Awards are usually given to individuals in recognition of their contributions and excellence. But this was not the case in an Indiana elementary school where Akalis Castejon, an 11 year-old autistic child, was awarded the “Most Annoying Male” at his school’s end-of-the-year party . This event unfolded at the Bailly Preparatory Academy on May 23 during a fifth-grade awards luncheon for students attended by parents, teachers, and the school principal.
As an individual within the autism spectrum, Akalis had shown some antisocial behavior during the school year. He got emotional easily and was more likely to rock back and forth than speak to anyone around him. However, Rick Castejon, Akalis’ father believes that this wasn’t enough reason for a fifth-grade special education teacher to award his autistic son with a “Most Annoying Male” plaque in front of all the other students and their parents. Especially as his classmates were given positive awards such as “funniest, most intelligent, or most improvement.” .
Unaware of what the award meant, Akalis rushed on to collect his award. According to Rick, “When they called him up, he was just excited to get a gold star because it was shiny.” However, his father knew exactly what being tagged the “most annoying” meant, and decided to leave the award on the table at the end of the lunch. Nevertheless, he was reminded by his son’s special education teacher not to forget the trophy. He narrated that she acted as if the whole incident was just a funny joke.
He also recounted that the other students and parents all fell silent when his son’s award was announced, but the reality of the situation only set in when he got home and told his wife what had happened. They both decided to reach out to the school district and local news media. In his own words, “The only good thing in all of this is that he (Akalis) didn’t understand what was going on but that does not, in any way excuse what this teacher did, and we can only hope they’re never in a position where they can hurt kids this way again.” .
Not so funny
Akalis’ mother, Estella Castejon, stormed the school the very next demanding an apology from both the principal and the teacher. The 11 years old’s parents told news reporters that even though it is normal for kids with autism to exhibit “annoying” behavior, they obviously never expected a special education teacher to be so brand their child negatively. They considered it unprofessional that such a vile individual was allowed to teach special vulnerable kids let alone have a hand in shaping their future.
“We were blindsided. We just weren’t expecting it,” Rick Castejon, told news reporters. “As a principal or teacher, you should never let this happen to any student.” The school, Gary Community School Corp. has since issued an apology to Akalis and his family. The Castejon’s admitted that they were pleased with the school’s response but decided to speak up so other children would not have to go through the same thing.
According to the school’s emergency manager, Peter Morikis, “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.”.
Regardless, it seems like the Castejons already had plans to move to another city, so Akalis will certainly not be returning to Bailly Preparatory Academy next year.