Let’s sum up what happened in the previous episode:
- A child, “Nate”, had made up a story; that Zam, my son, was late for homeroom because he was in North Dakota, “getting a sniper rifle” to shoot a teacher.
- Zam was, in fact, standing beside me in the Assistant Principal’s office – not in North Dakota. Unarmed. Bemused. And in huge trouble.
- “Policy” required the Assistant Principal to treat this boy’s goofy story as if it were a full-blown attempt to murder a teacher – by Zam.
The fun was just beginining.
I sat in the drab, green-walled interrogation room as a Saint Paul police detective questioned my son. Zam had stuck to his guns, as it were, not saying a word to anyone without my being there. With me there, he told the story (which, as it happens, was the complete truth).
The detective recorded Zam’s statement, and then left the room for a moment. Then he came back, “released” Zam to me, and escorted us to the front door.
“Mr. Berg, there’s nothing here. Really. The School District sends us this crap all the time, but there’s nothing. But I have to send it to the County Attorney; it’s their call whether they’ll file charges or not”.
I called the school’s principal, Bruce Maeda. He told there would have to be a hearing – a hearing referred to by one of the dizzying array of acronyms that the St. Paul School district uses to refer to everything from disciplinary hearings to dish soap – to determine what the real consequences were going to be. That hearing was a couple of days away. Zam was suspended until at least the hearing.
At home, done with the police, I sat down and called the Saint Paul Public Schools Administration offices. I was referred to one of the district’s four “Zone Superintendants”, Joanne Knuth.
I explained Zam’s story. I asked her if it was the school district’s policy to find kids guilty of ghastly crimes until proven innocent, based on fanciful tales from juveniles…
…well, I started to ask her. Ms. Knuth interrupted me. “If the school staff said it happened, then it happened. I know your son has a disciplinary record”, she said, harshly.
“Ms. Knuth? Zam was with me, right there in the building. There was no sniper rifle, here, there or…”
The line clicked dead.
“Zone Superintendent” Joanne Knuth had hung up on me. She could not be bothered to listen to a mere parent.
The next day, with paperwork in hand, I went to see a lawyer who specializes in this sort of case. Ironically, her office was across the street from Zam’s school.
The lawyer – who looks and sounds like a gun moll from a ’30’s gangster movie, all brassy and in-your-face and immune to pulling punches – said “I see this sort of thing all the time”. She also pointed out that, since teachers and administrators write most of the laws regarding schools and their regulation, they were nearly immune from any sort of accountability.
Sorry, basically. There’s really nothing you can do.
Except get your kid out of the public school system.
The hearing with the jumble of initials came later in the week. Mr. Vaagenes and Mr. Maeda were joined by Mrs. Simon, another assistant principal, and another woman whose name is lost to my notes; she was some sort of social worker; let’s call her Mrs. Brunette. They looked visibly uncomfortable when I put a digital recorder on the table.
Zam related his story: He and Nate had discussed, a month or so earlier, doing a comic strip based on an Internet Flash game, “Sniper Sam”. They’d discussed characters to appear the comic strip, including a number of teachers, but not, he emphasized, as targets. “And”, he said, “I knew right away it was a bad idea, so we decided not to write the strip”. He had no idea that Nate was going to tell the “Sniper rifle” story to the teacher.
Zam did a tour de force job of explaining himself.
As soon as he finished, Mrs. Brunette said “Well, clearly Zam has admitted to everything that we’re concerned about”.
I sat. I think my jaw dropped. “Ma’am”, I said to Mrs. Brunette , “that is exactly the opposite of what Zam said”, measuring my words and tone.
“Well, that’s your opinion”.
Um, yes. And it is my “opinion” that black is black and that 2+2=4.
Their decision had been made; the “hearing” lacked enough integrity to be called a “sham” or a “fraud”.
A few days later, the school sent their decision; Zam would have to transfer to a different school.
Nate – the boy who made up the story in the first place – was allowed to stay.
As to transferring Zam – his mother and I figured “over my dead body”. We put him in a charter school. He’ll go back to the Saint Paul Public Schools when pigs fly, if I have my way.
A few months later, I faxed a formal letter to the Saint Paul Public Schools, asking to try to get Zam’s records changed, or at least amended to show that I strongly contested the district’s version of events.
A few weeks later, I got a letter back, denying my request; they couldn’t accept a request to change any records, unless I named the specific documents that needed to be addressed.
Specific documents that were in a file cabinet somewhere in the Saint Paul Public Schools’ administrative
castle building at 360 Colborn. Documents that they are very, very fussy about showing to mere parents.
And a year later, the struggle continues.
And so, after about 15 years, the metamorphosis was complete. I’d gone from being a school supporter and proponent to mortal enemy and angry detractor.
What does this mean?
That’s for the next installment.