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Parents Outraged After Autistic Son Received School's 'Most Annoying' Award

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Update: On Friday, The Times of Northwest Indiana reported the Gary Community School Corporation issued a statement that indicated three teachers involved in giving a “most annoying” award to an autistic student have been “served a preliminary determination notice of contract cancellation following an internal investigation led by outside legal counsel.” In addition, Bailly Preparatory Academy principal Carlita Royal has been put on paid administrative leave pending further investigation.

Parents Rick and Estella Castejon were outraged after their 11-year-old autistic son Achilles Castejon received an award for “Most Annoying Male” at a fifth-grade end-of-year ceremony at Bailly Preparatory Academy in Gary, Indiana, according to a report by the The Times of Northwest Indiana. The school has since apologized.

According to The Times, Achilles is an 11-year-old student on the autism spectrum. He is nonverbal and his parents said sometimes he stims and can have trouble managing big emotions. Dad Rick said he would have expected a school’s special education program to understand the needs of students like Achilles.

“They called me all the time if he didn’t want to work, would cry or would have a breakdown,” Rick said. “A special needs education teacher should know how to handle these things.”

On May 23 during an end-of-year-awards luncheon at a local restaurant, the school’s special education teacher presented Achilles with a trophy inscribed “Bailey Preparatory Academy 2018-2019 Most Annoying Male.” According to Rick, the award was given to Achilles in front of the other teachers, students, parents and school principal Carlita Royal.

Rick told The Times he didn’t want to create a scene and Achilles didn’t understand the meaning of the award, but was happy to be presented with the trophy. Rick tried to leave the award on the table of the restaurant before leaving the ceremony but Achilles’ teacher approached him and reminded him not to forget the award.

“We were blindsided. We just weren’t expecting it,” Rick told The Times. “As a principal or teacher, you should never let this happen to any student.”

The school has since issued an apology, though a spokesperson declined to name the teacher involved. Gary Community School Corporation emergency manager Peter Morikis told The Times of Northwest Indiana in a statement:

The Gary Community School Corporation does not condone this type of behavior and will continue to put the safety and well-being of our students first. We extend our deepest apologies to the impacted student, the family and anyone else who take offense to this unfortunate occurrence.

An apology was extended on behalf of the district to the family, and disciplinary action was taken against personnel involved. 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.

According to The Times, the Castejon family had plans to move out of the school district prior to their son receiving this award. However, they wanted to speak up to make sure this didn’t happen to other children with disabilities and to remind others that people with disabilities have feelings too.

“He just wants to be like everyone else,” Estella told ABC7. “He is like everyone else. The difference is he cannot express himself like every other person does.”

The Mighty has reached out to the Gary Community School Corporation and has yet to hear back.

Header image via ABC7 screenshot

Originally published: June 6, 2019
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