Thursday, March 21, 2013

"You Made Him Bleed"

All of the Halbrook children had gone through my school.  All in all, they were nice kids and with good, loving parents.  But the youngest Halbrook, Curtis, was the one that broke the mold.

Curtis was (is) a good kid.  But there was no denying that teachers weren't exactly hoping his name would wind up on their classlist.  He the definition of a whirling dirvish.  He couldn't sit still.  He never raised his hand.  He was seemingly never in his seat.  He was occassionally and unexplainably found underneath furniture.

When Curtis was in 4th grade, I got received a panicked voicemail after I'd left the office from his emotional mother, followed by a dissertation style e-mail.  Apparently Curtis had told one of his classmates he was going to kill him, and possibly extended the threat towards his teacher (though that couldn't be verified).

Curtis is about 4 feet tall and maybe 45 pounds soaking wet.  He's totally harmless.  His mom was terrified I was going to try and kick the kid out of school.  Sadly, in the day and age we find ourself, we see kids being suspended and expelled for far dumber reasons thanks in part to misguided zero tolerance polices.  So I suppose on some level, her panic was justified.

I called mom the next morning and talked to Curtis teacher.  It took little effort to get all of us on the same page.  We weren't after Curtis, and we weren't kicking him out of school.  We all agreed his comments were not literal in intention.  When I asked his teacher what she felt an appropriate consequence would be, she replied, "Just scare the shit out of him."  Curtis's mom thanked me for my understanding but begged me to please call him down and 'scare the shit out of him' so he learns a lesson about making comments like that.    Easy enough right?

The next morning I called Curtis down about nine o'clock.  He sat in the chair across from my desk quietly.  I continued working at my computer, occassionally looking over with an angry glare.  After letting him sweat about five mintutes I turned and began.

"Curtis, what do you think the consequence is for threatening to kill another student?"

He looked at my blankly and replied, "Um, I don't know, but I'm never gonna do that again."

"You know Curtis, I'd love to believe you but I'm responsible for everyone's safety here.  I'm not sure I can just risk everyone's life by simplying accepting your promise.  So again, what's the condequence for threatening to kill someone?"  He didn't know.  "Well, I know what I do when I don't know something- I Google it!"

I Googled 'student threatens to kill another student.'  Sadly I got about 48 million hits.  I started reading them to Curtis as I scrolled through.  "Florida student arrested... student charged with threatening... students arrested after threatening classmate... police arrest student who made threats...."

Curtis was becoming more pale.  I continued.  "So Curtis, it would seem that the penalty for threatening to kill someone is... you get arrested!"  He just stared.  "I think I'd better get your teacher down here since you apparently threated her and determine if she'd like to press charges against you."  Curtis continued to just stare.  He certainly was taking this seriously, but frankly I was hoping for a little more emotion/reaction.

I had the office  page his teacher.  When she arrived and sat down next to Curtis, we continued on.  "Ms. Gomes, I'm a little over my head here as principal.  We don't deal with a lot of death threats here at school, and I'm not sure how to handle this.  Curtis and I Googled to find out what happens when a student threatens to kill another student and it appears in most cases you get arrested. I'm starting to think that the best move here might be to have the PD come over here and arrest Curtis."

With that Curtis howled, "Ohhhh nooooo!" and collapsed his head into his lap aggressively crying.  Just as I was about to start letting him down, he lifted his head back up and blood was pouring out his nose.  "Now I'm bleeding!" he wailed.  Ms. Gomes looked at me with astonishment and said softly, "My God, you made him bleed."

Curtis's teacher was trying to keep Kleenex on his nose bleed, but he was sobbing so hard and bleeding so freely it wasn't doing much good.  Blood was everywhere.  Curtis looked liked he'd gone a few rounds with Mike Tyson.  His white shirt was covered in blood.  Blood was smeared on his arms, the chair, the carpet, his pants, and the tissue box.  Tissues soaked in blood were everywhere.

By now, the nurse had joined us.  As she worked trying to pinch the nose, Ms. Gomes continued to fumble with the Kleenex to prevent some blood from spilling.  Curtis continued to howl thus making it worse.  And me?  I just stood there in disbelief.  I still had to finish this song & dance and tell this squirt he wasn't going to jail!

"Curtis, you need calm down and pay attention.  We need to finish this important conversation.  I understand you're upset, but imagine how your classmate felt when you told him you were going to kill him."

Eventually, Ms. Gomes declared she wasn't going to press charges as long as he promised to never say something like that again ever.  Curtis passionately promised, and the nurse took him away.

I certainly hope Curtis learned a lesson that will stick with him.  I feel like he's probably pretty lucky that he ran into a principal and teacher who were understanding and interested in helping him avoid the behavior in the future rather than simply issuing consequences.  He might not be so lucky next time.

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