When any parent sends their child to school, they are expecting their child won’t be mistreated. Especially not by teachers who are ostensibly professionals, well-trained in dealing with the kids sitting in their classrooms. But one Indiana family found out just how cruel their autistic son’s special education teacher could be when the 11-year-old was awarded a “Most Annoying Male” trophy at the school’s end-of-year awards ceremony attended by faculty and students, along with their parents.
The boy’s father, Rick Castejon, says his non-verbal son frequently rocks back and forth and can become upset quickly. These are fairly typical traits for individuals on the autism spectrum and as a trained special education instructor, one would think that the teacher would be more compassionate and equipped with a higher tolerance for “annoying” behaviors.
“They called me all the time if he didn’t want to work, would cry or would have a breakdown,” Castejon said. “A special needs education teacher should know how to handle these things.”
The room went silent as the trophy was handed out, Castejon said.
The teacher reportedly told the Castejons that it was a joke and it wasn’t meant to be serious. But in what universe does anyone think to give a child with special needs a trophy for being annoying and then play it off as a joke?
“We were blindsided. We just weren’t expecting it,” Rick Castejon said. “As a principal or teacher, you should never let this happen to any student.”
School officials met with the family immediately after the trophy was handed out, but the emotional toll of the humiliation makes it, unfortunately, too little too late.
We’ve all made jokes that fell flat or come off as mean-spirited, but at every step along the way — from ordering the trophy to having the callous gall to present it — the teacher had ample opportunity to realize how hurtful it would be to the Castejons.
It’s fitting that now the teacher is being reprimanded by the school. The school has declined to comment on whether or not they’ll ultimately fire the offending special ed teacher. However, they have at least issued an apology to the Castejons in the meantime.
“An apology was extended on behalf of the district to the family, and disciplinary action was taken against personnel involved,” Gary, Ind. Community School Corp. emergency manager Peter Morikis said in a 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.”
Whether or not the teacher’s employment is terminated, one can certainly hope they’re at least removed from the responsibility of teaching vulnerable special needs students.