Jordynn and Jocelynn are two of the most happy, caring and loving young ladies. Though both on the autistic spectrum, Jordynn and Jocelynn express their emotions and affection without impairment. Recently my husband and I became deeply concerned when one of our daughters was repeatedly crying herself to sleep at night. We also took note of a significant decline in her attempts to interact and communicate with others.
Being “mom” I knew something was wrong, but I was unsure of what exactly it was. Through exploration I uncovered that two of my daughter’s teachers were treating her with malice and subjecting her to a hostile educational enviroment. Why? Because my daughter is autistic these teachers believed she would not be able to alert anyone of their abuse. These teachers openly engaged in retailatory behavior in front of my child for standards I held for them to do their jobs and comply with her IEP. How appauling!
Thankfully these teachers were wrong. My daughter did share with us that something was wrong. She had been doing it for months, however her father and I were not listening; we didn’t understand. All that changed when my daughter made it known that her teachers were mistreating her and disrespecting me. My heart broke when I heard my daughter communicate feelings of confusion and sadness repeatedly in response to their bullying.
My child is autistic but she is still a human being fully capable of expressing herself. The challenge rested with me listening to her. All that changed when I put her behavioral changes and words into a larger context. The phrases she repeated were NOT words we used in our home, and when coupled with her demonstrated emotional duress and behavioral changes, it became clear someone was mistreating her. Probing deeper my husband and I uncovered the bullies to be two of her teachers and filed a formal Harassment/Intimidation/Bullying (HIB) complaint against them calling for an immediate investigation.
In 2010 New Jersey released the strongest anti-bullying legislation in the United States to support the prevention, remediation and reporting of HIB in schools. Other states have anti-bullying provisions which their schools are to follow to protect their students. Currently the district’s Anti-Bullying Coordinator is conducting the investigation. It is my hope that those who witnessed the ill-treatment of my child will speak up in her defense and the teachers who engaged in this deplorable behavior removed.
Take-aways from my experience:
- Listen to your child. Though they are not always able to fully communicate through words what is going on, your child is certain to tell you something is wrong through changes in their behavior and disposition.
- File a formal HIB complaint and familize yourself with your district’s policies against bullying. In NJ there is a six part test to determine if an incident equates to bullying, and specific timelines and protocols that school districts must comply with. District policies must align with state statutues. Click here to explore your state’s anti-bullying laws and policies.
- Confirm safeguards are in place to keep your child safe while the HIB investigation is underway. To ensure my daughter’s safety while the district conducts its investigation, I asked she not be left alone with either of the offending teachers, and made it clear having teacher assistant(s) present was not enough to keep her safe given the authority the teachers have over the teacher assistant(s).
- You always have the right to appeal. If you do not agree with the outcome of the investigation (including consequences issued or lack thereof), you can appeal to your Board of Education. If you are still not in agreement with the conclusion reached, you have additional channels of appeal. In NJ, the next level of appeal would be to the Commission of Education. Another option is you can forgo the appeal to the Commissioner of Education and instead file a complaint with the Division on Civil Rights (OCR) within 180 days based on membership in a protected group as listed in the “Law Against Discrimination,” P.L.1945, c.169 (C.10:5-1 et seq.). You can also wait until you have exhausted your appeal with the Commissioner and then file a complaint with the OCR.
Being an educator myself I cannot fathom how anyone who raised his or her hand to work with this very special population of students could act in such a callous and malign manner against my child. This experience has made it clear that there is more to be done to protect our children to ensure when they speak…we listen.