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.
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.