GARY, Ind.—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 on May 23 during a fifth-grade awards luncheon attended by students, parents and the school principal, the Northwest Indiana Times reported. The school is in Gary, about 30 miles southeast of Chicago.
Akalis Castejon is non-verbal, but the 11-year-old communicates with the joy of any child during summer break.
Rick Castejon, Akalis’ father said they gave out awards for things like “best student,” “funniest,” “class clown,” and other categories.
However, he said when it came time for his son to receive an award, the mood quickly became cringe-worthy.
“So when they called him up, they’re calling the names, and they were like, ‘most annoying male award,’” he said. I wasn’t expecting that, not for an autistic kid, at all.”
Akalis didn’t understand that the ward was pointing out and making fun of his behavior, and was so proud he wanted to show his mother the trophy.
His mother, Estella Castejon, said when she saw the award, she couldn’t believe it. She called the school immediately.
“For a teacher to do that, I believe it was a huge mistake. I also feel it’s how she feels about my son,” she said.
“As a principal or teacher, you should never let this happen to any student,” the boy’s father said.
Gary Community School Corp. issued an apology to the boy and his family in a statement on June 3, saying that whether the teacher was intending to be harmful, or attempting to be humorous, it was inappropriate.
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.
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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.”
“Treat him like you’d treat any other kid,” he said. “They need more affection and stuff like that. Just treat him right, that’s all. They don’t want to be treated like an outsider or left behind.”
The family says it plans to move to Valparaiso and into a new school district for the start of the next school year, but that the decision had been made prior to the incident.
The CNN Wire contributed to this report.