“That’s it! I’m gonna kill her! I don’t care! Get off me!”
The two girls were pried apart. One was brought into the nearest room; the other was being brought down the hallway. A door was placed in between them. For a few seconds, both girls got free of their restrainers once again.
From both sides, they pummeled the window in the door. The extra thick, shatter-proof glass ended up all over the floor, scattered in tiny pieces. Blood oozed from both knuckles. The girls were separated and quarantined in different rooms. Round two of the fight came to an end.
Almost exactly 24 hours earlier, round one ended with after school activities being cancelled. The fire department guarded a door that held Chimanda as they waited for the police to arrive.
Chimanda, who has an emotional disability, screamed and pushed desks. She’d been in there for about 25 minutes. Only able to coherently speak for short bursts of time. Because of her disability and her inability to calm herself down, Chimanda had three options: 1) she could leave with her mother; 2) she could leave in an ambulance; 3) she could leave with the police. The result was an ambulance and six cops arriving at 2:45 to take her to the nearest hospital. At 3:00 she had to be strapped down in the ambulance.
The first interaction I had with Chimanda was at the beginning of the school year while proctoring a diagnostic math assessment. She was the only student in the room, and she refused to answer any questions.
“Why do I need to take this?”
“So your teachers can see where your skills are and create appropriate lessons.”
“That’s a waste of time. They should just look at my report card.” Such is the logic of a 14 year old. Sitting in a room doing nothing was less of a waste of time than taking the test.
So I did what proctors are supposed to do, I stopped engaging her in discussion and, in a neutral non-threatening way, redirected her to the task. She answered 10 of 35 questions.
According to the New York ACLU, the 2011-2012 school year saw, on average 11 arrests and/or summons a day from schools (http://www.nyclu.org/files/publications/nyclu_STPP_1021_FINAL.pdf). 90% of these involved black and Latino youth. Black students with disabilities are the most likely to face suspension and legal action.
According to Monique Morris’s Pushout, at 18.9%, Black girls under the age of 18 have the highest rate of “person offenses” (assault, robbery, etc.). They are also placed in residential programs at a higher rate (21.4%) than Latinas (8.3%) and White girls (6.8%) combined.
Students like Chimanda, who have a complicated history of emotional struggles, are greatly under-served by the Department of Education (and society as a whole). Several weeks prior to the incident, I held a meeting with Chimanda’s mother and all of her teachers to create a plan to support her academic, emotional, and social transition to a new school. The end result was that all teachers would communicate to the parent through a google document that everyone had access to and that Chimanda would be given a card with a green side (“I’m ok”) and a yellow side (“I feel anxious”) so she could signal to her teachers her emotional state at any given time. Needless to say, this plan has not paid dividends yet.
On Monday, Chimanda will return to school with the same student who yelled “I’m going to kill her.” She’ll return to a revamped schedule that will provide her with smaller classes and two 1 on 1 periods to help manage her transition to the classroom.
Of course, I wonder, will it be enough? If we cannot do our job as a school to support her, she likely ends up like so many other girls who face similar struggles. For Chimanda, we all need to be better.