My son is a 14-year-old freshman at Graham High School (Burlington-Alamance School System) in Graham, NC. He has a profound unilateral hearing impairment, moderate to severe speech impairment and ADHD. He is also considerably smaller than most other kids his age. He is an extremely loving, affectionate, tenderhearted, sincere, and gracious person who wants nothing more in this world that to have at least one friend - yet he sits alone every day at lunch because no one else wants him around.

This rejection has made him the loneliest person I have ever known. He has been ostracized from both the academic and social mainstreams because of his differences. If you don’t fit the mold…you are don’t accepted. He has endured physical, emotional and psychological torment at the hands of students, teachers and administrators alike since he entered the public school system when he was five years old.

He has been kicked, shoved, jerked, tripped, punched, slapped, pinched, stabbed with pencils, and popped with rubber bands. His personal belongings have been stolen and vandalized. He has been called geek, freak, faggot, maggot, retard, dumb, gay, stupid, crazy and weird, just to name a few.

The most disgusting part of this is that, on too many occasions, the adults that should have intervened to defend my son's safety and his right to be treated humanely, have not only looked the other way while my son has been tortured - they have condoned and at times, even participated in and/or defended the actions of the person(s) who were violating him. He has even been punished for "tattling" when he would ask for help.

Teachers have openly and deliberately humiliated him in front of the entire class many, many times and have segregated him from other students by putting his desk in hallways, closets and bathrooms for weeks at a time because he displayed the typical, non-violent, symptoms of ADHD. This has caused him to suffer severe developmental delays in social skills, which has only exasperated his problems in making and keeping friends.

I have gone through all the proper channels to correct the problem, but nearly every attempt I have made to address and resolve problems over the years has fallen on deaf ears and my son has only suffered more torment each time I have attempted to intervene.

The only time my son has ever committed any act of “violence” was last year when he attempted to defend himself against a boy that had been using a rubber band to pop the back of his neck repeatedly for several days during class. He asked the boy to stop but that only made it worse, he asked the teacher to intervene but was called a crybaby and told to stop whining and act like a man. The next day when the boy did it again, my son punched him.

The school called me, more than two hours later, to notify me that my son had been given three days of in-school suspension for fighting. When I went to the school, I found my son had been sitting in the office all that time, after being severely beaten by the other boy, and I took him to the hospital to be examined.

His face and arms were severely bruised, he had large knots on his scalp, arms, legs and body from being kicked and punched repeatedly and his hand was badly swollen; yet his injuries had not even been acknowledged. The other boy was also given in-school suspension for his "involvement" in the altercation.

Last week, a small group of kids seated near my son were discussing the latest school shooting and another student commented that my son was "just the type to bring a gun to school and kill everyone". My son's immediate response was that he would never do anything like that and the conversation ended as the class began A few days later, he wore a pair of pants to school that he had worn briefly the night before. When he emptied his pockets looking for something later in the morning, he realized that he had a small pocketknife it one the pockets and showed it to the boy sitting next to him, who had also been involved in the previous conversation and said, "look what I forgot was in my pocket". He then put the knife back into his pocket, with the intention of simply bringing it home.

He thought that this boy, who had teased him severely in the past, was his friend now "because he wasn't being so mean to him anymore". Unfortunately, my son was very wrong. His classmate went to the school Crime Stopper program and reported the knife. He also alleged that my son had said that "the next time it would be a gun and he was going to kill everyone".

The principal said that when he questioned my son, he immediately admitted that he brought the knife to school, unintentionally, and then he turned it over willingly. However, he has steadfastly denied any allegation that he has ever threatened to do anything to hurt anyone.

My son stood accused, tried, convicted and sentenced in a matter of hours. He has been suspended from the mainstream for 13 days and recommended for "long-term" suspension, because of the schools zero tolerance policy against violence. Ironically enough, the rule that forbids weapons falls immediately after the rule that forbids “Threatening, Insulting, Abusive or Seriously Discourteous Words, Signs or Other Acts” and well before the rule that forbids “hazing".

The identity of the student who has accused my son is protected because he made the report through the Crime Stoppers program, however, only one person knew he had the knife and we have been told by more than one reliable source that this person bragged for days about how he "finally got rid of him by getting him kicked out of school".

I am personally horrified that this could happen in this day and age. Because of the hysteria, which has followed these many tragic school shootings, zero tolerance has become nothing more than a modern day witch hunt, to identify and eliminate "at risk" students from the mainstream at any cost.

While our children must have somewhere to turn in the event they have a valid concern for safety, we must have safeguards in place to protect the civil rights of innocent people who may be unjustly accused. Furthermore, it is time that we stop viewing these "at risk" children as the problem. All too often, they share one common denominator that no one seems to want to address. They have been the victims of long term, torturous abuse and when these children have resorted to violent behavior - it is because they were victims of apathy long before they became criminals, but zero tolerance policies were ignored when they cried out for the help they so desperately needed.

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