I found out this week Angel has supposedly been bullying another child in school, in fact two kids but one to a much lesser extent. The kids are leaving the school along with her best friend Tara, who was apparently involved, to an extent. It emerges that it has been going on since February and no one has told me. Not the school, not the mums involved or the multiple other mums that knew. I am floored. Five days later I still feel shell shocked.
The first thing I do is text the mum of Lily, the kid being bullied. She verifies that yes it has happened and Lily is leaving the school because of it. She apologises for not telling me. Says she thought the school would talk to me about it. She doesn’t blame Angel or myself but the school for not handling it. I feel badly let down too and very angry and disappointed that the school didn't tell me, as well as devastated for Lily and also Angel who clearly was not managing either, if this is what she was doing.
I talk to Tara’s mum. She knew. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ I ask. ‘Because the teacher said not to and that they would handle it.’ I feel like I am in some warped universe and am absolutely furious.
What has she been doing?
Taking Sasha away from playing with Lily and then excluding Lily from the game (funnily enough, exactly what Angel felt had been happening to her at the end of last year)
Refused to hold Lily’s hand in a class
Made a derogatory comment about Lily when someone touched her desk
Told Tara to step on Lily’s feet
I talk to another mum, her child says Angel is the teacher’s favourite, that she creates disruptions and everyone knows it’s her but she never gets into trouble or is challenged. The child thinks it’s unfair and she worries it will alienate Angel from the rest of the class.
‘What kind of disruptions? Is Angel stealing?’ More like moving things around, taking a lock off the toilet door and putting it in someone’s bag, throwing a toilet roll down the toilet. That kind of thing.
Another kid found a vape in the park at playtime. Angel took it and puffed on it and then said someone else did it.
Little pockets of chaos……
Hubby and I meet with the SENCO and Angel’s class teacher. The SENCO didn’t even know it was Angel who had been involved in the bullying, only that bullying had been going on. Mr White, her class teacher, says he only recently discovered it was Angel who was the perpetrator and the initial discussion had not mentioned which child was the bully. They both said that bullying was a word bandied about too easily, that these things usually work out for themselves, that the child in question didn’t make things easy for herself either.
I counter that surely even if they didn’t think what was going on was bullying, if a child felt they were being bullied, they should still have taken it seriously. Mr White said there was never an official complaint or meeting, that most of the conversations were in passing in the playground. In response he had implemented circle time every week where bullying was discussed and thought this would alleviate it.
He said bullying had been mentioned in the weekly faculty meeting (but not Angel’s name), that teachers were looking out for it and they didn’t feel they were seeing bullying.
Mr. White apologised for not talking to us but said he didn’t realise it was Angel specifically until a few weeks ago and he was as shocked as anyone when Lily announced she was leaving because Angel was bullying her. He explained that Tara’s mum had spoken to him about creating a bit of distance between Tara and Angel in class as their relationship was possibly causing some of the bullying to occur, and that he would sort that, so I didn’t need to be told about this.
I am trying to process it all and things are not adding up any which way I look at it. I am relieved the school doesn't think Angel is a bully and yet I also feel they handled the situation, whatever it was, badly. Clearly there was a serious situation as three kids are leaving the school. I also feel really sad and disappointed that none of the parents came to me or hubby with this. I’ve been told on occasion that I am a bit formidable but I’ve always been very open with everyone about Angel’s difficulties, so thought people would know I would be the first one to accept something like this. And then there is hubby, who is one of the kindest, most likeable characters out there. If not me, surely they could have spoken to him!?
Ours is a very close-knit and small community. It feels like everything is not what I thought, the ground is shifting below my feet and it is deeply unsettling.
The other girl leaving is Sasha, and I ask her dad why.
Dad - Because of the situation…
Me - You mean the bullying?
Dad - Yes
Me - Was Angel bullying Sasha?
Dad - Yes
Me - Why didn’t you tell me?
Dad - I don’t know.
Me - So what happened?
Dad - You can speak to Sasha if you like and ask her directly
Me - Are you sure?
Dad - Yes
He calls her over. I know this kid well. She has been to playdates at our house as her and Angel used to be very tight.
Me - Do you mind if I ask you some questions about what’s been going on in school?
Sasha - Sure
Me - Has Angel been bullying you?
Sasha - Not really, only sometimes when she is with Tara. It’s mainly Isha and Sarah. Actually Angel protects me quite a lot and stands up for me because everyone makes me feel like I’m disgusting.
Me - Oh no, that must feel awful. I’m so sorry you feel that way.
Sasha - Yeah, when I ask for a hug, everyone just looks at me like I’m disgusting.
Me - That must be so horrible. I’m so sorry that’s been happening.
Sasha - Yeah
Me - Does Angel ever lie?
Sasha - YES! And Mr White always lets her get away with it, even though everyone knows it’s Angel! (she really emphasises the ‘everyone’)
Me - Ah.
I nod knowingly. We all know Angel lies.
She runs back to play, may I add, with Angel!
Is this what bullying looks like?
I ask her dad, ‘Is lying bullying?’ He shrugs.
I see that it could be if she lies and says someone else has done something when it has been her, especially if it is systematically one person that she calls out but I don’t think that is what has been going on.
I think, I think Angel has been mean at times, particularly towards Lily; she has lied and got away with stuff because Mr White has been soft on her because of her history and the school’s philosophy. I’m not sure what I think the approach should have been but I do know I would have liked to know so we could have discussed it.
Mr White said in the meeting that he can read Angel across the room, can catch the lowest of whispers; she is transparent - which is my experience of her too. Some of the other kids, not so much. Maybe he does favour her… maybe he just can’t see it but when I look back over the last year, I imagine that the only kid who talked about killing themselves and was frequently terrified to go into school was Angel and I don’t think any of the kids were ever scared of her.
Somehow the whole thing seemed to became about Angel when actually there were multiple strands of bad behaviour going on and poor Lily had actually been badly treated, on and off, since nursery, long before Angel even arrived in the school. In fact, she told someone that there were only two people in the whole class who had not been mean to her at some point or another.
It’s sports day, the final day of term. I ask Lily’s mum if she is sure she named Angel and she insists she mentioned Angel to Mr. White at parents evening in February.
The world tips again. I just want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Only then can I begin the process of making sure it doesn't happen again.
Angel is distraught that Lily announced she is leaving the school because she is bullying her. And actually what kid that is being bullied is brave enough to announce that in front of the whole class and the bully? Anyway, my very wise friend points out that Lily isn’t leaving the school because Angel is bullying her, she is leaving the school because the school didn’t deal with the situation. I say this to Angel at breakfast the next day and it helps a lot. I say I know some stuff did go on though and we can deal with that another time…just need to get through the last days of school before the summer.
After a week of sleepless nights, upset stomachs (me, not Angel!) and many tears, I figure that school is out until September, the kids that are leaving, are leaving and I need a break from trying to work out who is right and wrong and what has gone on.
What I do know is that something went badly wrong, Lily was persecuted, Sasha was made to feel ‘disgusting’ and Angel is losing her two favourite people because of it. I know Tara and Sasha love Angel and will miss her too.
Somewhere along the line, they’ve all been let down.