Why are second (and third) chances so hard?

Last week I heard from another autism mom whose son was expelled from school after two behavior incidents. She felt the incidents should be viewed in the context of her child’s diagnosis, Asperger’s, and that the school bore some responsibility for inciting the first, in particular. She was frustrated. “Am I wrong?” was the last sentence of her message.

The next day I heard about the one-year unpaid suspension that Flint-area teacher Nicole McVey received after she videotaped a student with Asperger’s who got his head stuck in a chair in her classroom, in front of the other students and building principal. The student’s parents want her fired instead, expected she would be, and now say they will sue the school district.

Two people want another chance. Both involve special needs kids. Should either of them get it?

The most basic rationale says the child should. After all, childhood is about learning from mistakes. Adults are supposed to know better. Teachers like McVey are held to even higher standards.

But beyond the family’s personal sense of vindication (a human desire I can empathize with), I’m not sure what’s gained by firing her. (Caveat: I’ve not watched the video. I couldn’t bring myself to when it surfaced and I still can’t.) But I fear the firing would accomplish the same thing as the student’s expulsion: Purging the school of something difficult and messy, something the powers that be would prefer not to deal with.

Problem is, autism, which now includes Asperger’s, isn’t going away. It’s getting more common. One in 68 kids, per the latest CDC estimates. Rather than purging, this is what we need:

  • More people trained and experienced with autism and its behavioral manifestations in the schools. McVey’s suspension stipulates training on classroom relationships and handling student information. Autism-specific training should be mandated as well. (Grand Valley’s START program is one resource right in Michigan.)
  • More tolerance and patience among the typical majority. Another reason I’m wary of firing is that it could backfire on the student’s family. McVey received a lot of community support. If she’s fired, that turns to community hostility to the child and family.
  • After tolerance, acceptance. Neurodiversity is just another stripe of diversity, like racial, ethnic and religious. My own son’s class is exemplary at this.

The mom’s not wrong to feel frustrated. Neither are the parents in the Flint case. But if we let both end in exile, that’s the destiny for so many more. 

 – The letter L brought to you by Daily Drop Cap.

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