Sticky situation resolved

This is not colonial America, but my older daughter’s school district made me feel like Hester Prynne when they handed me a modern-day Scarlet Letter.

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Unlike Prynne, I refuse to wear this badge of shame, seeing as I did nothing wrong.

Instead, I chose to fix the situation.

You see, school employees, upon viewing my daughter’s file, decided that since I do not live in the district and her father does, that I must not have custody of her. They decided that this needed to be publicized by writing “noncustodial parent” on paperwork for me. Paperwork left on a table in plain view. 

This was the second time in the last two years that employees made this huge leap from fact to fiction. I couldn’t imagine what their motivations were or why any labels needed to be placed on anything addressed to me.

When it happened the first time, I addressed the matter on the spot and chalked it up to one person’s rudeness. When it happened again, in a new building with new employees, I knew there was a bigger problem at hand. I made it my mission to resolve this matter as quickly as possible. It took about a week of phone calls to various departments at the administrative level to get the wheels turning.

I learned two very interesting things:

1. This school district does not have on file distinct classifications for parents such as “custodial” and “noncustodial” as I was told my two employees last week. “Divorced” parents are listed as such, with no further information about custodial matters unless the court has issued an order. This tells me, as well as the apologetic administrator investigating this for me, that the employees at my daughter’s school took it upon themselves to make this distinction and publicize it for some ignorant and cruel reason.

2. I also learned that in my daughter’s vast suburban school district —  in an area growing so rapidly they can’t build schools fast enough — I am one of only FIVE families that have joint legal custody with one parent living outside the district. I’m not a statistician, but this seems like a small number by today’s standards.

The administrator I talked to said that in 99 percent of the cases, if a divorced parent lives outside the district, they are non-custodial. 

Which explains how people with no access to my personal information made such assumptions about me. They did it based on past experience. 

It sounds like the administrator did her job quickly and efficiently, even going so far as to talk to the employees’ supervisor concerning their insensitive and damaging behavior. She issued an apology to me on behalf of the district. 

Although I’m relieved this has been resolved, I’m not really happy. I feel the damage has been done. Eventually time will fade this memory. Hopefully I can replace it with a positive experience at her new school.

But I worry about this unbridled ignorance that permeates our  society. One in which people make such snap judgments without knowing the facts. One in which people barely hesitate before reacting to these judgments in damaging ways.

Sticky note from hell

Let me tell you how a little yellow piece of paper ruined my day.

 

 

This is what I found on Girl from the West’s progress report when I attended parent-teacher conferences last week. This was handed to me by school staff after I stood in a line with other parents. Well, why not just hand me a big, red letter A to attach to my shirt?

Not wanting to draw public attention to this gaffe, this bullshit, I took my papers and headed to the school office.

“Why is this here?” I asked the principal’s secretary, pointing to the offensive sticky note.

“Well, are you divorced?” she asked, looking over her bifocals and assuming a tone.

“Yes, I am. What does that have to do with anything?” I asked.

“Does your child live with you?” she prodded.

I gave her the Cliffs Notes version of our custody arrangement. Both my ex and I have equal rights. I just happen to live outside the school district boundaries. It is factually wrong to call me “non-custodial.”

“Well, this is just part of how our computer system works,” she explained. “We have to distinguish between the parents when we issue more than one copy of a document.”

So many questions and profanities erupted inside my head at this moment. A few spilled out.

“So, you’re telling me your computer issued a hand-written sticky note and used robotic arms to place it on this report?” I asked. 

“No. A person put this note on the envelope so we’d know why there were two of them in the pile,” she said.

“Who cares why there are two of them? Why does that matter?” I ask. ” I think seeing ‘To the parents of:’ and two separate addresses tells all that anyone needs to know, don’t you think?”

“Well, we need to know,” she said again, with an increasingly condescending tone.

I offered an idea: “How about ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ on the envelope? Wouldn’t that be nicer?”

She just wasn’t getting it.

Before each school year we fill out forms that spell out what administrators need to know about our child’s living arrangements. I understand this is for student safety and school security. What I don’t get is why any sort of label needs to be affixed to anything beyond that point. 

I try one more time to clarify. “Do you realize how insulting this is? How rude and insensitive? Do you have a copy of our divorce decree? How dare you assume to know what our custody arrangement is. Does my ex-husband have a big blue ribbon on his report declaring him “custodial parent.”

“M’am, there’s nothing we can do about it here,” she said, now clearly irritated with me. I could just hear her thinking: “Get your possibly drug-addicted, abusive, non-custodial ass out of this office.”

But this is not over. Not by a long shot. As I resisted slapping her holier-than-thou face, I asked for the name of the person who might be able to do something about this.

A phone call later that day to a district administrator helped clarify the matter about as much as adding mud to a pile of dirt. This is how our system operates is all they could come up with. You are either a custodial parent or a non-custodial parent. End of story. We can’t both be custodial parents? Nope. System doesn’t work that way.

The administrator tells me the system was put in place well before joint legal and physical custody became common. In a time, apparently, where one parent was issued a halo and the other got the horns and pitchfork. I was assured that a new system soon would be in place that would take “my situation” into consideration,.

By the mere fact that I am divorced from her father and do not live in my older daughter’s school district, I am declared a second-class citizen. Those with access to this information (and it could be parent volunteers) could draw very inaccurate conclusions about my fitness as a parent. I mean, what does “non-custodial” mean to you?

This particularly hurts because I drive almost 200 miles each week to get her to and from school, to attend her plays, award ceremonies, concerts and meet with her teachers. When she was younger, I volunteered in her classroom, chaperoned field trips and participated in organized activities such as Girl Scouts.

How many other divorced parents get these damned stickies from hell? 

I’m angry. I’m not buying their story. And I plan to be a big pain in their ass all school year until my Scarlet Letter is removed. Wish me luck.