When you're a kid, getting kicked out of school sounds a lot like freedom. Your whole life could be watching TV, eating ice cream, and making prank phone calls, and all you have to do is poison your teacher's coffee or punch someone really hard in the face.
Turns out it's actually not that fun at all. It's a miserable process that can fuck with your whole childhood. And sometimes you don't even have to do something terrible; you can just be mentally ill or gay and that's enough for you to get the boot.
Three recent expellees share their stories.
ELLEN, 23, ENGLAND
I had been sent out of my math class for being disruptive, throwing books across the room and pencils. Outside the classroom at each end of the corridor were fire-hose pipe reels and fire extinguishers. I thought it'd be funny to let the hose off. It was much more powerful than I'd thought it would be, though.
When I let it go on the floor, water sprayed along the corridor, the hose was out of control, and I couldn't stop it. It was carpeted, so the whole thing was soaking. I panicked and ran off because it was quite a lot of water.
I went and sat downstairs in the canteen making sure members of staff saw me as I thought that way I wouldn't get the blame, because I'd have an alibi for the time of the flooding. Unfortunately, it was all captured on CCTV. The flooding was so bad that it came through to the ceiling tiles on the floor below. It blew the electricity and some of the ceiling rotted. I ended up causing hundreds of pounds of damage.
They rang my mom and told her she would have to come in. She received a fine for the damages and had to fork out £500 [$660]. I refused to attend the meeting, and that day, I ended up getting permanently excluded. I didn't kick up as fuss at the time. I thought it was great. I couldn't wait to brag to my friends about it.
But it didn't quite live up to my expectations: I just spent my days mostly in bed or on MSN. It quickly became boring because all my friends were in school while I was at home. Although I was allowed back for English, maths, and science at the same school, that was it. After those lessons, I had to leave the premises straight away. It's not my proudest moment in life, but you live and learn I guess: I have never let off another fire hose.
IZZY, 18, SCOTLAND
I went to boarding school for over six years. I got kicked out in my last year of school. I had struggled with mental-health problems throughout and really hadn't received much support at all. In late 2014, when I was 16, my mental health took a turn for the worst. In January, I overdosed and ended up in the hospital. I was told I could return whenever I wanted. I chose to come back a few days later.
I went for a meeting with the headteacher, and it became clear she was adamant on getting me to leave. She basically said that she didn't care if I killed myself, but if I was a pupil in the school, it would reflect badly on them. She made it clear that she cared more about the reputation of the school than my health and life. I was allowed to stay for two weeks on the condition I took medication. This was to be a trial period to see if I could handle school. If not, I'd have to leave.
Unfortunately, I had a mock exam that week, and I ended up getting 0 percent, mostly because I was having no sleep because of panic attacks. Although one teacher said that I may be able to resit it, I was called into the head's office where she immediately expelled me, asking me to pack my things.
That day, I sat in my room crying. A teacher came every ten minutes to make sure I hadn't tried to hurt or kill myself. A friend came and packed for me. I left after six years of living there without saying goodbye to anyone. Only a few people knew I was expelled until I stopped turning up to class. I had a breakdown in my uncle's car and then stayed with him and his girlfriend for a couple of days while I looked for a place to live.
My parents took it surprisingly better than I expected. They were angry at how I'd been treated but were very supportive. Other teachers wanted me to sue, and everyone in the school—staff and students alike—stood behind me and defended me. The head was suspended in the end, but I don't think that had anything to do with me.
ROB, 16, CALIFORNIA
I've been homeschooled my whole life. With homeschooling in the US, there's this thing called co-op, and you go once a week. They teach you what you're learning the next week, they give you homework, you come back, and they check your work. These co-ops tend to be religious, where you're mocked if you don't follow biblical practices.
Growing up, I felt like I was never good enough. I was different from most boys: Most of my friends were girls, I listened to female pop music, and in my teen years, I started to question the strict culture I had grown up in. It was around this time I discovered I was gay. I was deeply depressed and contemplated ending things at 14.
"The school reverend told me to 'man up' and 'pray the gay away.'"
The church that my family attended was also extremely conservative and was much like co-op. They're also well-known for their anti-LGBTQ measures and have been actively collecting signatures to stop anti-LGBTQ discrimination laws. Knowing this, I was careful who I told.
Around this time, my school reverend would constantly lecture me why as to why I shouldn't listen to a certain type of music or wear certain clothes. He told me to "man up" and be the person God had made me to be. He even made me have "therapy sessions." He told me to "pray the gay away," and I complied not because I believed it, but because I thought it would make things stop. Near the end of these sessions, I ran away and was so close to ending it right there. My parents were against me, all my friends from church were against me. I felt the lowest I had ever been. After a month of attending the sessions, though, everyone thought I'd been cured.
So I created a Twitter account to talk about what I was dealing with. It helped a lot to have an outlet I could express my feelings about being gay, but also somewhere where I could be out.
One day I got a text message from my mom saying that she was going to a meeting with the school. They told my mom that they dug through my social media and found hints of me being gay. On my Facebook, it said that I liked men. I was getting kicked out of school. They said it wasn't about hate, but about their policy: that you can't be gay and attend school there. Their only excuse was that they were doing it for love and that it was for my own good. My parents were totally fine with me getting kicked out for being gay as they're anti-LGBTQ.
There's really no happy ending to this story. I'm at another school and hoping to graduate, so I can go to college. It's a struggle, but it shows that there's still discrimination toward LGBTQ people. No one should get kicked out of school for being gay. I'm sick and tired of being put down by society for being myself. I want to let kids know that there are people out there like you, and it does get better.
Some names have been changed to protect identities.
The Samaritans help people who are feeling suicidal or struggling to cope. Find more information on their website.