GARY, IN — A special education teacher in Indiana presented an 11-year-old student with autism the “Most Annoying Male” trophy at an end-of-the-year awards ceremony at a local restaurant, ambushing the boy’s parents, stunning others into an awkward silence and prompting the school to take disciplinary action against the teacher.
The boy’s trophy stood in stark comparison to those that described other students at Bailly Preparatory Academy in glowing terms, such as “most improved” or “funniest.”
Rick Castejon, the boy’s father, left the trophy behind on the table when he left the awards luncheon. He told The Times of Northwest Indiana he didn’t want to cause a scene, but the teacher, who wasn’t named, told him not to forget it.
She tried to laugh it off as a joke, Castejon said.
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“We were blindsided. We just weren’t expecting it,” Castejon told The Times. “As a principal or teacher, you should never let this happen to any students.”
Castejon and his wife, Estella, now question the legitimacy of multiple calls over the course of the school year from their son’s teachers about how to deal with his behavior. Children on the autism spectrum have a wide range of symptoms. The Castejons’ son is non-verbal, sometimes rocks back and forth and shakes, or becomes emotional — typical symptoms of autism they think the teachers should have the skills to handle.
“They called me all the time if he didn’t want to work, would cry or would have a breakdown,” Rick Castejon told The Times.
“You’d think one would know and understand the conditions of autism and have more patience to deal with children who suffer from autism,” Estella Castejon told news station WLS.
The parents met with Peter Morikis, the Gary Community School Corp.’s emergency manager, to talk about the incident. The teacher has been disciplined, though Morikis didn’t elaborate in a statement to The Times, which said it will file a Freedom of Information Act request to learn about the teacher’s employment status.
The teacher did not attend the fifth-grade graduation ceremony, according to the news reports.
In a statement to the newspaper, Morikis said the school district”does not condone this type of behavior” and extended its “deepest apologies to the impacted student, the family and anyone else who take offense to this unfortunate occurrence.”
“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,” the statement read.
The Castejons said they are satisfied with the school district’s response, but were already planning to move to a nearby community, so their son won’t be returning to the district in the fall.
It’s some consolation that his son doesn’t know what the word “award” means, Rick Castejon told WLS.
“When they called him up he was just excited to get a gold star because it was shiny,” he said.
The Castejons hope the staff at Bailly Preparatory Academy become more empathetic in their approach to special-needs students.
“He just wants to be like everyone else,” Estella Castejon told WLS. “He is like everyone else, the difference is he cannot express himself like every other person does.”