My Son Is Going To Be Expelled
© 2004 Teresa Kellerman
Q: My name is Michelle. I'm trying desperately to keep my 13-year old son Nick from being expelled from 7th grade. I know there has been information on persons with FAE not being able to comprehend what is happening when they are being searched or questioned. I think Nick may have confessed to something that he didn't do, when we weren't there.
Nick was adopted from a Ukrainian orphanage in 1994 at the age of three. Nick was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Effects back in 1996. He also has Reactive Attachment Disorder, and dyslexia. Life has been very difficult for him and us. He had to be confined to a mental institution when he was 8 because he was so violent, both homicidal and suicidal. When he was 9, he spent about 6 months in a residential treatment center for children in Richmond, Virginia. Things have been rocky since then, but there is a world of difference between what he was then and how he is now. He is a very concrete thinker who just doesn't get it a lot of the time. The problem is he looks so normal and is reasonably intelligent in certain areas, that people accuse him of not trying or deliberately being provocative.
Last week he and two friends were discovered to have pocket knives on the school bus. That is considered a weapons violation in Fairfax County, Virginia and is punishable by suspension and probably expulsion. Of course, none of the parents had any idea they were doing this. One boy sold the knife to Nick at the school bus stop on Tuesday. We learned that that boy's brother is known to carry knives in his backpack.
Last Friday on the way home after school, Nick had the knife in his pocket. He'd shown it to a neighbor boy in the morning on the way to the bus stop. As those 4 boys were sitting together, the neighbor boy asks to see Nick's knife. Nick naturally hands it to him. The neighbor boy turns around and points it at a fifth boy, and says "give me your shoes." (They were some fancy brand name shoes, I was told.) The fifth boy says he doesn't have anything else to put on, but he'll give them to him Monday. Nick says all 5 of the boys were laughing, like it was a big joke. The boy returned the knife and Nick put it in his pocket.
That afternoon the fifth boy's mother came down to the two brother's neighborhood where they and Nick were playing outside. She accused them of picking on her son. He's apparently the kind of child no one really likes. Nick said she was upset, saying that she had quit her job to stay home with her son, and that he was going to another school starting Monday, so they wouldn't be able to pick on him.
She must have complained to the school that day because my son and two of the other boys were met by the Vice-Principal and taken off the bus Monday morning. A police officer interviewed Nick at school without our permission or presence. The officer then took Nick home to search his bedroom for the knife, which Nick thought had fallen out of his pocket on the playground Sunday. That was the first we knew anything about there being a problem. They didn't find it then, but he found it that night in his coat pocket.
When we spoke with the police officer back at the school and gave him some information on Nick's disabilities, he seemed understanding. He had had problems with the neighbor boy before and had no sympathy for him. The Vice-Principal, on the other hand, seems to have taken a real dislike to Nick. We've had a lot of problems with teachers misinterpreting what I call his "orphanage smile." It's that cute look he gets on his face, mostly when he's ill at ease and doesn't know what to say because he doesn't think very fast. I think it kept him alive in the orphanage as the cute, smiling children probably got more attention. But when it's used here, it just make the teachers livid. I can see why they'd react that way, but it is not an accurate reflection of what he's really thinking.
When we received the Vice-Principal's letter about the ten-day suspension and recommendation for expulsion yesterday, somehow the facts had been changed to say that it was Nick who had tried to rob the other boy of his shoes. The Vice-Principal seemed to say that Nick had confessed to doing it. That's why we are so worried about their questioning him without us there. He doesn't have any concept of legal rights, and is too likely to agree with authority figures. The police officer tried to explain to Nick that he could be viewed as an accessory, because he gave the perpetrator the knife. But Nick still cannot comprehend that concept. To him, it's all totally separate. Yes, the knife was his, but he didn't threaten anyone with it, so why should he be accused?
This is a boy who spent about $6 a day for lunch the first three weeks of school because he didn't understand that he was supposed to take all five of the items included in a "full lunch" at the same time. A full lunch costs $1.80. But because he was taking two items the first trip through, then another one or two later, etc., he didn't understand that he was being charged full price for an entire lunch each time he went back to get another item. He spent about $117 the first month, even after we explained it to him again, and again.
What information can we give to the school and Hearing Officer so they will understand how FAE affects a person's thinking? It will be very risky for him if he gets into the criminal justice system. I will fear for his life if that happens. He just doesn't have a clue many times, and he's so easily led astray. We're not even sure the boy who sold him the knife is being suspended or threatened with expulsion, which really makes us angry. We just don't know what our rights are in this kind of situation.
Nick has already received the punishment which will upset him the most -- he was taken off the basketball team and cannot play in the last games or tournaments. He was doing so well there. He is good athletically. All his coaches have liked having him on their baseball, basketball, soccer or lacrosse teams. It's about the only way he can feel good about himself. Nick goes to a baby-sitter after school or comes to my house. (His dad and I live about a mile apart.) We thought we were keeping him under control, but obviously not, so we are really clamping down. He's not going to be able to go to anyone's house to play anymore. I wish there were a study hall or detention every day after school where he could go. He really needs that external brain to keep him on the straight and narrow. Every time he's had problems, he was tagging along after someone else, or he thought he was defending a friend, because that's what friends do. It's so sad, because he's basically a good kid. We got him a kitten last year and he's developed so much responsibility taking care of it and worrying about it. He does have an IEP. After he and another boy got into a shouting/shoving match early in the school year, I requested that he get more time with an emotional disabilities counselor. Guess he didn't get it. Making the transition from elementary school to this middle school has been quite an adjustment for him. I don't know what we'll do if they expel him. They do have alternative schools here, but they're usually for 'explosive' children, who are out of control physically and emotionally. Nick's not like that now and I worry he'd learn bad behaviors at that type of center. He sure wouldn't get a decent education.
We're in shock over this because it came out of the blue -- we thought he was keeping it together. We're really, really scared for him. If anyone can give me any advice, I would be very, very grateful. Thank you.
You want to be sure that all necessary assessments have been made, like IQ test and functional ability assessment (Vineland). Here are a few links to make sure you have all your ducks in a row:
I hope this is helpful.
FAS Community Resource Center