MONTEGO BAY, St James — Leteisha Cooke, the mother of a 15-year-old boy, is crying foul after her child was allegedly forced out of two Westmoreland-based secondary institutions due to a bipolar 2 disorder diagnosis.
According to Cooke, the family's dilemma started in January of last year after the boy first went to face-to-face classes at Manning's School. The boy, who will not be named due to him being underaged, was in grade eight at the time.
His mother told the Jamaica Observer that the child was being bullied by other students for being different. She said this caused the boy to react with anger, ultimately leading to confrontations. She noted that the family was encouraged by the school's guidance counsellor to have him tested for autism after one such confrontation.
"He acts funny and very talkative; sometimes when children trouble him he will react. But he is not going to trouble anyone," she said.
"While he was at Manning's School, because of issues with students, the guidance counsellor called me one day and said that it looks as if my son is autistic. She gave me a sheet of paper with doctors on it for me to contact and she also referred me to somewhere in Montego Bay to do some tests," Cooke explained.
She told the Sunday Observer that, while they learned that he is not autistic, a visit to the psychologist revealed that their son has a type of bipolar disorder. This not only changed their family dynamic but was the beginning of a journey met with multiple roadblocks.
"His doctor said that he is not autistic. The doctor referred us to a psychologist and she was the one who found out that he has bipolar 2 disorder. She started to treat him with sessions and we had to change his diet," Cooke said.
She added, "So she wrote a report for us to give to Manning's School and I delivered that report to the principal."
Cooke went on to state that the school did not properly handle the situation surrounding her son. She said that the boy was encouraged to report incidents of bullying to the guidance counsellor; however, he was allegedly shunned for "reporting too many times".
"They told him that no matter what children do to him he should not react, but instead report it. He started reporting it, and now they said he was reporting too much and they can't deal with him because they have a lot more students to deal with," the mother said.
She said that the bullying continued until the boy "took matters into his own hands" and was subsequently suspended from school. Cooke told the Sunday Observer that both she and the boy's father were "encouraged" to transfer their son from the Manning's School.
"We went to a meeting and the principal told us that we need to remove him from Manning's School. He encouraged us to send him to the Savanna-la-Mar High School because that school has fewer children and fewer altercations," she said.
"He gave me a scenario that this situation is like a herd of goats. He said that whenever you have a herd of goats and one is defective, that is the one dog a go tek. He said the situation at Manning's School is not going to get better, so we must send him to Savanna-la-Mar High School," Cooke added.
The parents complied and enrolled their son into Savanna-la-Mar High School where he entered grade nine, but they said that their situation did not improve as he would be out of the institution one month later.
"So, as the parent, I got scared and took him out of the school and sent him to Savanna-la-Mar High School. But that was a disaster," she told the Sunday Observer.
"On his fourth day of school we were at home and at about 8:00 in the night mi see church people come a mi gate come to call me out of my bed. They told me that the principal sent them to us and said that we need to call them urgently. I called the principal and he said that I needed to attend a meeting the following day as my son is giving lots of trouble at school," Cooke said.
The boy was then suspended a second time.
"He was suspended for seven days including the weekend. He did not suspend the other student. I kept him at home for another week after his suspension to try and get him some counselling. I even visited the Child Development Agency," said Cooke.
"He went back to school on October 10. The principal gave him a note to give to me saying that I must attend a meeting on either October 11th or the 13th to sign a behavioural contract. It stated that if I do not attend the meeting my child must not return to school," she continued.
The woman explained that she was unable to attend the meeting and was told by the school's principal that her son was being sent home.
"He called me before sending him home and I told him nobody is at home so he should not send the child out into the world like that. Since then he has not returned to school because we refused to sign the contract and he told us that we must not send our son back to his school and that if he returns it is going to be chaos. He also said that he would personally give us back our school fee money from his pocket," Cooke said.
She believes that both institutions have made the boy's psychological disorder the main focus of those incidents, instead of tackling the issues of bullying in school. The mother noted that she is worried that her "brilliant" son will be severely affected by this. Noting that she has attempted to get intervention from the Ministry of Education and Youth, Cooke told the Sunday Observer that she is starting to feel as if she has exhausted all of her options to help her only child.
"This is discrimination. He is stressed out at home. He does not even sleep at night anymore and it has been affecting him. We tried to put him in an evening school and they said that since he hasn't been in school since September it would be unfair for him to join them at the pace that they are at now," she explained.
"He is wondering why no school wants him and we don't know what to do," said the worried mother, who added that she believes more needs to be done to protect children like her son.
"Anytime we see schoolchildren it's like we want to cry," she said.
The Sunday Observer was unable to reach the principals of both schools by phone as calls made to both institutions were not answered.
One member of the Manning's fraternity though who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that an official complaint had been made directly to the school and sympathised with the boy's family. "The school was wrong to have let the boy go, because it is something that the guidance and counselling department could have handled," the individual said.
Director of the Ministry of Education and Youth's Region Four Dr Michelle Pinnock told the Sunday Observer on Thursday that she would further investigate the matter and later provide a comment. That comment was not forthcoming when the Sunday Observer contacted her the following day, or even as the newspaper headed to its printing deadline on Saturday.
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