I just wrote a blog about this exact same situation, and now, within a week, there are at least two more heavily reported incidents. Keep in mind that those are “heavily reported” incidents. There is no way of knowing how many incidents never made national news, how many were never discovered, and how many were brushed under the carpet.
Now, I began outlining this blog before I read about the second incident, but much of what I want to say applies to both situations.
In the first situation, a teacher’s aide broke a student’s arm.
In the second situation, a teacher shoved a student. (The teacher denies it, saying that she might have accidentally brushed the student with her elbow, but the video apparently shows her shoving him, and she also then fought with another teacher about the phone she had confiscated from the student.)
That said –
Reasonable people know not to break someone’s arm. It isn’t something that we do that surprising. It takes force. It takes effort.
To work in a special education setting, you must go through training and certification. Yes, the teacher receives far more training, but the aides must also get a certificate.
If someone “accidentally” broke a student’s arm in a general education class, it would be considered unbelievable. Because it doesn’t seem to happen. If a teacher can avoid breaking a student’s arm in a general education classroom, why can’t a teacher’s aide avoid breaking a student’s arm in a self-contained special education classroom?
Many student in self-contained classrooms are there because of behavior issues and other problems that would make it difficult for them to learn in another setting. But the people working with them in the classroom know who their students will be. They know that the students will need extra help and redirection. The people who work in those classrooms choose to work in those classrooms. And, again, they are certified to do so.
Also, keep in mind that it’s not like only special education students refuse to listen or cause trouble in their classrooms. I think anyone who has been in any middle school, junior high, or high school can attest to the idea that there is never a class that is perfect. In these classroom settings, would you still find a way to excuse it? Would you say, “well, it was obviously an accident” or “this is a good chance to provide more education [for the person who committed the crime]?”
While I can provide many reasons why the students may have failed to comply with what their teachers and teacher’s aides may have requested, I have no included them in this blog because *none* of those reasons are an excuse that can make their actions acceptable.
It is a crime, and it needs to be treated as one.
Imagine, if you will, a kindergarten teacher and your five-year-old son in a classroom.
Imagine, if you will, your five-year-old son is doing what five-year-old boys do and is touching himself through his clothes.
Imagine, if you will, that his teacher “thumped” him on his head, hard enough for him to cry, hard enough for a teacher’s assistant in the room to report the “thump,” and hard enough for the police to issue a citation, charging the teacher with assault by offensive contact.
Now, being charged with the crime does not make her guilty of the crime, but witness testimony is pretty strong, and according to the witness, the teacher thumped the student “because she didn’t like what he was doing.”
If the teacher had paid her fine, it would be admitting guilt, and she’d lose her teaching license, so she went to court over it.
And the jury decided it was cool. The jury’s job was to decide whether the physical contact was justified under Texas law, which lets teachers basically do whatever they need to in order to maintain discipline.
This teacher can now continue teaching, can continue “thumping” students, and can continue to mete out justice against her students however she thinks she needs to (or apparently wants to).
Now here’s the thing: the five-year-old child had a disability.
Do you think that played at all into the jury’s decision? Because I sure as hell do.
We know from government data that suspension and expulsion rates for students with disabilities are about two times higher than their non-disabled peers.
Our kids needs to be in school. They shouldn’t be forced out through “discipline” that is not appropriate and that would not be used on their non-disabled peers. They should not be hit by teachers. They should not be punished at different rates.
This is only one instance at one school, but I doubt it’s an isolated incident. It’s just one of the few that is reported.
How many times did a teacher’s assistant keep quiet? How many times did another teacher “thump” a student? How many times did the issue not get pressed or get dismissed within the school system?
The jury sent a clear message – kids with disabilities can be hit by their teachers, and it’s okay. If a child without a disability had done that in class, and if he had been hit by a teacher, you can be pretty sure that the teacher would have been found guilty.
Because there is no consequence for the teacher’s action, these issues will continue to be underreported and continue to happen.
Because there is no consequence for the teacher’s actions, other teachers may do the same.
Because there is no consequence for the teacher’s action, parents will be scared to send their children to schools.
Because there is no consequence for the teacher’s action, we need to make it known that this happened. That this isn’t acceptable. That there *should* be a consequence.
We need to make this news that is shared, news that is known by parents, news that causes outrage among not just parents, but educators and administrators at schools.
We can’t go back and change what happened, but we can work to make sure that the next jury that gets a case like this understands that these are not acceptable actions against any student and that just because a student has a disability doesn’t make them fair game for abuse.
Hitting a five-year-old student is wrong. Why do we even need to say this?
On Monday, Simon’s high school had an active shooter drill.
On Tuesday, I got a message that Simon didn’t do well during the drill.
On Wednesday morning, I spoke at length with his school case manager who detailed the problems and changes they’d already started to implement.
On Wednesday afternoon, seventeen students were shot to death at a high school in Florida.
Simon didn’t like the active shooter lockdown drill. He does fine with the tornado drills, but the active shooter one…he couldn’t do it.
He stayed in his seat. He stayed in his seat because it was time for PE, not time to go sit quietly in the corner of a darkened room. He stayed in his seat because he wanted to run around and play basketball in the gym. He stayed in his seat.
He screamed. Loudly. So loudly that one of the vice principals came into the classroom to try to calm him down, but it was too late. He screamed.
He cried. Tears went down his face. He cried.
He stayed in his chair. He could not be quiet.
My mind skipped back to the most depressing show that I had ever seen – the M*A*S*H final episode, “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.”
In that finale, Hawkeye has broken down completely and is working with a psychiatrist. He recalls a time on a bus when there were soldiers outside, checking to see if there was anyone on the bus, anyone for them to kill. A woman had a chicken on her lap, and it kept clucking. But then it stopped.
I found the dialogue for the scene:
Hawkeye: “There’s something wrong with it. It stopped making noise. It just–just stopped. Sh–She killed it! She killed it!”
Sidney: “She killed the chicken?”
Hawkeye: “Oh my God! Oh my God! I didn’t mean for her to kill it. I did not! I–I just wanted it to be quiet! It was–It was a baby! She–She smothered her own baby!”
My mind jumps back to thoughts of Simon at high school, Simon not being able to be quiet when someone wants to kill people.
Simon’s high school is working with him for the next time there is an active shooter drill. They are changing the appearance of his schedule to make it easier for him to deal with changes. They are making sure that there is some sort of computer that he can take into a corner with a set of headphones so that he can be distracted and still stay hidden. All of that is awesome.
What if it doesn’t work?
What is he stays in his seat?
What if he screams?
What if it’s not a drill?
My imagination runs wild with thoughts I don’t want to have.
Tomorrow is Monday.
Simon goes back to high school.
Yesterday, Simon hit a limit. It wasn’t something that would bother most people.
Yesterday, Simon had to wait to go out to dinner. He’s bad at waiting. Very, very bad at waiting.
Yesterday, Simon melted down. He melted down hard.
He hit a point of no return, and he couldn’t stop himself. None of the usual things worked; he would not be distracted, he would not calm down.
Instead, he lashed out. At Patrick.
He attacked him as hard as he could attack.
He scratched. He pinched. He dug in his nails.
Patrick tried to restrain him, but each time he released Simon’s hands, Simon went for him.
Simon seemed to relax a little, said he wanted a big hug.
Went in for a hug, changed his mind half-way and began pinching Patrick’s stomach and sides.
Patrick tried to get out of the way, multiple times.
It didn’t work.
Finally, Patrick was able to sit and lean back far enough that Simon couldn’t reach him.
I got in the way, Patrick got out of the room, and since Simon has never scratched or pinched me, I hoped it would work out okay.
I turned out all the lights, got him to calm a bit, sat down and wrote out sentences about what was going on and what was happening.
After we’d finished a full page of sentences, he had calmed down to just crying.
Patrick had gouges up and down his arms. Slices in his skin, bleeding. The worst ones were on his hands where there were flaps of skin.
When Patrick came back into the living room, Simon was calm enough to apologize.
Simon was calm enough to go to the bathroom, to put on his flip-flops, to go to the car, to go to the restaurant.
Simon was calm enough to eat. To drink his orange juice. To come back home. To go to bed.
And everything was normal again. Like it never happened.
Except, of course, it did. And it might happen again.