An unsafe place for Jane

Today’s guest author is anonymous.

Our guest author is a mother advocating for her children. The names of her children have been changed as well to protect their privacy. 


Let’s talk about trauma. I know trauma.

Growing up, I lived in a very unstable, violent home. I spent too many nights hiding in my bedroom as I listened to fighting in the other room. I know domestic violence and abuse. I know what it is like to have the police in my living room in the middle of the night to break up a fight and go to school the next day. I witnessed my mom attempt suicide when I was 5, and hours later got on the bus to go to kindergarten as if nothing had ever happened. We were poor and, at times, lived off food stamps. Food was rationed for the week. Once it was gone, it was gone. I remember bare refrigerators with only a handful of items – bologna, hot dogs, some condiments.

I know what it is like to live in constant fear and constant stress. Every decision I made was one of survival. Do you know what saved me? School. My teachers in k-12 literally saved me. The school was my safe place. At school, I was respected, valued, connected, and safe. My teachers loved me. Most of my teachers had no clue what had happened the night before in my home. They knew I was raised by a single mom, and I was a free/reduced lunch kid. But they didn’t know I had witnessed so much violence and abuse. This is why I value educators. They literally saved my life, gave me hope, and kept me safe.

Today, my girls have a stable home, loving parents, food, clothes, everything they need, and more. So when I send my kids to school, I expect them to be safe. School shootings aside, I expect them to be loved, valued, respected, and cared for because that is what my teachers did for me. Helen has had that experience. Unfortunately, Jane has not. For Jane, school is a source of trauma and pain. When Jane goes to school, she is in a state of fight, flight, freeze, and/or a constant state of stress. She scopes her environment. She is always looking for the exit and escape route.

Jane has been harmed by some school staff. She has been taught that teachers can hurt her. She has been taught she can not trust them.

Our school system expects me to send my child to school daily. But they can not guarantee me an environment where my child will be valued, respected, and loved, just as I was as a child. They expect me to drop my child off and run when she is upset. And I did that for weeks this past year. But unlike in past years, I would pick my child up in a worse state than when I left her. In past years, when I dropped her off upset, I picked her up happy. This year, I would pick up a broken child who had spent hours in a state of crisis. I expect that when I pick my child up from school, she will be better, or at least not worse off, than when I dropped her off. I don’t expect ever to pick up a traumatized kid. And for a school to normalize this and think it is ok for my child to remain in crisis is abusive. Everything about that is wrong.

Everything I did to provide my children with stability and a life reasonably free from trauma has been undone by the two schools Jane has attended. There is something inherently wrong with a school gaslighting a mom for protecting their child from abuse and trauma. It is wrong to expect me to be ok with leaving my child in their care only to pick her up in a broken, dissociative state repeatedly. When a child remains in that state, day after day, that chronic stress and survival mode rewires a child’s brain. It changes them. 

Trauma and abuse change a kid. I know. I was that kid. I lived in that state as a child. I’m not allowing my child to live it too.

When I send her to school, I expect her to be reasonably free from harm and trauma. And when I take steps to protect her, I don’t expect to be gaslighted and blamed. We have our 7th and final IEP meeting of the year in the morning. We will discuss extended school year, compensatory services, and supports for 5th grade.

I owe everything to my teachers for saving my life. I don’t understand why Jane has not had the same experience as her sister or me. I don’t understand why it became ok to blame a young child for their struggles and why showing her empathy and compassion has not been the norm. It feels like a betrayal from what I knew to be true.

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