Mr. M is standing tentatively at the door with a look on his face that seems to question whether he is in the right place or whether it is even permissible for him to enter. His clothes are dusty, sweaty and filthy from a long day of doing some type of manual labor. I beckon him into the Business Office and offer him a seat. He pauses briefly before he calmly sits on the newly purchased upholstered chair. Mr. M is a young, very dark-complexioned African American man with lots of gold teeth, an impatient attitude and a slight scowl. He is the father of two students in our school. But, as he looked at me, I could read the sincerity in his eyes.
Today is the second meeting we have had since the school year started. On August 17th, at our first meeting, he was like a raging bull, making threats of a lawsuit, yelling at the staff, accusing everyone in the school of incompetence, demanding documents, and proclaiming that the principal should have her license revoked. I’ll admit that the scene was ugly and he looked dangerous as he paced back and forth while spitting out threats. I felt slightly uneasy, even with the school’s security guard standing at the office door. But I understood this furious turmoil that spilled out of Mr. M in frustration. His two young sons were missing from school – kidnapped.
Earlier that day, the children’s mother had come to the school and signed them out, citing a doctor’s appointment as her reason. She also withdrew them from the school saying that they would not be returning. Mr. M would not see his sons, a first grader and a second grader, for the next six weeks.
In the fog of his raging anger, Mr. M could not accept our explanation that the children’s birth mother had a parent’s right to take her sons out of school; she had the same rights that he had as their birth father. Mr. M had purposefully omitted any information about the mother on his children’s enrollment forms when he filled them out. Mr. M thought that this would prevent her from taking his children. After all, he had papers from a judge giving him legal custody. Unfortunately, he had not shared the custody documents with the school authorities or alerted anyone that the mother of his sons could not see them. Consequently, the birth certificates which named her as the birth mother and her identification were all we needed to release the children. They were gone.
Mr. M was scheduled to regain possession of his sons last weekend. The boys’ mother had been ordered to turn them over to him no later than Sunday. This meeting with me was to ask permission to re-enroll his sons in the school. The principal refused to see him or make the call; she had been the object of most of his abusive tirade. Following his frightening out-of-control behavior, it was understandable that he suspected we would be reluctant to take the children back. He needed to apologize, take back the insults, and show a different side of himself to the school personnel whom he had so furiously debased. How hard can it be?
It was much easier than he thought it would be. Although he had been told that his children were no longer on the rolls, I apologized for the misinformation. What he did not know was that the students had never been dropped from the enrollment. Since their mother had no legal authority to remove them, they were considered absent due to a family emergency. They were living in Atlanta, GA, but she had not tried to enroll them in another school. Mr. M breathed an audible sigh of relief when I told him that his sons were still students of McDonogh 42 Elementary Charter School. I also added that he owed the principal an apology for the threats. She did not deserve his harsh treatment. Now, he wanted her to accept responsibility for his children again!
He still has major problems to resolve as a single father raising three sons (including a 3-year-old toddler). After school care, transportation, homework and purchasing more school supplies were tribulations yet to be worked out. But, his beaming grin told me that one major load had been lifted from his shoulders. His sons were home and back in their neighborhood school. It was truly a beautiful smile, one that brought tears to my eyes.
The opinions expressed in Starting Over: A Post-Katrina Education are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.