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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Teachers Have More Rights Than Children ~ According to Colorado District 11 (Part III of III)

Advocacy for Your Child
Get Involved!

Now that thanksgiving has passed, it's time to get back to the heart of my posts...ADVOCACY issues for children!  This is Part III of concerns that lead me to remove my second grader from a classroom where the teacher was emotionally abusive to students.  Colorado Springs School District 11 has continued to allow this teacher to remain on staff and has been evasive regarding what steps are being taken to protect the children who remain in that teacher's classroom.  The Principal of the school informed me that her "hands were tied" and was unable to reassure me regarding what if any disciplinary action had been taken based on my reports to her and to the Superintendent.  She cited "legal reasons" and "human resources regulations" when I inquired why a parent cannot know the plan of action regarding allegations of emotional abuse by a teacher.  I believe it is our right as parents to be fully aware of the following:  Here is a copy of the email I sent to the Superintendent:

Dr. G:
I want you to know that I spoke with Dr. M prior to Thanksgiving break and was unsatisfied with her responses to my concerns.  I believe it is my right as a parent to understand the following:
1. What is the formal plan to address the concerns that I stated as the parent of a child affected by his teacher's behavior?
2. What is being done to correct the problem?
3. How is the school going to prevent the emotional abuse from occurring again?
4. How will the situation be monitored?
5. Length of time the teacher will be monitored before a review of the concerns is conducted? 
6. How does the school intend to find out how many other children have been affected by the teacher's behaviors?

I find in unethical and negligent that the school district has not taken precautions to protect the children in the second grade classroom who may not be aware that it is OK to speak up for themselves and question the behaviors of their teacher.  Furthermore, with the school district's policy on anti-bullying, I am disappointed that these expectations are not filtering through to the teaching staff as well.  When I asked Dr. M if a teacher who had physically abused a student would be allowed to continue in a classroom, she stated that the same procedures would be followed and a thorough investigation would be conducted.  I told her that would mean the teacher would be allowed to return to the classroom if the "same" procedures would be followed as in the case of suspected emotional abuse.  She stated that I was putting words in her mouth.  I said logic follows that if a teacher has been allowed to return to teach class (according to procedure) for an emotional abuse allegation and the "same" procedures would be followed for cases of physical abuse, then the teacher would be in the classroom.   If this is true, then there is something seriously wrong with the system that reviews such allegations!  

I also questioned that the incidents of emotional abuse had been "thoroughly investigated."  If no other children were asked if they had concerns or were "sad" about anything in the classroom, then basically all you did was have my report versus the teacher's report.  Unacceptable.  That is not a "thorough" investigation at all!  It lacks integrity!  I reminded Dr. M that I gave names of other children in the classroom who had been targeted.  So it's not just my child who was affected.

I want you to be aware that I am not letting this issue drop and will continue to pursue a satisfactory result even if this means consulting with my own attorney on this matter.  I have been conducting my own research regarding other school systems who have encountered the same road blocks that you (or your "legal team") have placed in my way.  I am deeply concerned that the teacher in question has more rights that the children with who he has been entrusted. 

The sad part is this could be easily solved by being more transparent with your plan of action.  I will be advocating for the following:

1. Parents need to know what protective measures are in place including frequency of supervision of the teacher.
2. What additional training will be provided to the teacher to help understand the impact of emotional abuse on children? Training regarding what constitutes "joking" versus "bullying" is important.
3. How can you incorporate humor, music, and movement opportunities in the classroom for this specific age of children that will enhance attention versus diminish their self esteem?
4. How long will you monitor teaching behaviors and expect completion of additional training?
5. Career counseling should be provided to offer options within the teacher's areas of talent.  It could be that elementary school is not his specialty and he would be a better instructor with a different age group.  Perhaps teaching adults is a better choice so at least the playing field is more even. 
6. There needs to be additional counseling sessions available for children so they can learn to become self-advocates!  I am teaching my children, but many others may need help addressing this skill!  It is one that will serve them well throughout life!  I am more than happy to volunteer my time toward these efforts and have started creating some activities that could be used.  I will be posting these to my blog site for parents in the future.

The school district has an opportunity here to make a difference.  There has to be something that will satisfy parent concerns and still remain within the legal boundaries that apparently "tie the hands" of those who could step up and do the right thing.  I do not accept that you are unable to reveal the plan of action to prevent further incidences.  I believe the other parents will feel the same way when I provide them with the information in this correspondence and on my blog site that promotes advocacy. 

Hoping you respond to my concerns so we can work together to effect positive change.  As I have stated before..I want to be part of the solution to this very serious issue. 

Mary Varville-Rodriguez
Reflections Beneath The Poetz Tree
(Parenting Observations, Insights, and Inspirations)

Another Note:

Since my last post, I have additional information that I provided to the School Principal regarding other comments and interactions of the teacher in question:
A child's name was used to mock him when the child was having a hard time with math and other subjects.  The child's last name is "Wiser" so the teacher said, "Be more wise, Wiser!"  (A second grader will not appreciate the sarcasm and application of last name to make a point.)
A child who has a hard time paying attention had the teacher come up behind him, with the teacher waving arms out to the sides, as the teacher shouted " (Child's Name_) I believe in you."  He shouted so loudly that it scared the child.  So the teacher could say he was shouting words of encouragement when in fact he was emotionally abusive in that situation.  (I find this especially reprehensible since he could technically tell school administrators he is being supportive.)
To the entire second grade class, the teacher said, "In order to go to the library, since people are going willy nilly, then you have to work hard and say, "Mr. M is the best teach ever."  
The teacher also asked the entire class, "How many of you say a bad word when you are angry?"  Not sure why he would say this or how this is part of the lesson plan.  

Your comments and experiences are welcome and I would like to collect as much anecdotal documentation as possible from my readers.   I hope to launch another site soon that will be dedicated to self-advocacy, how to help children develop this skill, and a place where other resources are listed to help in the pursuit of this critical life skill.  I look forward to your participation.  If you are unable to post of Google Account, then submit your comments to or with permission to copy and add to my site.  

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Teachers Have More Rights Than Children ~ According to Colorado District 11 (Part II of III)

Advocacy for Your Child
Get Involved!
Here's my second post.  I continue to have concerns about my child's participation in a school district that refuses to acknowledge how serious "emotional abuse" is in the classroom.   After my child's  second grade teacher reverted back to his "old habits" of ridiculing children, making fun of their names, and embarrassing them in class, here is the second letter I wrote.  Remember that I have chosen to change names to avoid any issues with the school district regarding confidentiality.  However, if they do not respond to my inquiries in a more acceptable fashion, I will have no problem taking these concerns to the local media.  It's time parents started questioning, advocating, and demanding that teachers show respect to our children.  Self -Advocacy begins from the time children are young and we are responsible for demonstrating this critical skill!  (By the way, I am not the only parent who has voiced a concern.  I am the only one so far who has chosen to be vocal and bring this issue to light.)

To:      2nd Grade Teacher
            Elementary School
From:  Mary Varville-Rodriguez
            Parent of Child
Date:   October 30.2014
Subj:   Parent/Teacher Conference
            Follow-Up regarding Concerns
Dear Teacher:

Since our initial conversation on August 25, 2014 several additional concerns have occurred.  On Tuesday September 16, 2014 you left a note in my child’s planner asking how he was feeling about being in your class I responded with:

“My child enjoys your classroom and has positive comments about you.  Last night he did say he doesn’t feel good when some of his friends tease him about being small, so any words of encouragement from you would be helpful.  We have talked about using humor to deflect their comments.  We’d love to hear any strategies you have too.  Thanks for your continued support.  It means a lot!”

I received no response from you.  When I saw you in the “kiss and drop” a few mornings later, I stopped and asked if you had seen the note.  You confirmed that you did and agreed to observe what was occurring and address the concern.  However, there was no follow up.  I continued to advise my child on ways to deal with the situation.

Following that post, I left several other messages in his planner and received no responses or acknowledgment that you had read the notes.   The messages were related to my child’s medical appointments and I wanted to make you aware of them.  No long after I said that things seemed to be going well in your room, the situation gradually deteriorated and you now seem to be right back where we started in August.  I am disappointed that your interactions with the students have reverted back to negativity, sarcasm, and ridicule when what they need is positive reinforcement, encouragement, and a calm voice.

September 25, 2014 I requested a meeting and left the following message in his planner:

“Teacher– Do you have time next week to have a short meeting?  Just want to follow-up regarding my child’s attention in class.  Thanks!”

No response or attempt was made for you to contact me. 

September 30, 2014  I left the following note in my child’s planner:

“Teacher – My child wants to speak with you about concerns he has.  I will follow up with you after school.”

My child told me that he put the timer on his desk as we had discussed in our meeting on 08/25/2014.  He informed me that the issue he has regarding being embarrassed by a comment you made yesterday had been resolved.  So I wrote the following note in my child’s planner:

“Thank you for taking time to talk with my child yesterday.”

No response or acknowledgement was made on your part.

Other notes were made in my child’s planner regarding medical appointments.  I have attached copies of notes to this letter for your reference.

October 09, 2014  I commented as follows:

“My child thinks another child may have taken his stamped sheet to go to the prize box.  He said he put his timer on the desk to ask you but you didn’t make time to talk to him” (as we have agreed upon in our meeting on August 25, 2014.  He said you ignored the timer.)

I received no response or comment from you.

October 13, 2014  I left another message in my child’s planner:

“My child’s stamp sheet reappeared today into the plastic pouch in front of his planner.”

October 14, 2014 My child informed me that you had made fun of children’s names, including his, in the classroom.  I left the following note in my child’s planner:

“Please remember to speak with respect to the children – do not make fun of their names.”

October 28, 2014  My child asked you to go to the library to return a book and check out a new one.  You questioned whether or not he had read the book and made him read some of it to you.  This was upsetting to him and he said you only did this with him. 

October 29, 2014  I left a message in my child’s planner as follows:

“In the future when my child asks you to go to the library because he has finished a book – Believe him!  Don’t make him “prove” it to you. 

On the evening of October 29, 2014, my child informed me that you told him to sit on the floor near the corner to complete his practice book because he was “distracted.”  My child told me he was absolutely NOT distracted and he felt singled out.  He said you had never done that to anyone else.    He also told me he does not like it when other children “get into trouble” in your classroom.  My child gave me specific examples of interactions you have had with other children that continue to concern me. 

Examples of interactions you have had with students that are absolutely unacceptable – especially for a second grade classroom:
September 29, 2014 – My child stated that he feels bad for “Child A” when the teacher told him his handwriting is “terrible” and makes “Child A” start over.

September 29, 2014 – My child was embarrassed when he asked the teacher to go to the bathroom.  The teacher said, “Well, are you going to take your books with to go to the bathroom?”  My child stated that everyone laughed at him.

My child also stated that the teacher changed my child’s seat again (after our August 25, 2014 meeting) and my child didn’t like where he was placed.  He said he gets distracted because other children talk to him.  I was not informed by you, the teacher, that this change had been made.  After our discussion on August 25, 2014 I believed I had made it clear that certain environments and situations lead to distractions.  Teacher, You made changes to our agreement without consulting with me.  Therefore, you cannot place any blame on my child for “being distracted” or make him sit on the floor in a corner to complete an assignment.  That is unacceptable!

October 29, 2014 – My child stated that the teacher made “Child M” cry because he made him stand up.  My child informed me that if someone doesn’t “sit right” the teacher makes them stand up.  This has also happened to “Child A2”  and “Child A”. 

Note:  Children may need to sit “differently” for a number of reasons.  If attention is an issue, then the child should be observed to determine what positioning tactics will encourage the best attention span.  So what if they have to sit on their feet or pull their knees up to their chest?  How would YOU like it if you went to a conference for several hours and someone told YOU how to sit?  Would that make you feel welcome and comfortable and eager to learn?

October 29, 2014 – You said to “Child A2” “Are you going to be good at math or slapping yourself?”    (Not sure what teaching techniques this is, but I will unequivocally oppose this no matter who said it to a second grader!)

October 2014 – “Child M” pulled his sweatshirt over his knees and you commented, “Stop doing that or else it will look like you have big boobs.”    (Even my 7the grader was shocked at this comment and said, “That’s not appropriate for a second grader!”)

I have received no official responses from you other than my child telling me you did read his planner.  A main concern I still have is that you continue to use language with the children that is not acceptable for their age level.  Examples include:

1.      When my child asked to go to the bathroom, you asked him if he was going to take a book with him too.  The class laughed.
2.      Another child was pulling his sweatshirt over his knees and you commented that it made him look like he had boobs.
3.      You have made fun of children’s names and mispronounced them.
4.      My child wondered why one of your writing assignments was “Tell me about a time you got hurt.”
5.      My child was offended when you questioned whether or not he had finished reading a book and made him read to you to prove it.  That was embarrassing to him. (We had finished reading the book together the night before and he was actually excited about checking out a new book.)  I can understand wanting to check on a child’s reading/comprehension, but surely there is a more appropriate way to address this concern instead of basically calling a child a liar.

Making jokes at the expense of the children is never acceptable.  It harbors feelings of resentment and teaches the other children that it is OK to tease and ridicule for the sake of a laugh.

I am also disappointed that you continue to spell my child’s name wrong even though the correct spelling has been pointed out to you. 

I am concerned that my child has tried to use the timer to indicate he needs to talk to you and this has been ignored on at least 5 occasions that he has told me.

My child’s behaviors and attitude about school and homework have become negative since the beginning of the school year and I respectfully request that his school experience become more positive.  I no longer plan to subject my child to your classroom, and am hereby officially removing him.  I will consult with the Principal regarding my intent to remove him from your classroom effective IMMEDIATELY. 

I am still concerned for the emotional well-being of the remaining children in the class.

1.      Second grade does not appear to be an age group that you are suited to teach.  You blatantly disregarded the first meeting and our agreement.
2.      Reading books regarding “Sensory Integration” such as The Out of Sync Child may help expand your understanding of children who learn differently.  Issues such as positioning, motor planning, and sensory overload may shed light on certain children’s behaviors.
3.      I want other children in your room to have opportunities to express what makes them sad or embarrassed in your classroom.  NO child should feel anxiety about coming to school.

I hope that you and the school will take the necessary steps to correct the concerns described in  this letter.  You can choose to contribute to the well-being of each child and foster a love for learning or you can create an environment that is hostile and borders on harassment.  What kind of legacy are you going to leave?  How do you want your students to remember you?  My child doesn’t even know what happens to his homework.  He thinks you probably just throw it away.  So why should he be excited to do his homework?  I never had issues with him before this year.  I hope that you will do some soul searching and make decisions that will be in the best interests of the children. 

Mary Varville-Rodriguez

Please make comments on this post or go to my email at so that I can collect and post on this blog site.  The district has to be made aware of this problem.  Parents, please listen to your children's concerns, observe changes in behaviors, and ask lots of questions!  

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Teachers Have More Rights Than Children ~ According to Colorado District 11 (Part I of III)

Advocacy for Your Child
Get Involved!
Last Week I removed my 7 year old from his second grade classroom.  There have been numerous examples of inappropriate comments and interactions made by his teacher that I documented and reported to the Principal and to the Superintendent.  I will not list names at this point, but I'm sure it would be easy for news media to acquire them should the need arise.  What I cannot tell you is what type of disciplinary action, if any, was taken after I submitted my concerns.  Why?  Because the system is designed to protect the teachers even when emotional abuse is indicated.  I was told, "HR has advised us not to discuss disciplinary action." 

The following is my first letter of concern that I gave to the teacher and to the principal of my son's school.  Names have been changed due to the fact that the school system appears to be on the teacher's side - most likely out of fear that taking a stand might lead to further litigation.  That would be costly, wouldn't it?  In all fairness to the Principal, he/she stated that his/her hands are tied due to volumes of Human Resources and Teacher's Union protocols.  Where does that leave the rights of children and their parents to protect their interests?  
Communication #1 between myself, the teacher,
 and the principal.
To:       2nd Grade Teacher

            Elementary School

From:  Mary Varville-Rodriguez

            Parent of  Child in Room

Date:   August 25, 2014 (Monday)

Subj:   Confirmation of Conversation

            Agreement/Resolution of Concerns

Dear Teacher:
I wish to summarize our conversation regarding concerns that were addressed when we met today at 3:00 p.m. in your classroom with my child (age 6 grade 2) and my other child (age 9 grade 4) present.  Thank you for meeting with us to resolve our concerns as follows:

  1. I explained that we wished to discuss my child’s feelings regarding an interaction you had with him today.
  2. I expressed that I believe it is important for children to learn how to become self-advocates at a young age.
  3. I further stated that I was present with my child for two purposes:
* My child sees that I support his communication.
* You will see that I support my child in respectfully  
    conveying his feelings to you.  

4.   My child explained that he was upset when you told him today that he was “clueless.”
  1. You did not initially recall this occurrence until my child pointed out it happened during reading time.  You asked another child a question and felt that my child was not paying attention.  At this point you asked him if he agreed with the other student’s answer.  When he did not know you told him he was clueless.   Your comment was upsetting to my child.  (Additional note I thought of afterward:  My child is sensitive to the feelings of his classmates and would certainly not want to disagree with another child’s comments for fear of embarrassing him or her.  Perhaps another question could have been, “What did you think about the story? Or…”Who can tell me another thing you remember about that story?”)  If a child can’t recall a specific element to the story, a fun reminder of that element could be a way to re-engage those whose mind may have wandered.
  2. I expressed to you that it is very important for children to feel respected and your comment was not appropriate.  I stated there are other ways to encourage increased attention span with this age group.
  3. We also discussed that some children have different attention spans and that even adults are prone to become distracted.
  4. You asked my child what would help him pay attention better.  He didn’t know.  I commented that many adults are unable to respond to that question.  A 6 year old may also be unable to specifically articulate a solution to that dilemma.
  5. I indicated that there are often many distractions in a classroom, including how materials are displayed and presented.
  6. I further empathized with the dilemma faced by teachers who feel a need to display everything at the beginning of the year.  (Perhaps due to limited storage or other factors.)
  7. We discussed how environment can create a sensory overload that leads to distractibility.
  8. I also expressed that movement opportunities incorporated into lesson plans are admittedly a challenge, but movement also factors into attention span with this age group.
  9. I shared with you that my child takes medication every morning for his Asthma and that this may affect his early morning attention.  The medication can potentially create drowsiness, especially if he has to sit still for a long time.
  10. My child also expressed concern that he has not been allowed to refill his water bottle and gets thirsty.  I shared that his asthma medication could also cause thirst and require him to refill water bottle.
  11. I asked my child if there were any factors he could think of that created distractions for him. My child reported that sitting next to Child B is a distraction.  You asked him where he could sit that would help him solve the problem.  My child agreed that a change to the table immediately on the left would help.
  12. You apologized to me and to my child regarding the “clueless” comment made today.
  13. We agreed to the following terms to resolve the concerns presented:
  • You reassured us that you would be more conscientious regarding use of words and method of presentation when addressing the children.
  • We agreed that there are more positive methods to encourage increased attention span with this age group.
  • You moved my child’s work space to another table in the hopes that it would prevent distractions from another student. (I agreed to this after saying, “Only if this doesn’t place the other student affected in a situation that is uncomfortable.”)
  • You spoke with my child regarding the water bottle situation and reassured him that he could come to school with a water bottle set to go.  You said he could refill the bottle after specials.  (I want to add another note here that we did not discuss today:  The first day of school you were heard telling your class that they didn’t need “ba-bas” referring to their water bottles.  As a teacher I have seen behaviors deteriorate when children are not well hydrated.  As a parent I want to make sure my children are not mocked for use of their water bottles during the school day.  If adults can have drinks in the classroom the children should also have this opportunity.  It’s a long day for everyone.)
  • We agreed that my child needs to feel comfortable coming to school each day.  He admitted that he had not looked forward to going today because of his concerns.  I reported that I want his school experience to be a positive and encouraging experience.  He should enjoy attending school and come home excited about what he learned.
  • We discussed a way for my child to alert you if he needed to talk to you about a concern so he feels confident expressing himself.  You recommended a signal for him to use when a concern comes up and asked him what he would like to use.  My child had a hard time deciding what signal to use so I suggested tapping his head with his hand to indicate he had something on his mind.  You suggested using two hands opening and closing as if two people were talking.  After careful consideration, I would prefer that you not use that sign.  I have often seen that sign used when adults or children are mimicking or mocking others when they do not agree with something that is being said or when they are feeling bothered.  Consequently, I do not wish to encourage this sign.  I have found an alternative if this is acceptable to you.  Alternative indication that my child wishes to have a conversation with you:  A green timer that he can place on his desk.  I found this at Dollar Tree.  When you see the timer and are able to meet with him, turn the timer over and let him know he can talk to you in two minutes (the length of time it takes for the sand to run through) when you have reached a point of closure with a lesson.  I know you have many classroom obligations to meet and tried to think of a positive way to help manage this.
  • I asked my child if he felt comfortable with this plan to create a positive relationship with you as his teacher.  He agreed to give this a try for the remainder of this week.
  • I am committed to creating a positive learning experience not only for my child, but for the entire classroom.  My children are very intuitive regarding what is fair and right not only for themselves, but for their classmates.  They feel bad when other children are judged, disrespected, or bullied.  We have had many conversations regarding how to be a good advocate for their own interests as well as for those around them.
  • I also explained that I will evaluate how my child responds to our agreement.  It is my hope that no further occurrences create a need for me to remove my child from your classroom.
Finally, I wish to express that you have the opportunity as a teacher to create a lasting impression regarding how my child and his classmates view their education, their love for learning, and their ability to see that they matter in the big picture.  Never forget that you are helping build a foundation for someone’s future.  You may be the one source of positive energy in a child’s day.  So many stressors are placed on families that children may look to their school environment as a relief, a source of wisdom, and a way to hope for something better.  I believe teachers and parents are part of a team.  I plan to follow up with you within the next week.  It is my hope we can make this a great school year.

Respectfully Submitted,
Mary Varville-Rodriguez


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