Today my husband and I pulled our son out of his primary school.
It’s one of those fancy private schools, with a conspicuous air of exclusivity and wealth. You know the type – big fees, big gates, and parents with big cars (and even bigger pockets). We had eagerly and dutifully placed him on the wait list at birth, and had already coughed up a small fortune to get him through to Year Two.
It was a school that “actively embraced community” and involved parents in all facets of learning. However, it wasn’t long before we discovered that this purported culture of inclusivity meant predatory behaviour by parents, which all too often was tolerated, and even indirectly facilitated, by both teachers and management.
Mothers would hover in the playground at drop off and pick up. They’d sip turmeric lattes at the school café (yep, café), while keeping a close watch over their children as they went about their school day. They’d use reading and volunteering as a guise to spend time observing the classroom dynamics.
Pulling our seven-year-old out of this school wasn’t an easy decision to make – he loved his school, and had lots of friends – and it was a long time coming.
We’d been concerned about a culture of parental bullying towards children of a certain ilk since kindergarten. Those kids who perhaps failed to conform and comply with unwritten norms and molds were ostracised and targeted. “Boisterous kids.” “Energetic kids.” “Boy’s boys” just like our son.
The final straw was a call from the principal after school. He told us that an irate parent had approached our seven-year-old in the playground, and had accused him of pushing his daughter in the classroom.
This father later admitted he’d driven to the school with the sole intention of seeking out our child. He found our son walking out of his classroom and approached him. The details of exactly what happened are unclear. We are relying on grainy security footage and witness accounts from kids and teachers.
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But from what we can confidently ascertain, a teacher interrupted this father as he was yelling at our son to “stay away” from his daughter. Two children claim they saw the man grab our child by the back of the shirt.
These little boys say they wanted to defend their mate but were scared as the man was so huge and angry. The teacher clearly (and thankfully) intervened at a crucial point. She told the father he was acting inappropriately, and she promptly removed our child from the situation and ensured that he was okay.
This man was about 188cm (6’2”) in height. He was yelling. And he may or may not have physically touched our son. Our little boy described him as “creepy and really angry” but was cagey to us about the specifics of what happened. He was clearly upset, scared and in shock.
When I heard about what had happened I felt an instant flash of primal rage. How could a parent do that to my child? Yes, my child can be a handful at times, but no misdemeanor warrants that kind of behaviour. He’s only seven. He still sleeps with a teddy bear!
Naturally, my husband and I were furious that this father had been able to gain such easy access to our child, especially when he was meant to be in the safety of his school grounds. As far as we were concerned, the school had breached its duty of care to provide a safe and nurturing environment for its students.
In its defence, the school was apologetic and told us they’d hauled the man up to the school for a meeting with the principal. They told him to stay away from our child, and not to approach any student on school grounds again. The father told the school our son had pushed his daughter. (The teachers later advised him – and us – that our son had indeed pushed his daughter, but only after she had poked, prodded and pinched him continuously.)
Incredibly, school management didn’t ban the father outright, even when another parent came forward to describe an eerily similar interaction between her son and this same father the week before.
In this case, the father approached the student for allegedly pushing his daughter with his backpack. This little boy told his mother, but she didn’t think much of it until she heard what happened to our son days later. She then reported it.
Parents — know this. It is NEVER OKAY to approach, threaten or physically touch another child – no matter what the circumstance. It’s staggering that any adult would consider this to be appropriate behaviour. Teach by example. Go through the official channels. Go to the parents, if need be. But stay the hell away from the child. He or she is off-limits.
What would you have done in this situation? Do you think the school reacted collectedly? Tell us in a comment.
On this week’s instalment of This Glorious Mess – our podcast for imperfect parents, we ask an expert what to do if your child is choking, grand parents that feed your kids too much junk food and whether you should let your kid play rugby. Get it in your ears.