Hey folks. I know, it’s kind of ridiculous. I splashed out on a real website with a personalized URL & I put the effort into re-designing the site, & then I disappeared.
This blog is now primarily a sewing blog–specifically, about women’s garment-sewing. But if you look through the archives, you will see that it’s gone through several iterations over the years. I didn’t learn how to sew until 2012/2013, but I started the blog way back in 2009. I used to write a lot more about politics, feminism, & zines. When Jared & I decided to have a child, it morphed for a while into an infertility/pregnancy/parenting blog. When I was going through my cancer treatments last year, I wrote about it.
I’ve been quiet here for the last month or so because we have been going through a very upsetting experience as a family. As most of you know, Jared & I have a daughter. Her name is Ramona & she will be five years old next month. We enrolled her in a local co-operative preschool last year, when she was 3. We were really happy at the school for an entire year. Ramona thrived, she made friends. But tomorrow will be her last day at the school.
At the beginning of September, I noticed a play tipi on the school playground. My personal feeling, as a person who cares deeply about anti-racism & social justice, is that play tipis are a classic example of cultural appropriation. I feel that they teach children to view marginalized cultures as playthings, or relics of an apolitical history. I had never seen the tipi on school grounds before (I wouldn’t have enrolled my child at that particular school if I’d known that a play tipi was among their toy stash), so I asked where it had come from. A teacher explained that it had been a gift to the school from an alum family, & it didn’t come out of the shed very often. When the teachers did pull it out, they referred to it as an adventure tent.
I shared my view that the tipi was not an appropriate toy for the children, & that the teachers had to know that on some level if they were not comfortable referring to it as a tipi. (It was a classical conical structure, with sticks coming out of the top. It was definitely designed to look like a tipi rather than an all-purpose “tent”.) The director agreed with me & got rid of the tipi.
& that is where everything could have, & should have, ended.
Instead, the school’s board launched a seven-week campaign of harassment against me. Although they claimed to agree with me about the tipi, they insisted that I had not used the correct venue to ask about it. (I had raised the question on the school’s private Facebook page for parent discussion, rather than saving the question for an upcoming board meeting or one-on-one chat with a teacher.) They said that because my question had “made teachers feel bad,” it was considered a “personal attack”. I was accused of being hostile & disruptive for asking this question. I was received numerous emails & text messages from board members, reprimading me & berating me for raising the issue.
Eventually the board developed a policy for the parent Facebook page, drafted in response to my inquiries about the tipi. Parents were told to raise issues & concerns about things like playground toys & school curriculum in private conversations with teachers, or via a form that would be considered at the monthly board meetings. We were not to discuss such issues amongst ourselves on the Facebook page, & violators would be subject to vague consequences, including removal from membership in the Facebook group.
The next day, the husband of one of the board members approached Jared on the playground & told him that we were not welcome at the school & should withdraw. It was a pretty clear-cut example of harassment & intimidation. We documented the incident in writing & sent it to the school director, just to have it on file in case things escalated with that family.
Shortly thereafter, Jared & I were summoned to the school for a private meeting with the director, board president, & one of the board VPs. (The board, incidentally, is comprised of school parents, appointed to their positions via a cursory nomination-&-election process at one of the two mandatory all-family meetings that happen each year. Most board members run unopposed, & generally, mere minutes elapse between nomination & election. There’s definitely no getting to know the candidates, contrasting & comparing their views on various school issues, or anything like that. Basically, someone volunteers to be president or secretary or whatever, & the general membership is like, “Uh, okay,” & “votes” them in for a term of one year.)
Apparently, the impetus for the meeting was a screen shot the board received regarding my writing about the person who confronted Jared on the playground. I had posted a friends-locked Facebook account of the issues we were having. One of my FB apparently/supposedly took a screen shot of my post & sent it to the board. Despite the fact that the post was private & did not identify anyone by name, the board considered this a violation of their vaguely-worded “problem-solving policy” & demanded that Jared & I both sign a document attesting to the fact that we “understand the problem-solving policy” as a pre-condition for Ramona’s continued enrollment in the school.
As far as we know, the individual who initiated the confrontation with Jared on the playground was not reprimanded or forced to review the problem-solving policy. Note again: his wife is on the board.
We taped that meeting, & we have the president of the board on tape agreeing that our signing the document means that we are all going to move forward in Ramona’s best interest. Our requests were simple: stop twisting our words & accusing us of doing & saying things we never did or said. (This was related to their written charge that I had called a teacher “disgusting,” when in fact I was clearly referring to the play tipi as a “disgusting” example of racist iconography–guys, it was decorated with jungle-themed fabric. I mean.) If someone comes to them with rumors or gossip about us, or screen shots that violate our rights & privacy, refuse to listen or look at them. In sum, stop harassing us.
Again, all of this is on tape.
We walked out of that meeting feeling that things were resolved. Not perfectly, but well enough that we were able to move forward & live our lives.
Two days later, they rescinded my position as assistant treasurer. Several explanations were offered. We were told that the board had decided it wasn’t a good idea for “someone who is so upset with the school” to handle the school’s money. (My job was to collect & deposit school tuition.) We were told that “several families” had contacted the board to say they were “uncomfortable” with me handling their money. We were then told that it was actually just one family that was uncomfortable, but because money was involved, the board “had to take it seriously”. & then we were told that it was really for our own protection, so we wouldn’t be the victims of “false allegations” of financial malfeasance.
Of course my immediate thought was that this was another attempt to sideline us & strip us of meaningful responsibility within the school so that it would be easier for them to force us out on some trumped up justification. But what could I do? Refuse to turn over the deposit slips? Stage a sit-in at the bank & demand the right to deposit tuition? So I acquiesced, even though I really enjoyed that job. I told them to keep me updated on the timeline for transitioning a new person into the job, & to let me know who the new person was so I could arrange to train them.
They replied that the treasurers would handle the training. This was confusing to me because the entire reason the assistant treasurer job exists is so the people who have the power to spend the school’s money (the treasurer, president, director, etc) aren’t also the people who deposit the money. This separation of powers is clearly spelled out in the school bylaws. The treasurer had never even been trained on how the deposit system works (not that it’s rocket science).
I want to make clear: I’m not accusing anyone of financial mismanagement by bringing this up. I use it simply as a illustration of the fact that the board would rather violate its own bylaws & separation of executive duties than allow me to retain any position of responsibility. They made clear that there was absolutely no problem with the way I had been doing the job for the previous six months. They just…didn’t want me doing it anymore.
They told me I could wrap up October’s tuition, but less than a week later, with no forewarning whatsoever, they removed my access to the tuition & operating spreadsheets I required to finish my job. They told me to turn over any checks I hadn’t yet had a chance to process to the director.
Again, what could I do? Refuse? Insist that I be allowed to go to the bank & make sure the school’s money was deposited so the teachers could be paid? So, I went to the school & gave everything to the director. I wrote an email to the director, president, & board detailing the various issues that the incoming assistant treasurer should be aware (families on payment plans, the color coding system I used in the files to track late fees, that sort of thing).
& the day after that, we got another email from the board president, summoning us in for yet another private meeting. We asked for an agenda, or at least a rough idea of the topic, several times, & several times, we were refused. I was convinced that they were going to tell us that we were being kicked out, & that it was all cloak & dagger because they had our security deposit refund written & ready to go & just wanted to do it quick & face to face instead of drawing things out over email. Jared was convinced that it was pretty much anything but that, since we hadn’t done anything to justify removal from the school. We were all paid up on tuition, we’d been showing up for every participation day, we’d done our weekend cleaning, we’d even done the alternative cleaning job they assigned us so we wouldn’t be present at the mandatory fall work day (the dad that confronted Jared on the playground was in charge of work day & didn’t want us there). We had signed their problem-solving policy form. We had even acceded to their problematic “no discussion of social justice issues on the FB group” policy, even though it flew in the face of our moral & political principles & we were sick about kowtowing to a rule that was specifically developed to protect white privilege & white fragility. It was only our own white privilege that allowed us to do that, & that’s on us. That was very, very wrong of us, & I regret it with all my heart. They manipulated us by using our love for our child against us. We could suck up the racism, toe the party line, & keep our kid in a school she loves, with friends & teachers she loves. Or we could do the morally correct thing, refuse, & break our child’s heart.
Anyway. They said that they didn’t want Ramona at this meeting, so Jared stayed home with her & I went alone. & I was right. They were kicking us out. They returned our security deposit & October tuition in full (which was financially more than they were obligated to do, & was clearly designed to be a “hush money” type of situation) & gave me a letter outlining their argument. They said that I was in violation of the problem-solving policy by continuing to post about my issues with the board in private, friends-locked FB posts. When I asked how they knew what I had posted, considering that I have fewer than 200 FB friends, which includes only two other parents from the school, neither of whom is on the board, they just said, “We have screen shots. & we looked into it. It’s legal for us to have screen shots.”
Legal? Perhaps. Morally wrong? Definitely.
The post they took issue with was about being removed as assistant treasurer & how sad I was about it. & how confused I was that they wouldn’t let me train the new person. (That was before I knew they were going to fold the job into the treasurer position, at least temporarily, in violation of the school bylaws.) I wrote, “I’d like to believe that they are not intentionally being shady, but it feels shady to me, which is very confusing!” In the context of the post, it’s clear that I was referring to their behavior toward me as shady, but in their letter, they said that I was accusing them of being “shady” with regards to the management of the school’s money, which constituted “impugning the school’s character on social media,” which was a violation of the vaguely-phrased problem-solving policy, which states that behavior that “interferes with the board’s ability to do its job” will have consequences.
Of course they wouldn’t tell me where the screen shots they allegedly had came from. I learned the next day that unnamed board members had been approaching my FB friends & actually asking them to provide screen shots of anything I was privately writing about the school. As far as I know, everyone they asked refused, but at least one person provided a recollection of the “shady” post, which, in the absence of the actual text of the post, was easily twisted into an accusation of malfeasance & thus, grounds for forcing our family out. The person who offered the account to the board member has apologized to us & seems to feel terrible about how the board twisted her words.
People keep saying, “This sounds illegal! You should sue them!” But it’s a private, non-profit school. They don’t have an obligation to accept every family that wants to attend. They are licensed as a day care facility, so it’s not an “access to education” issue. & at the end of the day, our problem is not with the school. We don’t want to destroy the school. It was the board that engaged in this campaign of harassment, & it was the board that eventually decided to force our family out. As I explained, being on the board is essentially a volunteer position with a certain degree of codified authority. I have no doubt that different board members would have resulted in a different outcome. It was just our bad luck to run up against a group that is especially petty, vindictive, & authoritarian. The next logical step from where I sit would be for the families who are still involved with the school to demand an emergency meeting & perhaps a vote on a new board. That’s what I would do if I was still at the school & all of this had happened to someone else. But since we are no longer a school family, we have no power to make anything like that happen. It’s entirely possible that the board won’t face any consequences for this situation, & that they will live the rest of their lives telling themselves that they did the right thing by essentially destroying a child’s life because they were upset that someone made them feel uncomfortable about overlooking the cultural insensitivity of a toy. That’s their prerogative, I suppose.
Ramona is, of course, devastated. She doesn’t understand any of this. All she wants to do is play with her friends. She wakes up everyday asking us if it’s a school day & planning what games she is going to play with her friends. We’ve told her what happened & that there won’t be any more school after Friday, but–she’s 4. She doesn’t understand. It makes no sense to her that she isn’t going to be able to go to school (which, mind you, is three blocks from our house) & play Octonauts with her friends. She keeps talking about what she wants to wear to the school Halloween party (at which we are no longer welcome) & what kind of cookies she wants to bring in for her birthday. She keeps asking us when her next show & tell day is. I actually slept in her tiny little toddler bed with her the other night, even though it’s too small for me to be able to stretch out my legs, just because I had this overwhelming compulsion to be with her, to hold her, to somehow try to protect her from everything hard & sad in the world. I know this isn’t the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone, but it’s legitimately traumatic for her, & in no way necessary. Even if a person disagrees with me about the fundamental tipi issue, even if someone wants to be that person that’s all, “What the big deal, it’s just a tent,” (if that’s you, by the way, feel free to take me off your reader), I think we can all agree that kicking a child out of school is not the appropriate resolution.
So that’s what I’ve been dealing with for the last several weeks. This also means a big shake-up to our schedule, which might affect my sewing going forward. We’ll see what happens, but obviously it’s going to take us at least a little while to figure out our new normal. But you know, sewing is my lifesaver when it comes to keeping my sanity, so it will still be a priority, as will this blog.
Incidentally, the name of the school is Lawrence Community Nursery School, in Lawrence, KS. It’s also known as the Little Red Schoolhouse. Again, our time there was wonderful…until it wasn’t. & a different board probably could have come to a different resolution. So I’m not saying, “Boycott this school, they’re all monsters.” I’m just saying, this was our experience. It resulted in a real & profound trauma for our child, & for us. We were victimized by a board that repeatedly lied to us, violating our privacy, misrepresented our words & actions, failed to honor its own agreements, & insisted all the while that everything they were doing was our own fault. I think it would take a remarkable confluence of events for this same situation to befall another family, but hey–it happened once. Buyer beware & all that.
Here’s Ramona hiking at the Field Station north of town.