9 Moms Respond to Teacher’s Offensive Award for Student With Special Needs


On Monday, June 8, The Mighty shared a story about a grandmother who says a teacher gave her 14-year-old grandson with special needs an offensive end-of-year award. The student, who has learning challenges, reportedly received a certificate that said he’d won the “huh?” award in the “8th Annual Ghetto Classroom Awards.”

Debra Jose, the young man’s grandmother, told news outlets the incident left her in tears. When The Mighty shared the post on Facebook, our readers were outraged. But rather than ignore this news story or simply help spread its negativity, we wanted to have a constructive response. So we asked a few of our Mighty contributors who parent kids and teens with special needs what advice they had for this student’s grandmother to help him through this incident.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Remind him how amazing and talented and wonderful he is. Tell him he has so much potential and goodness to give to this world. And then remind him that others’ words, thoughts and opinions are in no way a reflection of his self-worth. The world is a better place because he is in it.” — Ali Cummins

2. “I would offer that the grandmother be part of the solution. She could be help rename the awards assembly and help the teachers come up with more specific awards — like ‘Most Helpful’ or ‘Most Cheerful.'” — Cate Luther

3. “Teacher turnaround time. Her grandson is the teacher now. And he can teach everyone what patience, understanding and inquisitiveness looks like. Keep asking questions. These ‘teachers’ know nothing of grace and know nothing of true heart. Stand strong. Show ’em how it’s done. There are so many standing with them.” — Lauren Jordan

4. “I would say I’m sorry because no one should have to send their loved ones to school and wonder if they’re being treated with kindness and respect from the faculty. I’d love to mail him an ‘awesome’ award!” — Joy Parman

5. “I would ask someone else in my son’s life (his occupational therapist, for example) to give him a similar award (I would even make it for them if they asked) but one that celebrates his unique gifts and talents. Then, I would talk to my son about how the people who matter most in his life see him for who he really is — an amazing human being. Finally, I would absolutely say to my son that the teacher was not being a teacher at all. That teacher was being a bully, and that is never, ever the way we treat anyone. I would also say that teacher must have a really hard life, if he or she chooses to behave that way towards great kids like him. We have tons of people who love us and make us happy, and he or she may not.” — Shawna Wingert

6. “I would suggest this young man do his own awards. I think he should go around to the people he trusts and who care for him and have them tell him something they value about him. And if he can, I think he should also tell them something he appreciates about them. Maybe they could even have a party or project around the awards, making some kind of representation of each thing he’s told is wonderful and special about him. I’ll start: He obviously has a fantastic, loving, outspoken grandmother who will always look out for him. And that is very special indeed!” — Hillary Savole

7. “Based on what I see here, I would praise him for asking questions… I would take the ‘huh’ and say, that tells me you were asking for clarification and being a self-advocate, which is an important quality to have! Let’s talk about other ways we can be a self-advocate and ask for clarification, and use it as a building block.” — Kerri Goff

8. “Do include kids with special needs in humorous activities like this one, but make sure you pick something the child and the family think is funny. Involve everyone and decide on something that is both funny and maintains the child’s dignity, and then you’ve got a winning combination.” — Laurie Arnold

9. “I just hope they know they’re not alone. I hope they know there’s an entire community of people — who may face different challenges and have children that face different challenges — but we stand together, and we will stand with them because every person has value and matters.” — Beth Clay

What advice would you give this student and/or his grandmother? Let us know in the comments below.

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