GARY, Ind. (AP) — A school district in northwestern Indiana has issued an apology after a special needs teacher awarded an 11-year-old autistic student a trophy naming him the “most annoying male” of the school year.
The Bailly Preparatory Academy teacher gave the boy the trophy May 23 during a fifth-grade awards luncheon attended by students, parents and the school principal, the Times of Northwest Indiana reported. The school is in Gary, about 30 miles southeast of Chicago.
Rick Castejon, the boy’s father, said his family was blindsided.
“We just weren’t expecting it,” he said. “As a principal or teacher, you should never let this happen to any student.”
Gary Community School Corp. issued an apology to the boy and his family in a statement Monday. Emergency manager Peter Morikis called it an “unfortunate occurrence” and declined to comment on the employment status of the teacher involved.
“An apology was extended on behalf of the district to the family, and disciplinary action was taken against personnel involved,” Morikis said. “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 said his son is nonverbal, occasionally rocks back and forth and can become easily emotional. He said he has received calls from the school when his son didn’t want to work or would cry.
“A special needs education teacher should know how to handle these things,” Castejon said.
Castejon’s family met with Morikis after the lunch to discuss their concerns and he was confident the district would take action. Morikis talked about putting the teacher on a two-week suspension and possible dismissal, the father said.
Castejon said he was pleased with Morikis’ response, but that he chose to speak out so other students with special needs never experience the same kind of treatment.
“We just don’t want any other kids to go through this,” Castejon said. “Just because they have special needs doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings.”