Anybody who’s ever spent time around a child with special needs knows such individuals can, at times, exhibit unusual or even disruptive behavior that’s typically best addressed with patience and thoughtfulness.
Arguably the worst way to deal with such a child is to publicly embarrass or shame them for their behavior in front of their peers and elders. But that appears to be exactly what a teacher in Indiana did to an 11-year-old fifth-grader with autism.
The father of the student at Bailey Preparatory Academy, a public school in Gary, Indiana, said he was shocked beyond disbelief when his son’s teacher “awarded” the young boy with a trophy that deemed him to be the “Most Annoying Male” of the 2018-2019 school year.
Possibly making matters even worse, the student’s father, Rick Castejon, told The Times of Northwest Indiana that the insulting award was presented on May 23 by his son’s special-needs teacher — who presumably should know better — at a special fifth-grade awards luncheon attended by students, their parents and even the school’s principal.
“We were blindsided. We just weren’t expecting it,” Castejon said of the dubious “award” that mocked a child with special needs.
“As a principal or teacher, you should never let this happen to any student,” he added.
Castejon told The Times that in order to avoid causing a scene, he kept his thoughts to himself throughout the rest of the luncheon, and even attempted to leave the offensive trophy behind when it was time to leave.
But the teacher specifically reminded him to take it, treating the whole thing as if it was simply a harmless joke, he said.
After informing his wife about what had happened and thinking more about it later that evening, he came to realize the seriousness of the teacher’s actions.
Castejon said he’d received several calls from the school throughout the year about his son’s behavior, which he admitted sometimes includes not talking, rocking back and forth repeatedly and even emotional outbursts.
“They called me all the time if he didn’t want to work, would cry or would have a breakdown,” he told The Times.
“A special-needs education teacher should know how to handle these things.”
Castejon got in touch with the school administration and ultimately spoke with Gary Community School Corp. emergency manager Peter Morikis, who assured the father that the teacher would be held accountable and suspended for two weeks, if not fired altogether.
“The Gary Community School Corporation does not condone this type of behavior and will continue to put the safety and well-being of our students first,” Morikis said in a statement to The Times.
“We extend our deepest apologies to the impacted student, the family and anyone else who take offense to this unfortunate occurrence.”
Morikis declined to answer the outlet’s questions about the teacher or her employment status, but The Times said it intended to file a freedom of information request to determine what that educator’s fate ended up being.
“An apology was extended on behalf of the district to the family, and disciplinary action was taken against personnel involved,” Morikis added in the statement.
“We acknowledge the potential impact that an experience like this could have on a child’s mental well-being, self-esteem and overall level of comfortability in a learning environment going forward.”
Castejon told The Times that while he was pleased with the response he received from Morikis, he nevertheless intended to stick with prior plans to move his family from Gary to Valparaiso.
He said he spoke out only to ensure that no other student with similar issues is ever treated in such a mocking and potentially distressing manner.
“We just don’t want any other kids to go through this,” he said. “Just because they have special needs doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings.”
What this teacher did — single out a student with autism to be mocked in front of his classmates — is truly awful.
Hopefully, the teacher’s employment is terminated and she’s barred from ever again dealing with young children, particularly those with special needs.