There’s a reason sending your kids off to school is scary — every year, on the first day of school, you have to swallow that lump of fear in your throat and trust that they’re in good hands. While most teachers are dedicated to their students, there’s always the bad apple that spoils the bunch.
Chicago mother Nyesha Terry had the bad luck of encountering the “bad apple” in her son’s kindergarten class. Lloyd, a 5-year-old with special needs who is nonverbal and has epilepsy, attends Wentworth Elementary School in Chicago. When Terry dropped by to visit Lloyd’s classroom, she was horrified to find her son wearing a trash bag as a makeshift bib and seated away from the other students.
According to Terry, what she saw was disrespectful, dangerous and absolutely unnecessary — and she is absolutely right. The distraught mother complained to her son’s teacher, who excused his trash bag bib by saying that Lloyd’s excess saliva, related to his epilepsy, had gotten his shirt wet and could make him sick. Terry argued that the school had real bibs and extra clothing for Lloyd on hand. The teacher’s argument also didn’t explain why Lloyd was isolated from the other kids.
Terry continues to fight the school but has yet to receive any answers after calling the principal and Chicago Public Schools on more than one occasion. In a statement, Chicago Public Schools called the alleged incident “inexcusable” and has launched an investigation.
What’s so troubling about this story — besides the obvious mistreatment of a defenseless child — is that it’s sending mixed messages to parents about our relationship with teachers. Because of the recent reign of the helicopter parent in the past decade (the kind of overbearing parent who tries to take tests for their kids and shows up at job interviews), we’re seeing a pushback. Many parents today think it’s better to approach things “old school” and trust the teacher instead of suing when a child is picked last for the team.
This approach certainly sounds healthier and more balanced… until we run into a story like this, where a child with special needs may have continued to be isolated and abused at school if his mom hadn’t stepped in. Lloyd’s mom isn’t a helicopter mom. She’s a regular mother who was concerned about her young son and stopped in to his class to check on him. And good thing she did.
It’s one thing to be an overbearing helicopter parent, and it’s quite another to be a parent who is actively involved in their child’s education and treatment at school. The helicopter parenting style is known to cause anxiety and depression as kids get older, whereas the hands-on parenting style has been proven to help kids perform better in school, reducing dropout rates and even improving self-esteem.
With children who are particularly vulnerable, hands-on parenting becomes even more important. Sadly, stories of alleged abuse like Lloyd’s aren’t uncommon among kids with special needs. Children with special needs need extra protection at school, with their parent being their No. 1 advocate. There’s no doubt that special needs programs need more funding to provide a higher quality of care, but parental involvement still makes a world of difference. To support and protect children who need extra help, parents are encouraged to attend all open house activities, to ask questions and talk with the school principal, to look for signs of inclusion during school visits, to research teachers’ training when working with children with disabilities and to always talk to the school about any challenges a child may be facing, whether large or small.
As disturbing as this story is to hear, it’s encouraging to see how quickly Lloyd’s mother reacted when she found her son being mistreated at school. Terry did everything right — she dropped in to her son’s classroom, she asked questions about his treatment, and she immediately brought her concerns to the principal. This mother reminds us: The more we speak up, the less our kids will be mistreated.