When I completed my paperwork to become a foster parent, I signed up for two girls, between the ages of 4 and 10. I was single with a fairly demanding career, so I didn’t want babies and I didn’t want teenagers. I was pretty ignorant, but I was at least savvy enough to know that. I also didn’t feel comfortable fostering boys, because I wasn’t sure that I could be the role model a boy needed. I was knowledgeable enough at the time to know that everyone needs someone who looks like them to look up to, and who will show them a path to success. In the last eleven years, that point has become all the more clear via research and experience.

My two daughters arrived in February, and my middle kiddo left the next day, because of violent rages that I now know were due to trauma. I didn’t know how to handle her behavior (nor did her former foster family, which is how the girls landed at my house, which a whole other post), so she was moved to a therapeutic foster home and remained in therapeutic foster care until I could become certified in therapeutic foster care and get her back. (Again, whole other blog post. There are so many stories…)

So, oldest kiddo and I are rocking along for about three months, and I get a call from DHS saying the girls have a brother. He’s 3. His foster home is being shut down because of confirmed abuse. And, did I want him? There’s something very unnerving about the way that kiddos are just widgets when these conversations happen, but that’s exactly how they’re handled. On good days they’re handled more like puppies than widgets, but still not like living humans. So, I said yes, of course I wanted him, because I didn’t want to separate siblings, so I hustled and connived in order to get him and keep him (whole other blog post…)

That’s how I became the mom of a boy. I love my boy. I would not do anything differently. I love him more than my own life.

I’ve done a fair job of being a role model. I demonstrated fairly appropriate form while teaching him to urinate into a toilet (“I think you need to arch your back more, buddy.”) I set aside a whole lot of fear and allowed him to play football. And, most importantly I hope I’ve demonstrated self-respect and respect for others. However, when a boy gets to a certain age, he really needs male role models, and I am many things, but a man is not one.

Since my son was three, I’ve been searching for a mentor, preferably a black man. I’ve called every non-profit I know during that time. I’m scrappy and resourceful, so that’s a lot of inquiries and cajoling over the last eleven years, with zero success.

I can’t say how often I get advice from other people about how my son needs male role models. On my worst days it’s all I can do to not say “Wow, how the hell did I not think of that? Thanks for your remarkable insight.” On my better days, I say politely that I’m aware, and that resources just don’t exist.

So, here is my ask. If you are a man who has any time to give, please consider becoming a mentor, formally or informally, for a boy without a dad. There are many single women like myself who have adopted kids, and who are doing their best but who, like me, no matter how hard they try, are not actually men.

Here are options for formal mentoring:

Options for informal mentoring of boys can look like

  • Hang outs. Whatever you’re doing, especially with other men/boys, invite the kid along. Keep it casual.
  • Leadership. Are you good at what you do? Take the kid with you while you’re doing it. Show him what success looks like, whether its a career, sports, volunteering, or whatever.
  • Odd Jobs. Do you need some help around the house? Boys love to be able to buy their own stuff with their own money, and learning while they earn is so much better than many alternatives.

If you have suggestions or know of other organizations, please comment below. Thanks for reading.


Ten Year Testimony

My friend, Chelsea, is the real deal. I’m sharing her ten year testimony because my family, like hers, is rife with alcoholism. I hope that her testimony helps others to know they are not alone. None of us are alone.

Life: Part 2

name is Chelsea Levo Feary. I am a
recovering alcoholic. On September 21,
2019, I am celebrating ten years of sobriety and this is my testimony.

story has a beginning and that is where I will start. I was born on September 29, 1975, to Michele
(Mickie) and Chuck Levo in Miami, OK. I
was their first and only child. Before
me or as I refer to it as “BC” – Before Chelsea – the two Southern California
beach kids met during their college years while working at Disneyland. My mother was born into a traditional
Catholic family of two parents and four kids, while my dad was born into a
broken home of a working father, an older brother, and sister, and a mother who
left them and returned from time to time.
Both of my parents had their family baggage.

may say people aren’t born…

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Ten Year Testimony


September 22, 2010 I stood outside the Oklahoma County Juvenile Center and took photos with my three kids, who had just officially become my three kids. The girls are in dresses, and my son is in his best t-shirt, and my mom, who is now beyond the pale, is the one taking the photo. Afterwards, my mom took us to IHOP for a celebratory breakfast, and my son ate more pancakes than my mother could fathom. It was a good day.

What I didn’t know, though, was that it would be over so fast. That we would have so little time as a family. Though I knew my family was different, because I’d fostered my kids for two years before I was fortunate enough to adopt them, and was well aware of our struggles and hurdles, I still had fairly average middle-class hopes for my children. I hoped for education after high school, for lots of travel, for finding whatever made them happy and comfortable in their own skin, and I imagined myself as part of their world. I’m not sure that I could have gotten through the last eleven years without those hopes, so in some ways my delusions were beneficial.

I bought our house, a sprawling 1971 fixer upper faux Tudor, with expectations of family gatherings, pool parties, and lots of kids and grandkids visiting as my then husband and I aged, hopefully gracefully. I’m not traditional in many ways, but when it comes to family, I wanted to duplicate what my grandparents had had. They were my moral compass, and family was everything to them.

What happens, though, when you adopt kids at 5, 8, and 11, is that everything is condensed. I went from being a single, child free woman driving a Miata to a mother of three and grandmother in less than eleven years. You don’t get the infant years to get to know your kids, and you get only a few of the grade school years before the tweens hit. By the time they hit early teens, your influence is scarce, and your way forward is by a hope and a prayer.

And, when your kids come into your life with loads of defiance, when the natural defiance of the teen years hits, they leave, and they’re gone. And, it happens way too early, and with the self-absorption and daring of those whose frontal lobe has not fully developed and who have endured tremendous trauma. And, then your family is just gone. And, I was not prepared for that.

I was also not prepared for how my children leaving me, in a blaze of glory that did not include a healthy family discussion (or any discussion of any kind) was how my own trauma would be triggered. For the last few months, I’ve had the same issues I had coming out of grad school and starting my first professional position, 25 years ago. I thought I had figured so much out. I have benefited from many gifted therapists over the last 25 years, read quite a lot of Pema Chodron, and have taken home many a leadership award. But, I’m reminded that I’m still “managing” my trauma, rather than resolving it, something which my current therapist is fond of reminding me. That’s frustrating 25 years in.

My 14-year-old remains at home with me, in our absurdly large house that needs much more attention than I am willing or able to give it. My 17-year-old and 20-year-old are on their own, and don’t communicate with me. I am very aware that regarding my kids’ defiance, I am simply playing the role of “mom.” My kids would be running, regardless of my behavior (good or bad). It’s fight or flight in action. I’ve learned not to take their actions personally, at least intellectually. But all the usual tools are failing me, and I just feel a tremendous sense of endless loss, that that new mom in the photo had no idea was coming.

I’ve often held off on doing things until the time was right – waiting for retirement or until I had the perfect partner or until I was better off financially. One thing I didn’t wait to do until the time was right, though, was craft my family. I was in my late 30s, never married, and had no idea how to parent children, and I’m sure many of my friends and family were dubious and concerned. However, I will always be grateful that I built my family when I did when nothing about it was perfect or reasonable or appropriate. I’m a good mom, and we’re an awesome family, even when we’re apart.


Extractions, exploitation, destruction: How state-sanctioned disenfranchisement stunted Black wealth acquisition (Part 1 of 3)

When I write about how important systems have been created from the ground up in ways that restrict opportunity for people of color, this is what I mean. Thanks to my friend, Mana Tahaie, for this excellent explanation and history of my home, Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is the first of three installments.

Tulsa Star

by Contributing Writer Mana Tahaie

Earlier this year, Tulsa Development Authority (TDA) once again came under scrutiny by Tulsans concerned about the displacement of Black North Tulsa residents. In March, City Councilor Vanessa Hall Harper warned residents of District 1 that a proposed amendment of the Greenwood/Unity Heritage Neighborhoods sector plan subjected approximately 2,000 addresses to eminent domain. After significant and sustained opposition, the City put the plans on hold.

At the nexus of many interconnected current issues — Black Wall Street, urban renewal, gentrification, University Center at Tulsa (UCAT) land and others —lies a complex story of Black wealth acquisition and destruction in Oklahoma.

All-Black towns

Oklahoma remains the home of the greatest number of all-Black towns in the U.S., with over 30 incorporated communities established in the late 1800s and early 1900s. (It’s important to note that White colonial settlers first stole these lands from the Native…

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Extractions, exploitation, destruction: How state-sanctioned disenfranchisement stunted Black wealth acquisition (Part 1 of 3)


Friends, this blog has been basically dormant for a couple of years, for lots of reasons. Our family has changed – my kids have gotten older, and as they have their privacy is more important. That’s the line that I thoughtfully and intentionally crossed when I started this blog many years ago – I gave up my and my children’s privacy in return for awareness-building that led to badly-needed resources for them and will hopefully contribute toward badly-needed system change. This blog is directly responsible for getting our state’s healthcare authority to actually pay for very necessary inpatient psychiatric care for one of my kiddos, for example, so I’m glad it exists.  It’s also directly responsible for resentment on the part of at least one of my kids, which I knew was a possibility and I completely understand. I’d like to work toward a day when being obnoxiously public about what your kids need, and using your privilege to get that, is not a necessary thing for parents of foster kids, parents of adopted kids, parents of kids of color, or parents of kids with disabilities. Big party at my house when that happens. We will have a great band – promise. 

Along those lines, it’s time to pivot this blog. There are lots of families who need support and lots of very broken systems out there, and I’d love to use the momentum I’ve built to drive those things, and I’d love to hear from you how you’d like to help me do that. 

  • Are you interested in supporting foster/adoptive families? What questions do you have? How is your civic group, PTA, place of worship, happy hour group, or book club helping? What advice do you have for me in helping people do that? Post both in the comments here or email me.
  • Are you interested in effective, abundant mental healthcare for all? I am. If you’re in Oklahoma (like me), the most effective thing you can do is ask elected officials to support Medicaid expansion, which will result in, among other things, more mental health care “beds” or slots for people who need care. Oklahomans Decide Healthcare is a new group that is working toward Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma, and you can read about their efforts and how to become involved on their website. What’s happening in your state? I’d love to help you amplify good stuff, so comment below or email me.
  • Are you interested in ensuring people of color have the same opportunities as we white folk? Or do you think that’s already a thing? Convinced racism doesn’t actually still exist? I would love to respectfully and empathetically help white folk build the same perspective that raising children of color has built for me. For clarity – I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color, nor will I ever. I do know what it’s like to be a progressive white woman who used to think I understood, and now I know I really, really don’t. How can I build that for you, white friends? What do you want to know, or confront, or call BS on? Comment below or email me, with your input.
  • If you’re in Tulsa, please ensure you’re following what City Council is doing around race, including the equality indicators (full disclosure – I led part of the Resiliency Plan for Tulsa) and the search for mass graves related to the 1921 Race Massacre. Like and follow the Demanding a JustTulsa Facebook page for more information as well. What is happening in your state? How can I help amplify positive movement where you live? Comment below or email me.
  • Are you interested in criminal justice reform? Or are you not sure what that means? Or do you think we should lock ’em up and throw away the key? I’ve unfortunately learned how little justice there is in the justice system, via my personal and professional life, and I’m convinced we will look back on this time in our nation’s history as our second round of slavery. In Oklahoma, we keep getting really close to real reform, but we’re not quite there yet. Follow Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, ACLU Oklahoma, and Open Justice Oklahoma for great information. For those of you who are employers, please work with ReMerge and Women in Recovery to hire their wonderful graduates. I’ve hired several! For those of you on the politically conservative side of the house, check out what the Koch Foundation has to say about criminal justice reform – they’re big fans.  Also, check out Right on Crime, Conservatives for Criminal Justice Reform, and The American Conservative Union Foundation.
  • If you’d like to meet with me, ask me to write a piece for your blog or publication, or ask me to speak with your group, email me, please. I am adamant about using my own experience for good in the world. 

Big love, friends! Let’s do this.


Myth-Busting Adoption Insights

November is national adoption month. Here are my tremendous (j/k) myth-busting insights about adoption. Adoptive parent friends, feel free to add your insights in the comments!

My kids are not “lucky” to be adopted. I am fortunate, to be their mother, but no one in our scenario is lucky. They’ve been through hell and back a few times, have suffered tremendous loss in losing their biological parents and family, and will struggle their entire lives. Having a parent who loves and cares for you is a basic human right, not “luck.”

I am my kids’ “real” parent. I am not holographic. They have two moms – their biological mom and their adoptive mom. We’re both moms. One doesn’t trump the other. Life is not a card game.

My kids’ black hair is gorgeous and natural and has been for years. It’s also the thing that has been the most weirdly confrontational over the last 11 years. I’ve had women stop their cars just so they can confront me in my own front yard about how shameful my kids’ hair is, and do that right in front of my children. We’ve had women wave us over to their cars so they can roll down their windows and shame us. Etc. Etc. Kudos to men who may have thought those thoughts, but who have never said them out loud to me or my kids. Eventually, I had cards printed that we could hand out to people and walk away, because I didn’t like what it was doing to my children.

Because I fostered my kids first, I used vouchers for their clothes, and WIC cards, and anything else that the government would give me, and I got LOTS of ugly stares from big-haired Baptist ladies. I still get a monthly subsidy that pays a portion of our mortgage. I’ve never received anything close to the amount of money it takes to actually raise a child, especially a child with lots and lots of needs, though. Thank God for Soonercare, Oklahoma’s Medicaid program, which provides great healthcare benefits to my kids. If it were not for Soonercare, we’d be living in a hovel, literally. If you know big-haired Baptist ladies, educate them about Jesus and orphans, please.

Adopting is not for everyone. Chat with someone who will be honest with you before you jump in. Frankly, I was an idiot when I began fostering. It is by the grace of God and sheer stubbornness that I am still a parent. It is not rainbows and unicorns. If it’s not for you, you can still help out by

  1. Electing people who actually fund basic services like quality childcare and mental health care, so that there are fewer orphans in our world;
  2. Help out an adoptive parent by watching their kids, mowing their lawn, or just sending them a nice note letting them know they’re awesome.
  3. If you’re capable, spend some cash on an adoptive family. Buy dinner, give them a gift card, whatever.

Being a single adoptive parent is in many ways much easier than being a married adoptive parent. If you have an awesome marriage, seriously yay you. You go do that thing. If your marriage has some cracks in it, those cracks will just get more pronounced after adoption.

Every single horror film and TV crime drama portrays the worst serial-killing pedophiles as people who were fostered and adopted. Every single one. It’s a cliche at this point. When the kids were little I just made up reasons why we didn’t watch certain shows, and now we just make fun of the fact that it’s a cliche.

“I’ll bet you $10 the psycho killer was a foster kid.”

“I’m not taking that bet.”

One of the reasons I love the sadly-ended, super cheesy show Bones, was because the heroine was a former foster kid who became a world-renowned expert in her field and had a great life. We still watch that darn show. One spring we found a cat carcass in our shed, and the kids asked if we could study it like they do on Bones.

Holidays and trauma anniversaries suck! Often they are one in the same for adoptive kiddos. Holidays are the equivalent of a Disney vacation. Everyone is spending a lot of time and money desperately trying to make everything magical, and magic doesn’t really happen that way. We are seriously chill about the holidays, because that’s what works best for us, not because it’s what I imagined my grown-up life would be.

Finally, my kids are awesome. They are literally and by far the best thing that ever happened to me. They have a broader perspective than most 40-year-olds, and they will not put up with your shit. I’ve had many a teacher conversation that went like this, “yeah, sadly she doesn’t respect you, and so nothing you do is going to be effective. You can have a chat with her and discuss solutions together, making it clear that you respect her, and that might work, but just telling her to do something when she doesn’t respect you is going to make your life hell. You can transfer her to a different class if that’s more doable. No hard feelings.” They challenge me every day, and parenting them is literally the hardest and most fabulous thing I will ever do.

Big love, people! 

Myth-Busting Adoption Insights


Thanks to Facebook, I was reminded this morning that one year ago I was court-ordered to stop talking about my oldest daughter completely, much less her situation and needs, or risk numerous consequences including jail time and losing my parental rights (i.e. I would no longer be a parent to my children). So, today seems like a good day to get started on some advocacy efforts.


Christmas Card 2015At that time, I was also instructed by the Assistant District Attorney (ADA) to shut down this blog completely. (Not just the kid parts – the whole thing.) I was also instructed by the ADA to remove posts and photos from Facebook, including, and especially, our family portrait which appears here.

After that my kiddo was in upwards of 10 failed placements in less than 10 months with more than 60 days of juvenile detention thrown in and seven weeks on her own in Oklahoma City, because she ran away, and they couldn’t locate her. Because they couldn’t keep her placed anywhere, they couldn’t provide the court-ordered services that she required, like GED classes, therapy, transitional living, services, etc., and I was generally only allowed to see her in court. I also had a court-ordered parenting plan that included paying the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) child support of $640/month, attending parenting classes, opening up my therapist’s notes to OKDHS and the court, and allowing OKDHS to search my home at any time without notice. That was after OKDHS’s investigation literally found no fault on my part.

When my oldest daughter turned 18 last February, the legal case against me went away formally, but I’ve been advised by more than one attorney not to “advocate” about these issues until my other two kids turn 18, lest OKDHS remove them from my home out of vengeance. If you think this sounds crazy, welcome to my world and the world of many adoptive parents who step up, do the right thing, and end up being crucified by OKDHS, the DA’s office, and the Tulsa County Court, in an environment where we are literally allowed to say/write nothing about what is happening to our families.

I think my best bet against having my kids taken into OKDHS custody over the next six years is to be loud, because then if they’re taken away from me, you’ll all know why and be more likely to advocate on our behalf.

  • If you know parents who have been through similar experiences, please ask them to email me at
  • If you know people who adopted from a government entity, and their kids have undisclosed mental health issues/behaviors that are unmanageable, ask them to email me at
  • If you know people who were forced to “abandon” their adoptive children so that their kids could get help that is only available to kids in foster care, please ask them to email me at
  • If you’re an attorney who would like to share, confidentially, your experiences and/or ideas for system reform, email me at
  • If you’re an advocate and have a plan for reform, including legislation, please email me at

I appreciate my friends who were part of the “if Shelley goes to jail today” plan, wherein friends would 1. pick up my two younger kids and take them to an undisclosed location, and 2. call the media and organize a march on the Tulsa County jail.

This is just the beginning – there is much more to the story above. If you have questions, please post them in the comments below. Big love, people.


White Women

I’m part of a great group of women who are mothers to black boys. Some of those women are, like me, white. During a candid discussion (the best kind) about ways in which we would keep our kids safe, one of the black moms wrote that she warns her black sons about being careful around white women. One of the white moms was offended, and quite a discussion ensued.
So, here’s the deal – I will have the very same discussion with my son. Is that incredibly awkward and heartbreaking? Yes, it is. For not the first time, I will warn my black son about the harm that may come to him via people who look just like me. For those of you who are as offended or as hurt as the white woman in my group, I understand your shock and offense, and I hope you’ll keep reading.
Historically, interactions (real or perceived) between young black men and white women have ended tragically for the young black men and their families and friends. The Atlantic wrote a piece this month, How The Blood of Emmett Till Still Stains America Today, for example, about the recently released The Blood of Emmett Till
“…it wasn’t too long ago in American history that millions of Americans were trampled under the heel of a repressive, anti-democratic kleptocracy and faced economic reprisals, violence, or death for any dissent. And nowhere was the iron grip of that system—known as Jim Crow to some of us—stronger than in Mississippi. That grip manifested itself most notoriously in the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy, in 1955. That year, Till was tortured and lynched by white men after allegedly making lewd comments toward a white woman. His mutilated corpse became one of the first mass-media images of the violence of Jim Crow, and the trial of his killers became a pageant illuminating the tyranny of white supremacy. And through protests across the country, Till’s broken body became a powerful symbol of the civil-rights movement.”
In my own back yard I can read about how a 19-year-old black man, Dick Rowland, and a young white woman, Sarah Page, riding in an elevator together provided the tipping point for the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. The Riot, which was actually a massacre, resulted in the destruction of 35 city blocks, including  Black Wall Street, injuries to over 800 people, and nearly 300 deaths.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “but that was a long time ago. Those things don’t happen anymore,” unfortunately they do. Another example from my own community is that of white police officer, Shannon Kepler, who killed his daughter’s bi-racial nineteen-year-old boyfriend, Jeremy Lake. Mr. Kepler searched for Jeremy’s family’s address, drove to the address with his loaded firearm, shot Jeremy to death, shot at two other people including his own daughter, fled the scene, and later turned himself in. His two trials have resulted in mistrials. A juror from his last trial posted on facebook that two of his fellow jurors were so biased against black people that they wouldn’t even discuss the case with their fellow jurors, much less consider that Kepler could be guilty. Thankfully, the Tulsa County District Attorney is preparing a third trial. I’m hopeful the prosecution can find 12 people without racial bias, but I’m also realistic.
I am so thankful that the black moms in my group shared openly and honestly about their fears regarding people who look just like me. Honestly, before I adopted three black children, I had no clue what the world of black people was like, something I wrote about here. Black people have had “talks” with their black kids about how to behave around white people for hundreds of years, if not longer. I look at my beautiful, black son, and I am terrified, because at 11-years-old, he keeps being mistaken for 14-years-old. I’m terrified that he will be confronted with these issues much sooner than his child’s brain can prepare him for. I’m also resentful that I have to break his heart repeatedly by explaining that people who like me, me his protector and nurturer, are potentially a threat against which he has to protect himself. If beautiful, black children are ever going to be safe, white people have to
  1. Confront our biases (I am not calling you racist. I’m biased, too. Breathe). Here’s a great way to understand your own bias.
  2. Listen to what black people have to say about their own experiences (they’re really not making this stuff up – promise).
  3. Leave our defensiveness at the door (Again, I’m not calling you racist. See above.)
  4. Be uncomfortable for a good, long while.

That’s a good start.

White Women

This time last year I learned that friends of a friend, the Márquez-Greenes, had lost their beautiful daughter at Newtown. This morning, I read their incredible story of compassion and grace in creating the Ana Grace Project whose mission is promoting love, connection, and community for every child and family. They recently hosted a seminar “aimed at building community, connections and compassion” which are the qualities that are “the antidote to the kind of isolation that always seems to be the story of deranged mass shooters.”

I am drawn to their story, because I believe Ms. Márquez-Greene’s approach of compassion and connection is so much more powerful than any arguments I’ve heard about gun control, anti-bullying, or any other misguided attempts at stemming the increasing tide of disconnection and violence in this country. I’m guessing lumping anti-gun, anti-bullying attempts together as misguided will draw the ire of many, but you read that correctly. As a mother of kids who have both bullied and been bullied, I can say that kids bully for a reason. They bully because they’ve been bullied by adults, because they’ve been damaged through abuse or trauma, they don’t have appropriate boundaries at home, because they’re mentally ill, or all of the above. The anti-bullying efforts in our community appear to make things worse by labeling those kids as “bad,” punishing them, and further marginalizing them, at a time when their actions demonstrate that they need our help, not punishment. What is the end result of these strategies? Should we create a island where we put all the bullies, like the Island of Misfit Toys, where they can all be bullies together and not sully our non-bully kids? It doesn’t work that way. The world is not that black and white.

Last year, one of the ways that my kids’ grade school counselor attempted to deal with a bullying situation was to guide the bullied 4th grade child to attempt to friend his bully. That’s the strategy we take in our house, and it’s been successful a majority of times. Unfortunately, the counselor’s guidance resulted in a rambling midnight e-mail from the boys’ mother to all of the 4th grade parents explaining how ludicrous this advice was, advising us that the school wasn’t taking the bullying seriously, that she was removing her child from the district, and that she was sure the bully was working up to a rampage.

Last year my oldest daughter was the subject of extraordinary bullying that I won’t even describe here, because it was so awful. She reached out for help to school administration, who did nothing. (They didn’t get it, they were overwhelmed, they’re not trauma-informed, they dropped the ball, etc.).  She and her two best friends took things into their own hands and came up with a fairly effective vengeance campaign, which I then got a phone call about, because my daughter was then accused of bullying. No one connected the dots. My daughter hadn’t been forthcoming with me, which is part of her Reactive Attachment Disorder diagnosis (she’s absurdly self-reliant, and had already been ignored by one adult). She was getting consequences at home and at school, the pressure was too much, and she ended up setting our house on fire and being committed to inpatient care that same day. It was only through intensive family therapy that I connected the dots and understood what had happened. So, how successful was that? Wouldn’t we all have been better off if someone asked the question “Why is this kid who was getting As and fabulous reviews from her teachers 2 months ago now spinning out of control?” Wouldn’t it have been even better if someone had asked why my daughter’s bully was bullying in the first place? The kid’s dad was in Afghanistan, and she was dealing with other issues at home, but that question was never asked.



Mr. Lanza used in the Newtown tragedy were legally purchased. I can’t imagine what reasonable restrictions might have been put into place to prevent his mother buying them. I realize the urge to quickly label the Newtown massacre as a gun issue is appealing, but Newtown wasn’t about guns – it was about mental illness and this country’s failure to care for its mentally ill.



I was not going to write this. I was going to follow the rules and play it safe (or what counts for playing it safe in my world) and only go public if nothing else worked. And, then I went to church.

And in church, our visiting minister, Right Reverend Doctor John L. Selders, Jr., gave an incredible sermon on courage. Not blustery bravado, but courage. And, in that sermon he paraphrased Dr. Cornell West, and encouraged us to look in the mirror and ask “when did I become so well-adjusted to injustice?” And, I held my breath. And, then he spoke on about being courageous enough to speak up when you’re not surrounded by your people, like when you have to fight for your baby at school, and you know s/he is one of many babies who need fighting for. And, that’s when I audibly gasped, and decided I have to write about this. Because, compared to so many other families I have tremendous privilege and resources, and I can stick my neck out when others can’t. And if not now, when?

Yesterday, a Friday, I was ironically sitting in a meeting with my local school district, the one which my kids attend and one of the districts I partner with in my work, when I got a text from my 7th grader that she’d gotten in-house detention again. She explained the situation via text  – a boy who constantly annoys her was doing it again, she asked him to stop, he kept on, and she screamed. She got sent to the Assistant Principal’s office, a place and a person with whom she is very familiar, because this happens multiple times per week. Sadly, the only time it happens is when she’s in her Special Education class, the class where she’s supposed to receive extra supports to help her learn. But the teacher doesn’t manage her class well, the kids run all over her, and her class is chaotic and loud, which is not a good envirnment for any kid, least of all as special needs kid.

My daughter has both diagnosed Reactive Attachement Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). She’s medicated for the ADHD and has it fairly well under control, but the first one is a killer and results in her mistrusting most adults. She’s also a very good con artist and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. In short, she can smell blood at 100 feet. So a teacher who she doesn’t respect is done for pretty quickly. This is the situation with the Special Education teacher she’s had for nearly two years. From her descriptions of the classroom, I would say she’s not the only one who runs all over this teacher. Since kids learn from people with whom they have a relationship, this makes learning difficult. To the school’s benefit, when I adamantly requested that my daughter be removed from this woman’s class, they mainstreamed my daughter in all but Math and Science, for which I was very grateful. I still see no improvement in those topics, though, and I’m unhappy with the lack of any real approaches to helping her in those subjects, and I’m of course unhappy with her being sent to the Assistant Principals’ office on a nearly daily basis. And, yes, I signed the IEP and said I was OK with it, because my requests for different interventions were met with blank looks. But, I thought if my daughter could tough it out for the rest of 7th grade, I’d make sure she didn’t have this Special Education teacher in 8th grade. I thought I could get her a tutor over the summer, get her up to speed, and that would be a good solution without increasing the drama in our family.

And, then when I got home the letter that had been sent home was not about in-school suspension for my daughter, as we both thought, but an actual suspension from school. A three day suspension from school. I honestly didn’t believe my daughter when she said it was for screaming at the boy who wouldn’t stop talking. I thought surely she had punched someone, or been caught with girls who were smoking pot in the bathroom, or some other action that would require such a punitive response. I grilled her, and her story didn’t change. When I looked closer at the letter, I noticed the reason given – “214 Disruptive Conduct; a Tier 2 offense.” I searched the school district’s website for a definition, still thinking my daughter wasn’t being truthful, expecting to find some explanation that made sense. Here’s the definition – “214 — Disruptive Conduct: Inappropriate behavior, including horseplay, offensive language and arguing, that substantially disrupts, hinders, or interferes with school activities” which was right in line with my daughter’s explanation of her actions. And, listed in the same document are the possible disciplinary response, which follow:

“A. Parent/guardian conference

B. Administrative conference

C. In school disciplinary action (loss of privileges)

D. Behavior Support/Modifications Plan with interventions /consequences

E. Detention (teacher or site based)

F. Community Service or Saturday School

G. TRAICE Satellite

H. Student Conduct Contract

Responses above must have been applied in previous infractions first or in rare occasions as the incident warrants.

M. Short term out of school suspension

N. Referral to TRAICE Academy

O. Long term school suspension”

Of the A through H options that should be applied first, we’ve had conferences, which are of course required with an IEP, which my daughter has. We had one within the last 30 days, with no discussion of suspension as a possible option. The school has never written consequences into the behavior support/modification plan, nor have they modified the plan when Trinity fails. For a kid with an IEP, this appears to be a fairly obvious response, especially before a kid is kicked out of school. She’s had in-house detention but not in the last two months. She also doesn’t have a Student Conduct Contract. Also, ironically, on the same day my daughter was suspended I received a letter from the district  (below) encouraging me to bring my kid to school (my daughter has missed zero days of school in 1 1/2 years at this school) and that “missing just a few days a month can add up to a lot of lost learning time.”

In short, I’m shocked that the school didn’t follow their own district’s policies and went for the nuclear option, especially with a kid who has an IEP and is clearly not getting the supports she needs in the one class where she’s supposed to be getting them and when I’m receiving condescending letters about how important attendance is.


Trinity Attendance Letter


Here’s the thing, though – I shouldn’t be shocked. My daughter shouldn’t have been in Special Education to begin with. She was failing 6th grade, because she wasn’t doing her work and talking too much, and so I had a conference with the administration and her teachers. The educators at that meeting suggested a “smaller classroom environment” where my daughter would get “more specialized attention,” which sounded pretty good to me. I was clearly naive – please learn from my mistakes. The phrase “Special Education” was never mentioned during that meeting. I only learned my daughter was in a Special Education class when she broke down at the end of 6th grade, because kids were making fun of her. Let me be clear – I have no issue with Special Education classes when warranted, but my kid doesn’t have any issues with learning. She has issues with closing her mouth and doing her work, like a lot of other 6th and 7th grade students do. She should never have been put into a Special Education class. And, since the beginning of 7th grade, I’ve been doing what I can to get her out, because it’s negatively impacting her emotional health. There are only so many times you can be sent to the Assistant Principal’s office before you become hopeless and give up on the relationships and trust you have built with adults. Unfortunately, my experience represents a nationwide trend that is being addressed by the Obama Administration, one where minority students are more often singled out for Special Education and receive harsher discipline than their white counterparts.

The District itself has gone public with its need to revamp its discipline system, and the new Superintendent has moved quickly in doing so. At the last school board meeting, two proposed contracts were discussed that would address the district’s discipline issues – specifically its high rate of suspensions especially for minority children and it’s special education programs. One of the consultants would “help train teachers and others on how to incorporate restorative practices, or de-escalating situations on the front end, to reduce the number of suspensions.” This is a practice that’s been used very successfully in many urban districts and one that will hopefully be implemented in our district in a quality way, but also as quickly as possible. You can read about Restorative Justice on the Resources page of this blog. In laymen’s terms, Restorative Justice is a way to figure out what’s keeping a kid from succeeding, and re-engage the student so he’s successful in school, rather than kicking him out. There’s a ton of research that demonstrates kicking kids out of school doesn’t help with bad behavior – it only helps the kid to disengage from school further, trust less, and to ultimately be much more likely to not graduate and to become involved in the justice system, thereby feeding our country’s tremendous school-to-prison pipeline. I can’t overstate what a huge issue this is.

I am a huge advocate for public education, especially urban districts, which are the only districts my kids have ever attended. In Oklahoma, where I live, we have worked hard to defund the public school system, and districts are struggling with massive cuts. Educators in my state are so mistreated that many of them are leaving the profession, not because of the dismal pay, but because of the environment we’ve created in which they work. So, let me be clear when I say I am not criticizing education overall, or educators overall, but a very broken system where a kid like mine, a minority 14-year-old with needs I’ve very clearly articulated via multiple meetings with faculty and staff, can be booted out of school for yelling. Yelling in a classroom where the teacher clearly needs professional development, which she’s obviously not getting.

I question who that’s helping, exactly?

Does it help her to modify her behavior? No.

Does it help her teachers, all but one are doing their best to help her learn? No.

Does it help her succeed in any way? No.

I don’t see the point unless the point is to make her feel tremendous shame, lose what trust she has in the Assistant Principal, and to fall further behind academically, which is certainly happening. And, what about all the other kids who are being suspended for disruptive behavior when they ask questions in class, or when they defend themselves against a bully, or when they’re just having a shitty day, because they don’t have enough to eat or their parents are fighting, or they don’t have parents? Where are their people? Who supports them? Where is the empathy, understanding, and patience they need to build relationships and learn? They’re just crushed by a system that doesn’t even see them or recognize their pain. When did we start treating kids like grown ups or like widgets? And, when did schools become prisons? While I commend the district for recognizing it’s weaknesses and attempting to repair them, I wonder if maybe a courageous first step might be to stop kicking black 5, 7, 10, 14 and 17-year-olds out of school? Can we do that please? If not, then perhaps we can just give them orange jumpsuits on their way out the door.



Today I presented to the Site Suspension Review Committee at my daughter’s school, and they upheld the suspension. When I wrote this blog post a few days ago, I did so in an effort to build awareness around how broken our special education and discipline systems are in so many schools, and I’m going to continue that effort in this update. I had hoped to continue being somewhat vague about the district in question, because I really don’t want to draw special attention to our district – these issues are happening everywhere. There’s no way I can discuss what happened today without revealing the school district my children attend, and the organizations involved, however. Please remember – these issues are happening everywhere, not just in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Below is the text of the document I presented during the hearing today. It clearly demonstrates the school did not follow its own policies and is likely in violation of state and federal law as well. There are a few places where I was incorrect, because I don’t understand all the lingo involved, or I wasn’t sure what interventions had actually been used. I’ve noted where those inaccuracies are and provided revisions.

Presentation to the Thoreau Demonstration Academy Site Suspension Review Committee

This appeal is based on the 3-day Suspension’s lack of compliance with the Behavior Response Plan, per Oklahoma State law. I’m requesting that Trinity’s suspension be deferred in lieu of In-School Intervention (ISI) time served. Additionally, Thoreau administrators have violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by implementing disciplinary removal of Trinity for more than 10 cumulative days during the 2015 – 2016 school year for behaviors that are a manifestation of Trinity’s Reactive Attachment Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, since Trinity has been sent to the Assistant Principal’s office by her Special Education Teacher, on a nearly daily basis, and has served many days of in-house suspension as well. Please see the attached “An Open Letter to Educators Who Work With Students Who Have Been Diagnosed With Reactive Attachment Disorder Or Who Have Suffered Early Trauma” By Carey McGinn Ed.D, CCC/SLP for symptoms and recommended therapeutic accommodations. I assume this Committee is familiar with the symptoms of ADHD so thus have not included them here.

Trinity’s three-day suspension is not in compliance with the Behavior Response Plan, because she has no Behavior Response plan. [Edit: I confused two plans that have the word “Behavior” in them, so technically this is incorrect, but the gist is still the same for all the reasons below. The Behavior Response Plan is another name for the Student and Family Guide to Success.] Additionally, of the responses that “must have been applied in previous infractions first or in rare occasions as the incident warrants” according to Tulsa Public School’s own policies, many responses have not been applied or have been applied so long ago to call into question whether they have been used progressively, leading up to suspension, as required by TPS policy. Specifics follow:

  1. Parent/guardian conference – two have been held during this academic year.
  2. Administrative conference – I assume these have been held, but I cannot confirm.
  3. In school disciplinary action (loss of privileges) – I am unaware of when this has been applied.
  4. Behavior Support/Modifications Plan with Interventions/consequences – This does not exist.
  5. Detention (teacher or site based) – This has not occurred this semester to my knowledge and may not have occurred this academic year.
  6. Community Service or Saturday School – This has not occurred.
  7. TRAICE Satellite – This has not occurred this semester or potentially all academic year. [Edit: Today I confirmed the last time my daughter was in TRAICE was last September, five months ago.]
  8. Student Conduct Contract – This does not exist.

In addition to the many options listed on page 18 of the “Student and Family Guide to Success” that are Intervention Options and Student Supports, many have not been implemented with Trinity to my knowledge, including a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) nor a Functional Behavior Plan (FBA). Additionally she has not been assigned a mentor/coach, received peer mediation and/or other behavioral supports including restorative approaches as applicable.

As mentioned above, the administration at Thoreau has substantially violated the IDEA by changing Trinity’s educational placement on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, by removing her from her classroom environment and instead placing her in In-School Suspension or in the office for part of or entire days for behavior that is a manifestation of her Reactive Attachment Disorder, as represented by the repeated 214 violations documented within her record.

Consequently, I’m requesting that Trinity’s suspension be set aside, since it violates TPS policy and federal law. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Prior to my presentation, the Assistant Principal provided information on the infractions that caused my daughter to be suspended. She explained that my daughter told her teacher that she didn’t care what the teacher said, that my daughter was angry and defiant, that she wasn’t doing her work, etc. Sadly, those behaviors directly correlate with the behaviors of Reactive Attachment Disorder, which can be found in the “An Open Letter…” document above, which I also presented to the Committee. The Assistant Principal is so ignorant of my daughter’s disability, its symptoms, and the appropriate therapeutic interventions, that she literally made my argument for me during her presentation to the Review Committee.

I’d like to think the Tulsa Public Schools Special Education Program Coordinator and her staff for attending the meeting. They asked great questions, ensured answers were clear, and gave me great guidance about next steps. It turns out my kid is likely in the wrong category and likely shouldn’t be in a special education classroom at all. And, she needs a Behavior Plan, which I’ve been asking for for over a year. It was nice to have that confirmed. I know you’re likely saying to yourself, “but wait, they’re with the District, can’t they just clean this mess up?” No, they can’t. Have I mentioned the system is broken? I think it’s important to note the District’s good faith efforts, though.

Unfortunately, in spite of the Assistant Principal’s unwillingness to follow the district’s own policies, state, and federal law, the committee upheld the suspension, and my daughter will not attend school for the next three days. Tomorrow she’ll go with me to Oklahoma City where I’m doing a presentation in the morning, and then we’ll swing by the State Capitol for a tour and to visit some legislators, so she can see firsthand how our legislative process works. Friday she’ll spend the day with a friend of mine who is like her second mother, but way cooler. Monday, I’m lining up job shadowing opportunities with professional women friends. I’m doing all this, because I don’t want her sitting at home by herself all day, feeling demeaned and broken. This is a kid who was beaten, raped, and starved by her family of origin, and she manages so well that the majority of her teachers don’t even realize she has a seriously traumatized background. She has fought hard to get where she is and to be who she is, and the last thing in the world I want is for her to begin feeling shame, because that’s what will jump and bite her and send her back to inpatient psychiatric care or worse. So, we’re treating her three days of suspension as a learning opportunity, which I hope to hell is successful.

Finally, I’m asking that you share this blog post far and wide to help build awareness of not just my kid but every kid like her.  Use the hashtag #3.5 to call attention to the rate at which black children are suspended versus their white peers. If you’re local, I’d love to drop off some #3.5 lapel stickers so you can wear them around town and share with friends. If you and your family have had similar experiences, please comment below, so your story can join our story, and we’ll build a mighty, mighty chorus, my friends.