PHS ‘Bad kid fort’ draws protesters

PARKERSBURG – Protesters stood at the entrance to the horseshoe at Parkersburg High School Tuesday morning in support of a student who was placed in a box by a teacher.

The group was trying to bring attention to the incident and change the way things are being handled.

Protesters gathered for more than an hour against the treatment of Caleb Richards, who was placed in a box by a PHS teacher last month in response to disruptive classroom behavior.

Beth Dean, Richards’ mother, 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 in the hallway and snapped a photo, which ignited an outcry on social media sites.

Dean said about 50 people, including many students, joined them Tuesday morning.

Jeff Richards, Caleb Richards’ father, said many passing motorists honked or waved in support of their efforts. But it was not without detractors. Richards said one person rode by on a bike and shouted, asking about the other 30 kids in class who had to put up with their son.

“I just kept my mouth shut and held my sign,” Richards said.

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 their son’s history teacher was having trouble dealing with his behavior in the classroom, which led to the “bad kid fort.”

Christina Smith, executive director of the ARC of the Mid-Ohio Valley, said the incident punctuates the need for additional education for teachers in dealing with special needs students.

Smith said special education has changed into a “multi-categorical approach” where all students are blended into “inclusive environment” classrooms.

“Teachers are not prepared for that,” Smith said. “They don’t have the skills and the education necessary to understand and how to appropriately educate a child who has Autism, or Down syndrome or Cerebral Palsy or a behavioral disorder.”

Dean and Richards also met with officials Tuesday afternoon, including Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law and PHS principal Pam Goots, to again discuss the incident and see where things can go. Goots told The News and Sentinel Monday she would request additional training for teachers so as to better work with autistic students. Goots stated several times the incident was not good judgment, and she wants to use the incident as a springboard to provide education for teachers.

Dean and Richards said they want accountability for the incident and better education for the teachers in dealing with special needs of students.

“We had a very good talk with the parents and I learned a lot from them, and about what they were aware of,” Law said. “I appreciate them sharing that with me.”