The Independent has withheld the name of the school and changed the name of the mother to protect the identity of the children involved.
When Marg sent her five-year old son to school in Central Lambton, she never dreamed he would face violence in the classroom.
But her young son was assaulted not once, but twice in a matter of days by the same four-year old.
And while the Lambton-Kent District School Board has dealt with the problem, Marg is speaking out saying faster action may have prevented the second attack.
The two children are in the same class. Two weeks ago, Marg’s son was playing in the classroom. The four-year-old wanted a puppy the boy was playing with. When he didn’t get it, he went to the toy kitchen, found a plastic knife with small, serrated teeth and held it to the five-year-old’s neck.
School officials told Marg of the incident, she says, after the school day was done. The toy knife briefly left marks on his neck.
Marg went in search of answers the next day. “I wanted something done,” she told The Independent. “I wanted my kid to be safe when he goes to school.”
The young mother didn’t get satisfaction talking to the school administrators who said the four-year old’s action was a behavioural problem. “I really hated that they blew it off because he was four,” she says adding she thought there was a “zero tolerance policy” when students physically attack another.
While Marg was in Sarnia trying to get some answers as to what the board would do, the four-year old became angry again in the classroom, this time choking Marg’s son. The school’s staff called her when the incident happened. When she picked him up at the end of the day, staff members told her this attack also left a temporary mark.
The five-year old was “fine” after the first incident and went back to school without complaint. “After the second one he didn’t want to go back to school,” says Marg. “He didn’t sleep well that night.”
Marg says she tried not to bring the attacks at home but Tuesday morning, her son woke up complaining of a sore neck. So she brought him to the doctor who encouraged her to approach the police or the Childrens’ Aid Society.
Marg says she told school officials her son, and his twin brother, wouldn’t return to school until the four-year old had someone watching him all the time.
Board officials later called her to explain her children could move to another class. Marg didn’t like that idea. The board was able to find money for an educational assistant for the four year old – the solution Marg was hoping for. “He needed someone to shadow him, someone to monitor him.”
And while the board dealt with the problem, Marg believes officials should have acted quicker.
Director of Education Jim Costello wouldn’t comment on the specific case but says it is not surprising a parent with a young child who is assaulted would want quick action.
“When you have children who are so young and vulnerable, parents are justifiable more concerned…no one wants a young child to be harmed,” Costello told The Independent.
Boards have to follow the provincial Safe Schools Act that requires boards to have clear policies. In Lambton, Costello says they consider the “mitigating circumstances…Did the perpetrator understand the consequences of his or her action. If they feel they didn’t because of their youth…or intellectually disability…if that puts them in a position that they wouldn’t understand, that is a factor.
“It is very rare to suspend children…often times we move them, give them time outs,” he says. And Costello says the board calls in child experts to help deal with the underlying problems.
Incidents of violence are very rare in kindergarten classrooms, says Costello, and now with two adults in each classroom, a teacher and an early childhood educator, there are more eyes watching the children, keeping them safe.
“We don’t want this sort of thing happening in a primary or kindergarten classroom,” he says. “It’s also very difficult for students to observe.”
Marg knows that first hand. Her other son who was in the same classroom when his brother was attacked, didn’t want to go back to school either. But when his brother expressed concern about heading back to class, the twin responded “Don’t worry, he won’t be there and I’ll be with you.”
While Marg is glad the issue has been resolved she hopes the board has also learned from it. “ I hope the next time it happens – and it is going to – it doesn’t take going to the school board to get something done,” she says. “I hope they take it more seriously the next time so the next mom doesn’t have to go through this.”