A recent controversy has erupted in Gary, Indiana. A 5th grade student with Autism was awarded a trophy that said “Most Annoying Male”. This was done publicly at an end- of- year lunch assembly.
When I saw the news about this, I was… LIVID… to say the least. As a teacher, end-of-year awards are suppose to be a fun and positive ways to end the year. Teachers are suppose to find the positive dreams and accomplishments of every student, and make a fun award or certificate to make every student feel good.
But 3 teachers are now facing termination after this passive-aggressive attack against the autistic student. This may include the special education teacher that nominated the student. In addition to this, Principal Carlita Royal has been put on paid administrative leave.
UPDATE: The 3 teacher that have been fired are Alexis Anderson-Harper (SpEd), Bianca Jones & Crystal Beeks (both 5th grade teachers). There will be more in the following blog.
Bailly Preparatory School‘s web site list 2 5th grade teachers (Jones and Beck) and has their photos, but the photo for Harper is missing. That is common for many school websites. Many school websites only update their staff pictures at the beginning of the year, or fail to update the pictures when the new IT director for a school does not have the password for the schools website.
Annoying Chain of Failures
When I first heard of this disgusting award, I thought about how this travesty could happen in a school. It was clear that a group of teachers and administrators created a chain of failure in order for this to happen.
First, the admin and secretary had to plan for the award ceremony. This could have been scheduled at the beginning of the year as part of the school’s calendar. Then the teachers would have been notified a couple months before to submit a list of awards for their students. It is here that the special education (SpEd) teacher would have submitted the 5th graders name for “Most Annoying Male”.
This was the first failure. While the teacher may have been joking (but was acting with malice), there is no way such crass humor can be shown with a professionally made trophy. It was the first malicious step that the SpED teacher (Alexis Anderson-Harper) would have taken to deliberately insult the 5th grader.
Second, the secretary would compile the teachers award list into a master list for the trophy maker. This was another check point that failed. The secretary should have notified the principal that the SpEd teacher submitted this award, or contacted the SpEd teacher to correct it. At this stage the damage would have been contained within the school, and would just go to the principal or HR director as a matter of misconduct. If there is a master list, the parents of the 5th grader can subpoena it for any legal actions against the school.
Third, the information for the awards is sent to the trophy maker. This award was clearly not just a joke certificate that was printed in the school. This was a star trophy (a common academic participation trophy style) with a printed or engraved name plate. The trophy maker then took the information from the school and engraved the name plates en mass, finally attaching them to the boxes of trophy’s. This may have been a 3d checkpoint if the trophy maker works directly with the school. But this was probably contracted out to a local shop that does the districts trophy’s for sports. The trophy maker may not have noticed the offending nameplate as they stick them on hundreds of these trophy’s. In the trophy shop I’m sure they see their share of gag awards, and this would slip through the cracks.
Annoying Chain is Complete
So far 3 checkpoints have been passed where this disgusting award could have been stopped. The secretary could have reported what the SpEd teacher wrote. The admin could have disciplined the SpEd teacher. The trophy maker could have questioned the trophy. But none of this happened.
At this point, things are reaching a critical mass, but can still be stopped if someone at the school had some human decency.
As I looked at this event, I realized this whole
cluster fuck disaster required more then one teacher. While the SpEd teacher pulled the trigger, other teachers were involved. According to Newsweek and others,
The father [Rick Castejon] said he tried to leave the trophy behind on the table before the teacher, who considered the trophy a joke, stopped him and told him not to forget it.Newsweek.
My blood boiled again when I read this. Not only did the SpEd teacher start this chain of events, ANOTHER teacher rubbed salt in the wound and had the 5th grader take the trophy from the table.
Groupthink and Teenager Minds
In this chain of failures, we see that the SpEd and another teacher are now involved (along with the admin). The fact that the teacher forced the 5th grader to take the trophy home means that they agree with the award, and wanted the 5th grader to know it. This is the type of annoying pettiness that I’d expect from teenagers, not licensed teachers.
What I’m afraid of was the amount of groupthink that had to happen at the school for this chain of failures to happen. When I first saw this in the news, I knew that more people would loose their jobs.
I’ve been in schools where groupthink among a group of teachers has changed the course of the school. This groupthink can happen when groups of teachers coalesce into a close-knit group. This is similar to soldiers in the field. While comrade among teachers is normally positive and needed, there are times it can mutate into something negative.
For this award to happen, it appears that the 3 fired teachers together condoned the tile, trophy, and presentation of this disgusting award. If they meant this trophy as a joke, the humor was never there.
Principal Royal at the least failed to notice this disgrace in time; at worst may have been complicit in this disgrace. While here role is being investigated, I would expect her to resign in lieu of termination.
The SpEd teacher and 2 other teachers that were a part of this groupthink were acting as passive-aggressive jerks who wanted to hurt the 5th grader at the end of the year. While I understand the urge to say FU to difficult students, this “Most Annoying Male” trophy shows the amount of malice that they had for the 5th grader. It took planning and time to see this through to the end-of-year-lunch, to know this would be announced publicly in front of the parents and students.
The 3 teachers are fired and should loose their license to teach. The principal should be suspended and fired by the end of the year. No one involved should teach again.
In a part 2 of this blog, I’ll discuss further how this happened and the amount of incompetence involved.