PHS ‘bad kid fort’ angers parents

PARKERSBURG – Wood County parents are pushing school officials for accountability after they claim their son was humiliated by a teacher.

Beth Dean and Jeff Richards, parents of 15-year-old Caleb Richards, allege their son was humiliated by a Parkersburg High social studies teacher who put the teenager in a box during class. Dean and Richards said their son has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is being managed with medication, an IEP (individualized education program) and a behavior plan.

The parents claim last month Caleb Richards’ history teacher was having trouble dealing with his behavior in the classroom.

“Instead of sending him out of the room or any other myriad of options, she fashioned a large cardboard box and placed the box around his seat, completely enclosing him, in front of 30 of his peers,” Dean said.

Dean alleges the teacher wrote “bad kid fort” on the outside of the box while he was in it. She has a picture of the alleged fort on her Facebook page. It was sent to her by a student who saw it the hallway and snapped a photo.

According to Dean, Caleb Richards was left in the box for approximately 15 minutes.

Dean said in a meeting with school officials last week that school officials downplayed the incident.

Dean said Asperger’s is a difficult and delicate condition to deal with and a 15-year-old has self-esteem issues. “This did not help and destroyed the years of counseling and encouragement we have provided to make sure he has a good self-image,” she said.

Dean also said there are steps outlined in her son’s IEP that explain what to do when his behavior becomes unmanageable or disruptive.

“Placed in cardboard box was not one of those steps,” she said.

“She (the teacher) was way off the reservation on that one,” Jeff Richards added.

Dean and Richards maintain their child was boxed in. A large box was placed around their son’s desk and slats were placed over top of the box. Dean said she was told it was a cubicle.

“A cubicle has three sides; a way out,” she said.

Dean said the matter didn’t come to head for a month because she simply didn’t believe her son, who told her about the incident the day it happened.

“I told him he was crazy,” she said.

But Dean and Richards said their son was persistent. Insistent on the details, they met with school officials last week and felt they got nowhere.

“No one seemed to think it was a big deal,” Dean said.

Their claims were solidified when a student sent them a photo of the box. Dean said until the student came forward with the photo, the incident was a non-issue to school officials.

Dean and Richards were able to get their son transferred to another history class.

PHS Principal Pam Goots spoke with a number of students who were in the room at the time of the incident. She said the box that was used – a smart board box – is not very wide.

There never was an obstruction in front of him and never anything on top, she said. Goots also believes the teacher had no intent to embarrass the student.

“I don’t think there was malice or the intent to embarrass the student,” Goots said. “She was attempting to deal with a difficult situation in class.”

Goots stated several times the incident was not good judgment. She wants to use the incident as a springboard to provide education for teachers.

Goots said she’ll ask the board to provide additional training to teachers to better work with autistic students.

“We put teachers in these situations where they have not had a lot of training,” she said. “She was doing the best with the skill set she had.”

Dean, who describes herself as a “low-profile” person, posted her outrage on Facebook, and the social media outcry took on a life of its own.

Dean and Richards also contacted child protective services. Monday they met with ARC officials. They are scheduled to meet with Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law and Goots this morning. Supporters are also planning a protest outside the school this morning to draw attention to the problem.

Dean and Richards were proud of their son for taking the “punishment.”

“He did nothing about it.”

Dean said her son told her what he wanted to do, but opted to do nothing. He also didn’t let the incident affect him. Dean and Richards said their son never missed a day of school or complained about going back- to school or to the class.

“I thank God my son was able to handle this.”

Dean said she has a lot of respect for teachers, but is concerned – based on the replies she has received from her Facebook campaign -this is not an isolated incident.

Dean and Richards want some accountability for the teacher’s actions.

“The educators need to be educated,” she said.

“We want a change in policy. Accountability,” Richards said.

“Then we should be on the same page,” Goots said.

The principal declined to discuss dealing with the teacher in question, citing personnel issues.

“I am dealing with it,” she said.

Sue Woodward, assistant superintendent of Wood County Schools, said the incident was a very unfortunate chain of events.

“It is not what we send our children to school for, and not what we want to happen to our kids on the parent side or the school side. I hope the adults will work together to make sure it doesn’t happen to another student.”