at the local store and stock up on the new semester’s school supplies.

As we were shopping for the new school year, we happened to run into the teacher’s aide from the previous year.  We greeted each other and had the usual small talk; how was your summer, are you excited about the new year, when are you going to get your teaching certificate, etc.  I noticed that she looked a bit nervous as she was talking to us but I didn’t pay much attention to it.  To our surprise though, she dropped the bomb of all bombs on us very abruptly.  This young assistant almost broke down and cried, right in the middle of the store when she said, “Listen, I have to tell you something.”

She went on to tell us that she couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t tell us what had happened the semester before with India.  She said that she’d wanted to tell us during the school year but she was too afraid.  She told us in detail how India’s teacher would put her in the corner of the classroom all day in her wheelchair, the brake on so India couldn’t wheel herself back to the children.  India would have to sit there as she watched the other children do art andmusic, have snack time, and socialize.  My little girl was forced to just sit here and watch. She was not attended to or allowed to interact.  When it came time for recess, she would only be taken out into the playground part of the time.  When she was taken outside, she was placed against the wall by the door and left yet again all by herself to just watch the other children enjoy their outside time.  My daughter had been neglected and abused by her teacher and the administration of the school did nothing.  And as when India experienced the painful sticker embedded deep in her skin but couldn’t tell us, she again was in a painful situation, helpless and unable to let us know what was going on.

The aid went on to tell my wife and I that every time the teacher would  see us coming, she’d quickly make sure that India was put with a group of children and made it look like she was included in whatever project they were working on.  If it was recess time when we’d arrive, the teacher would roll India’s chair into the middle of the playground and pretend to be play with her. 
I stood there in the middle of the store, staring at this young lady as she gave us intimate details of the neglect and abuse inflicted on my daughter.  By this point, she had tears running down her cheeks.  I don’t know how Veruca felt but I was a moment away from running out of the store, tracking down this teacher and beating her to death.  I was a ball of rage, my heart was pounding, my adrenaline was pumping, and my eyes were full of tears. 

To this day, I can’t tell you what the fuck this teacher was thinking or why she did what she did; I can only assume.  It’s my assumption that she had little empathy, no compassion, and was too lazy to do her job.  I don’t want to believe that she was just sadistic.  Either way, she had and has no business being a teacher of our children, no way.

As we drove home, we didn’t say a word.  Our heads were spinning from the news we’d just received.  The only thing I can possibly compare this to is most likely how a parent feels when they find out that their child has been raped.  How the hell could somebody do this to a helpless child, especially an educator and the trusted administration?

That very day, we filled out the paperwork to transfer our daughter to a newer school on the opposite side of town.  We made some inquiries to ensure that the previous year’s abusive teacher hadn’t transferred to this new school and scheduled a meeting with the new teacher, her aid, the entire administration, and the heads of the school district.

On the day of the meeting, I felt calm and focused as I put on my best suit and tie, placed my recording device and legal pads in my brief case, and headed out to have a “come to Jesus” moment with the Las Cruces public school system.  By this time in my career, I was very well known in the community and had acquired quite a bit of wealth and power.  As a matter of fact, the new school was surrounded by my development projects and the entire area was plastered with my real estate signs.

We convened the meeting at the new school’s conference room. Every seat was taken and a few people were forced to stand.  Veruca and I sat there as we listened to the administrators give us their canned and legally sanitized speech about the benefits of this school and how India would thrive here.  It was basically what the previous school had said to us.  I really wasn’t listening, just looking at the administrator’s lips while they were moving, as she mechanically blurted out words she’d clearly used a thousand times before.  I waited intentionally until the administrator was reaching the climax of her memorized dialogue.  Then I interrupted abruptly.

“Ma’am, I think it’s time for me to convey something very important to you and the rest of the people in this room.  I also expect every person here to convey what I’m about to say to others in the school district.  My daughter was neglected and abused last year at her previous school.”

I went on to give every possible detail and the impact it had on our daughter and the rest of the family.  Every eye in the room was fixed on me, unblinking. They were caught completely off guard.  I could sense that the teachers and therapists in the room were horrified and in disbelief at what they were hearing.  I knew for sure that the administrators were getting that terrible sinking feeling as I took the time to glare at each and every one of them while I was talking.

After I described what had happened, I went into attack mode.  I started my next sentence with “My name is Nick Rank,” (everybody knew this but it was for effect) “and I need to make sure that each and every one of you know that if something even remotely like what happened at last year’s school happens here, I’ll not only sue the school district but also the teacher, assistant, and administrators individually.  My family and I have many resources and will put every last penny into making your lives a living hell if you don’t do your job and look out for my daughters’ best interests.  I will hire a public relations firm with the directive to ensure every media outlet possible in the western United States runs the story of what’s happened.”
'Before I knew it was happening, I had tears flowing down my face as I said to the room, “My children are my life and India is unable to fend for herself, she is exposed and helpless.  She didn’t ask to be the way she is.  This little girl wants to play, interact, have friends, and learn.  Mentally, she’s just fine so when she’s excluded and kept in a corner six hours a day, she processes it just like any other kid would, she just cant express her sadness verbally.  Please don’t do this to my baby again, she doesn’t deserve it, she’s not a monster.”

I looked up to see every person in the room staring at me; some had tears rolling down their cheeks.  The head of Special Ed said in a very quiet voice, “This will never happen again, I assure you.”  Then India’s new teacher, who was one of the people who was crying, said that she would look out for my daughter, love and include her in everything.  She said it sincerely and it came from her heart, I could feel it.  She is still a friend to this day, a beautiful person who kept her word and gave India a wonderful school experience over the next year.

As a final note to this chapter, I have to say that I can’t begin to imagine what I would have done in this situation if I hadn’t had the resources, contacts, and power that I did.  If I were a fry cook or had some other minimum wage job with no resources and a disabled child who was being neglected by the school system, we would have been screwed.  I see it happen all the time.  The system chews up and spits out families all the time.