In a previous blog I discussed the issues surrounding the educators awarding “The Most Annoying Male” trophy to a 5th grader with autism at his school. This award has generated a lot of negative PR for the school district, which was taken over by the state in 2017. While 3 teachers were fired for there role, more is coming to light about the events that transpired for this to happen.
We now know that the 3 fired teachers are Alexis Anderson-Harper (SpEd), Bianca Jones and Crystal Beeks (Both 5th grade teachers.)
As more emerges about this debacle, more about it makes my blood boil as a teacher and a person.
In documents provided by Anderson-Harper, she has shown that the STUDENTS of the school voted for the awards, and that the teachers provided printed ballots for the student nominations.
Voting for Educators Stupidity
This is a new disturbing twist in the whole disturbing issue. It turns out the students were given the ability to nominate the 5th grader with the “Most Annoying Male” title.
Also on the ballot was “Most Talkative” and “Most Sleepiest”. While these may be more of a joke category, these should not have been on the ballot at all. These awards could be replaced with something like “Most Scientific (who likes science)”, “Most Historic” (who likes history)”, or some other academic titles. It’s not a stretch for teachers to make simple generic academic awards. To put titles that are abusive on the ballot and think they are OK shows that the teachers were venting and incompetent.
I talked about a chain of failure in the previous blog, and this document adds a few more links. Alexis Anderson-Harper told the Times that
… The class did not vote for others like “Most Athletic” because none of her students were on the school’s sports teams.Times
The fact that the class knew enough to skip the “Most Athletic” category and still nominate “Most Annoying” shows that the students could bully and manipulate the voting system to attack the 5th grader. It also shows that the teacher could look the other way while the class did this.
There was a whole chain of failures here. 5th grade teachers Jones and Beeks started by creating this ballot.
There is a basic rule of classroom management. You DON’T give your students the chance to do something wrong in the first place. Teachers are suppose to think a few steps ahead of the students and eliminate or prevent issues before they pop up.
While a class of students will occasionally find every loophole to this rule, this ballot should have been a no-brainier for all the teachers involved.
If you give the kids a chance to nominate “Most Annoying” then it’s a easy bet to say they will. 5th graders can be mean to their peers, and this ballot was a easy way for them to take a pot shot at the 5th grader.
To a class of students, this ballot was a chance to show their (lack of) maturity and the lack of empathy they had about the Autistic student. It also shows that the teachers Beeks & Jones failed to promote empathy about this student.
The fact that none of the teachers involved bothered to remove or cross the category off the ballot shows either malicious intent or gross incompetence.
At this point, Alexis Anderson-Harper could have stopped this award from going forward. She could have crossed “The Most Annoying” category off the ballot so the class could not even nominate any student. She could have contacted the other teachers and principal Royal to say “this is not right”. (UPDATE: It turns out that the “Most annoying” category was added to this years awards by Beeks & Jones) She could have asked the other 5th grade teachers running the awards for a revised ballot. She could have even turned it into a teachable moment where she could have show the kids in her SpEd class what to do if someone writes a mean thing. UPDATE: Principal Royal was fired in part because she failed to pre-screen the ballot that the other teachers wrote. Royal believed she did not have to screen the awards, as the ceremony and policies for it predated her employment. This does not excuse the lack of common sense shown by all 3 teachers and Royal.
At the award ceremony Alexis Anderson-Harper could have stopped the speaker from presenting this award, or she could have changed it to “Most Awesome Male” and had the trophy reprinted later. She could have refused to present this at all and come back later with a paper certificate. All 3 teachers involved could have stopped this award at anytime and substituted anything more appropriate.
But instead of doing anything morally right, Alexis Anderson-Harper let her class vote for “Most Annoying” and passed the list back to the other 5th grade teachers (Beeks and Jones) for the awards. The other two teachers then compiled the nominations and sent them off to be made into trophy’s.
At the award ceremony, Alexis Anderson-Harper was the one who physically presented the trophy to the 5th grader. She has sense tried to play down her involvement in the awards, but it is clear that she was involved from the start. While she has gone public in trying to proclaim her innocents, there is nothing that I can see that is defensible about her negligent lack of action. Principal Royal cited negligence as one of the two factors in Anderson-Harper’s termination letter, and as a teacher myself I’d agree that Alexis Anderson-Harper was negligent throughout this whole chain of events.
The Pile of Chains
In the aftermath of all of this, all 3 teachers have started the legal process for termination. While this varies from state to state, they can appeal any disciplinary action and the termination as well. Anderson-Harper is the only teacher of the 3 to speak to the public so far, but what she has revealed has not helped her case. While she has retained an attorney, going public may not have helped her case.
She has shown that the 5th grade teachers (Beeks & Jones) created the ballot for the awards, and that she was complicit in allowing the class to nominate the 5th grader. She also has show that she did nothing to stop the nomination from going forward, which can be grounds for negligence. Anderson-Harper also admitted that she participated in the ceremony and handed the award to the 5th grader.
The other 5th grade teachers, Beeks and Jones, worked behind the scene to write the ballots, collect the votes, and order the trophy’s. They probably were both working together as informal members of the school award committee, so they may not have had any direct oversight from Principal Royal. Informal school functions like awards are usually delegated out to teachers with limited to no oversight from the schools admin. It was negligent and mean spirited of the teachers to put “Most Annoying” on the ballot in the first place. UPDATE: Royal did not screen the awards because there was not a policy or procedure from proceeding principals. I’m not aware of any school that has a policy specifically in place regarding school awards. I have a feeling next school year district lawyers will be adding a few more lines to school policy.
All 3 teachers may want to go through the legal process to clear their names, and future actions may clear them legally, but not in the court of public opinion. I suspect all 3 teacher now have a written disciplinary letter on their file, and any future schools will have to see them. In future job interviews, the teachers will have to disclose that they were terminated for cause. There is no word yet on if this has gone to the state to terminate their teaching license, so there is a possibility in the future they could teach at another school.
Within a couple weeks I’d expect the district to announce that the 3 teachers have exhausted their appeals and are terminated. The reality is that the teachers are a RP nightmare and a toxic liability for the school district. They may have the option to resign before termination takes place, which may help them save face in the future. Schools are more likely to take a teacher with a resignation over a teacher that is terminated.
For Principal Carlita Royal, she is on paid administrative leave while the school district investigates. Student awards are generally a school function delegated to teachers, but Royal should have been notified about the ballots when they came out. If I was in her position I’d hand the 3 teachers over to the district and deny culpability in the whole thing. Royal may have plasuable deniability, and be allowed to resign at the end of the school year. There is no way that she has the confidences and trust of the school parents or district now. She may be liable for negligence in allowing this award to be presented. If it comes to termination for her, she’ll probably resign as well to keep her admin license.
UPDATE 6/16/2019: Principal Carlita Royal is now terminated along with the 3 teachers. In the district investigation it turns out that the 5th graders mother came to the school the day after the award and attempted to confront Anderson-Harper. Royal then threatened to call the cops on the mother. To make it even more worse, the mother left the award in the office, where it stayed publicly visible until the 5th graders father picked it up with his sons report card. Because Royal failed to disclose this interaction with the district, she was terminated for that and failing to screen the awards.
Principal Carlita Royal, SpEd teacher Alexis Anderson-Harper and fifth-grade teachers Bianca Jones and Crystal Beeks have now all been terminated for cause from Baily Prep Academy. All 4 have the right to file an appeal with the school district. Given the amount of negative publicity the district has received, they will likely exhaust their appeals. There is no information yet if this has gone to the state department of education, or if this will impact their education license.
While their termination is welcome, it is important to note that they can possibly teach at another school as long as they have their admin and teachers license. Schools everywhere are desperate for SpEd teachers and admins, so Anderson-Harper and Royal have a better chance of being rehired over Beeks & Jones. To provide true justice to the 5th grader, all 4 should have their licenses revoked.
According to the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE),
… schools can contact the Department if a school official is terminated or resigns due to child abuse or neglect [which this award qualifies as]. The Department can then determine if action should be taken against the person’s license.https://www.doe.in.gov/student-services/child-abuse-prevention-response-resources