When your phone rings and you see it's the school that's calling, you expect the news on the other end might not be good. Perhaps your child is sick, forgot an important assignment at home or maybe is even in trouble. But when third-grader Peyton Whitehead's mother recently got the call no parent wants, the news was far, far worse than that. Her 8-year-old son was removed from class and served with a restraining order, and under the terms of that order, is no longer allowed on the school grounds.
A restraining order was filed against the boy by the father of another child who lives on the same block. The application for the restraining order alleged Peyton was threatening, harassing and stalking this other child. The judge granted an ex parte order, meaning that they did not hear from Peyton or his parents before making their order. The order states that Peyton must stay at least 1,000 feet away from the child who is protected by the order. A court appearance has been scheduled for Sept. 20, at which time both sides can be heard on this matter. Both Peyton's mother and the father of the child who applied for the restraining order admit they themselves have been fighting over the past few months.
The safety of a child is a serious issue. But what many people are shocked over is the Jefferson County, Missouri, sheriff's department's decision to serve Peyton with the restraining order during school hours. Children are highly prone to embarrassment. At 8 years old, being singled out for pretty much anything is reason enough to make you blush, but to have the police show up and drag you out of the classroom is pretty over-the-top. The child who is protected by the order isn't in the same class as Peyton, so it's not as though there was an immediate danger. And if the sheriff's department really felt the court order had to be complied with in the middle of the school day, there are a thousand different ways they could have handled this better (call Mom to come to the school first? Have a school staff member bring him to the office?). After all, this isn't a pint-size criminal. He's an 8-year-old boy who's been accused, yes, but at the same time, there are two sets of parents involved who admit to being less-than-perfectly behaved themselves.
Restraining orders are important protective tools when used properly. And perhaps this is a situation in which legal action is necessary. If it turns out that it's not and that the restraining order was filed more as a way for one parent to get back at another, it's the child who loses out here. Due to the 1,000-foot restriction and the proximity of the neighbor's house to his own, Peyton is essentially grounded until the court hearing. He will have to be home schooled, which is difficult, as he has a learning disability.
Parents can get just as worked up as kids, but it's our job to know when to take a step back and see that things are getting out of hand. Hopefully, this isn't a case of kids being used as fodder in their parents' personal war. Apart from the embarrassment and short-term disruption to his education, a restraining order could end up on a child's long-term criminal record and have long-term impacts on their future prospects.
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