A school in Gary, Indiana, has issued a public apology after one of its teachers presented a trophy for “most annoying male” to an 11-year-old fifth grader with autism.
Rick Castejon told The Times of Northwest Indiana that he was in shock when his son was given the award at an annual end-of-year luncheon on May 23 in front of an audience of parents, students and faculty from the boy’s school, Bailly Preparatory Academy.
Castejon said he tried to let the incident slide, but when he intentionally left the trophy on the table upon leaving the event at the Golden Corral in Merrillville, Ind., the boy’s special education teacher stopped him. She reminded him to take the prize with him and attempted to play it off as a joke.
But when Castejon showed the award to his wife, the parents began connecting the dots and the severity of the gesture hit home. “We were blindsided. We just weren’t expecting it,” Castejon told The Times of Northwest Indiana.
He said that throughout the school year, teachers had been calling the couple with concerns about their son’s conduct. Because of his autism, the boy is nonverbal, his dad said, and he tends to rock back and forth and become emotional. But the parents expected more appropriate behavior from special education professionals.
“They called me all the time if he didn’t want to work, would cry or would have a breakdown,” said Castejon. “A special needs education teacher should know how to handle these things ... As a principal or teacher, you should never let this happen to any student.”
So Castejon and his wife complained to Bailly Preparatory school administrators, who arranged for them to meet with Gary Community School Corporation emergency manager Peter Morikis. They discussed a two-week suspension or even termination as possible consequences for the teacher, according to The Times of Northwest Indiana.
Morikis also issued a statement on Monday that read, in part, "An apology was extended on behalf of the district to the family, and disciplinary action was taken against personnel involved. 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."
Yahoo Lifestyle has reached out to Morikis for an update on the teacher’s status. Castejon noted that the teacher was missing from a May 27 fifth-grade graduation ceremony at Bailly Preparatory Academy.
Castejon said he is satisfied with the school’s quick response to the incident, and that he had already had plans to transfer his son to a new school in September, as the family is moving to a new neighborhood.
But he’s speaking up to help other special-needs students avoid being mocked like his son was.
“We just don’t want any other kids to go through this,” the dad said. “Just because they have special needs doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings.”
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