February 20, 2002
Dear Ms. Holloway and Ms. Bienstock,
Laure, thank you so so much for calling us on Friday. I really appreciate your being so kind and thoughtful! I know that Beau has missed several more days of school and this may present an inconvenience for you, and that he will have a lot of work to make up, this on top of his already having missed several days recently, when he broke his thumb, is unfortunate but nothing that I could avoid. I didn't get your message until after school had closed so I couldn't pick up the materials you had so thoughtfully left for us. He was too sick yesterday to do anything really, so I just figured we'll have to start from scratch, do everything we can to avoid any future absences and try our best to get him caught up.
He was beginning to come down with something last week when he had an accident and got a pretty deep slash on the front of his right calf. We had just finished putting all of his Valentine gifts together and were trying a science experiment that we had heard about, where you hit two crystals together and see if they give off electricity. We were concerned about their possibly fracturing so Beau put them down on the bed and went to get some goggles for us. When he came back he ran into the room and jumped on the bed landing on one of the big crystal rocks. It had lots of points on it and he cut open his leg on one of them. At first I just thought it was a scratch but then it started bleeding badly. When I looked at it closely I realized it was pretty bad and needed stitches so I took him to UCLA emergency. We wound up waiting 'till about one in the morning before anyone could get to us, and then got home so late there was no way I could get him up for school.
Thursday, Valentine's Day, probably from lack of sleep, or the stress of being hurt and having to go to the emergency room, for the second time in just a few short weeks, Beau's cold turned in to a big chest cold with a cough and lots of congestion and he got sick to his stomach. He was feeling really rotten on Friday morning so I kept him home. Saturday and Sunday he still had a cough and congestion but he was better.
Our whole family (well, my Mother, my boyfriend, Beau and I,) had originally planned on going to my Mother's house in Palm Springs for the holiday weekend, but we all canceled our plans so that Beau could go snow boarding with Steven Farrelly and his mother on Monday. I spent a fortune buying him ski pants, a turtle neck, snow shoes, goggles, a jacket, and long johns, and since we had canceled our Palm Springs trip and he seemed better, with just the cough, I let him go. In hindsight I see that it was a mistake. He threw up on the way up and was sick all day. By the time he got home, at night, he had a fever, was sick to his stomach and full of congestion. Yesterday he stayed in bed most of the say and is still feeling pretty rotten today.
When I picked up Shayan from school yesterday he told me that Ms. Bienstock had told the kids that if they have too many absences she will keep them from going on to sixth grade. This is very upsetting to hear. I don't think it is even legal. If Beau tests at the level of a sixth grader, and I just got his ISEE tests and he certainly does, then he has every right to graduate along with the other kids. I am fully aware that he has missed a lot of school, but we don't skip school lightly and there have been legitimate reasons for it.
I am also upset because I heard from Beau as well as two other kids in Ms. Bienstocks class that she told the kids that if a future teacher blames her for their inability to do something, they should tell their new teacher that it's not her fault but that they were just crappy students! I am very upset at hearing this. I don't care what my son does, he does not ever have to have a teacher talk to him like this. I am also disappointed with what has happened with the GATE program. It was much better last year where the GATE kids simply stayed after one day and were given some enrichment. I've spoken with my friend who ran the GATE program at Kenter before and we talked about how it isn't meant to be this stressful thing. I'm glad that Beau has been taken out of the program you were offering but he is still a bright creative kid and deserves to be in GATE. Beau may not have the best writing skills but he was identified as gifted and should be enjoying a differentiated program, not the integrated, stressful, homework-adding program that he was receiving. I suppose I'm referring to the pre-holiday break but I want it said that he never had any homework in GATE before, the normal load is more than enough for him! However, I do not want anything added that will increase his level of stress at school, he's freaked out enough as it is.
This morning he is completely stressed out about going to school. He says that, "Ms. Bienstock is going to yell at me, and I'll be benched for recess." He always says this. What kind of atmosphere is this for a child to learn in? How can he learn to love learning if he is in so much fear of his teacher? He can't find the spelling homework that I watched him do. He did it, and I saw him do it. I've signed this note and that's all I can do, I do not want him penalized in any serious way for this. It's been so many days since he was assigned this that it isn't entirely unreasonable that it was misplaced. If I hear that he was yelled at, something that is unacceptable under any circumstances, or shamed because of this, I will make an appointment with Mr. Kaminsky to discuss my serious concerns about the way the kids are being treated in MS. Bienstock's class.
Perhaps I am being unfair and making judgments without giving you an opportunity to explain. I am certain that you are trying to do a good job and be a good teacher and are upset that the kids aren't living up to your standards, but this has been going on since October and I kept making excuses, taking the blame, trying to understand and doing nothing about it, now I'm just fed up. You can also tell Mr. Van that calling a student a "dumb ass" is also unacceptable. I am willing to discuss this with you if you like but I am really, really, upset and have been for some time. This isn't college, this isn't high school, this isn't even private education, this is fifth grade public school. If I had wanted my son to be unhappy, stressed out, miserable and frightened, I would have sent him to John Dye or Brentwood.
Please forgive me if I am being insensitive to the stresses and difficulties of teaching. I am completely empathic to how tough it can be, but whatever stresses anyone may experience as a teacher need to be handled privately and not taken out on the kids, no matter how "crappy" someone may deem them to be.
I am also aware that there was some sort of rough housing or bullying that took place at school while Beau was out, and I am disappointed that there wasn't enough supervision to prevent something like this from happening. Keeping the entire class from going to recess in order to pressure them to turn in their classmates is not appropriate for kids of this age. They need their recess. Perhaps you can find a kinder alternative.
I am deeply concerned about all of this, and I am serious. I want my son to come home happy from school. I know that his education is important, we have signed him up for tutoring for his writing and math skills in order to compensate for his absences. He will be fine education wise, psychologically, emotionally, I don't know, since this is the first year at Kenter that he has disliked school. He told me that he would rather have PE than Language Arts, and he hates PE. This is just sad. Please do not take this out on him, if you are upset with this letter, talk to me about it and not him!!!!
Beau's angry mother
PS: On a happier note, Laure, thank you for the beautiful recommendation letter you wrote for Beau. I can't thank you enough. It was more than I could hope for!!!!!!!