Every day, I’d come home from high school and tell my parents that I was being bullied. They didn’t realize how bad it was until one late April day in 10th grade.
My teacher informed the class that we were two lessons ahead of everyone else. He asked us if we wanted to go down to the park, a grassy half-mile walk from school where we could play kickball and hang out before school ended in an hour. It was a beautiful day, and because it was technically on school grounds, it wasn’t considered a field trip. The class cheered. My school aide (paraprofessional) stood up.
“No,” she said. “Kings is too tired and she’s not strong enough to make the trip. If you go, she will have to stay here.”
My teacher looked confused. My aide was standing in the back of the room, and hadn’t come over to ask me how I was feeling or if I’d like to go. This was English, my favorite class; I spoke up every day and my teacher knew I could speak for myself. So, I tried to defend myself.
“I’m fine! I’d love to go. I really like kickball!”
My aide walked to the front of the room. Looking straight at me, with her finger out, she almost growled.
“Absolutely not. Do NOT argue with me young lady, you are not going.”
My whole face turned red. My classmates either looked straight at me or looked awkwardly away. My teacher stared between the two of us, shuffling his feet and looking lost. Finally, he murmured:
“We could, um…go out to the football field instead, and um, just hang out down there.”
The football field was literally out the door, and the special treat of going to the park was reduced before our eyes.
When I got in my PCAs car that day to go home, I was visibly shaking. I was so upset that my PCA called my dad at work, and both my parents came home early. They told me I didn’t have to go to school the next day. Instead they set up a meeting with my guidance counselor, the special education coordinator, and my aide.
At school the following Monday, my aide didn’t speak to me for almost the whole day. A sixty year old professional gave me the cold shoulder all day because I stood up for myself when she had bullied me. I thought I would be terrified, but instead, I didn’t care. I was so tired of how she was treating me.
Having my aide in school was a requirement set forth in my Individualized Education Program (IEP). This meant that I had someone other than teachers watching me every minute of every school day, someone who was supposed to help me.
But in trying to help me, my aide also kept me from many of the activities my peers were doing. Some people say that she was protecting me, but most of the time I remember her not wanting to go on field trips or out to recess because she was too bored or too cold or too tired. And because she was the adult, I had to do what she said.
This should not happen to any student, ever. We need to be aware of the way school services meant to help students with disabilities can be used against them. We need to take notice when students with disabilities are trying to speak up, trying to defend themselves. It took a moment of extreme bullying and embarrassment for my parents to realize that this was a problem. And I wasn’t asked until after the incident what I wanted, what my goals were, and how the school could help me attain them. It’s time for school systems to do a better job of taking into account the needs and wishes of disabled students when it comes to their privacy, independence, and rights.