A school in Indiana has caused outrage among parents and pupils after staff gave an autistic 11-year-old an award for ‘most annoying male’.
The the fifth-grade student was given the trophy in front of his friends, family and other members of staff at a luncheon event held at the Bailly Preparatory Academy last month.
The boy’s dad, Rick Castejon, said he was shocked when his son was handed the award by his special education teacher.
Speaking to the Times of Northwest Indiana, as reported by MailOnline, Rick said:
We were blindsided. We just weren’t expecting it.
As a principal or teacher, you should never let this happen to any student.
The award ceremony was part of the school’s end-of-year celebrations, which took place at the Merrillville Golden Corrall, where the entire class and their parents gathered.
The crowd reportedly fell silent as the award was given to Rick’s son.
Rick said he tried to leave the trophy on the table at the end of the meal and go home without it, but his son’s teacher apparently reminded him about it, trying to play off the title as a joke.
According to the boy’s father, teachers have called him at home multiple times over concerns for the child and his behaviour. Though Rick says it wasn’t until he saw the trophy he felt a real concern for the school.
They called me all the time if he didn’t want to work, would cry or would have a breakdown. A special needs education teacher should know how to handle these things.
Rick says his son’s mannerisms are consistent with autism, as he is nonverbal, sometimes rocks his body back and forth, and can become emotional very easily.
After the awkward ceremony, Castejon contacted to school’s administration team to discuss the possibility of firing or suspending the teacher because of the offensive incident. A few days after the ceremony, at the fifth grade graduation celebration, the teacher was notably absent.
Peter Morikis, a manager of the school’s district, confirmed disciplinary action is being taken, saying:
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. We extend our deepest apologies to the impacted student, the family and anyone else who take offense to this unfortunate occurrence.
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.
Rick said they just hope other kids don’t have to go through a similar situation, saying: ‘Just because they have special needs doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings.’
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.