Law suits, student behavior, and school supports

A Michigan special education teacher has filed suit alleging that she was wrongfully terminated for bringing sexual harassment by her special education students to the attention of administrators at Bay City Western High School.
Teacher: Special ed students sexually harassed me, then I got firedMelissa Sawicki, 36, filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Bay City in September, alleging sexual discrimination and retaliation for protected activity on behalf of Bay City Public Schools and the district’s board of education, reported on Tuesday. 
Sawicki claims special education students began making crude and lascivious comments to her — some even directing obscene gestures to her — shortly after she started her job in the district at Bay City Western High School in 2013.
Two, no three, things went wrong if Sawicki’s allegations are proven to be true. First this teacher was not adequately prepared for what she would face in her classrooms during her teaching career. Lack of proper preparation for the classroom is a perennial problem for teachers and other school staff. Parents know it, teachers know it, school staff know it. While teacher training programs are starting catch on that they need to do a better job of preparing teachers for their classrooms with special education students this still leaves many teachers and school staff lacking the training they need to help their students.

School districts have been even slower to adapt to this preparedness gap. This leads to the second thing that went wrong, if the teacher’s allegations are true. Bay City Western High School administrators failed to provide appropriate professional support to a colleague.
Teacher files sexual harassment, retaliation lawsuit against districtAccording to the suit, the situation worsened in the 2014-2015 school year, with the male student that had previously made the suggestive comments to Sawicki continuing to do so. In response, Sawicki left messages with his parents and sent the student to a school counselor. 
Sawicki also met with Cox, Folsom, and Administrator Jill Wrzesinski and told them she felt sexually harassed and no longer wanted this student in her class. 
"The response she received to these concerns is that (he) is 'just a silly kid without a filter,'" the suit alleges. "Ms. Sawicki was also asked, 'You don't think he could be a threat, do you?' The question was posed in a way that clearly indicated that Administration did not believe him to be a threat." 
Cox took the position that nothing could be done about the student staring at Sawicki's breasts and that he would not be removed from her class, Sawicki alleges in her suit.
The school’s administrators failed to consider the consequences of the alleged situation for their colleague and for a student in their care. They chose instead to scapegoat a teach who came to them for assistance. It remains to be seen if these administrators offered Sawicki any training to help her be more effective in the classroom. Nor do we know if she was offered any training or support in addressing the inappropriate behavior of students in her classroom.

The lack of preparedness in Sawicki and the lack of professional support from the school’s administrators lead to the third glaring problem in this case. These adults failed to effectively address a serious behavioral problem with a student. “Just a silly kid without a filter,” is not an appropriate response when a colleague tells you that a student is being inappropriate. By failing to properly address the student’s behavior that concerned this teacher and his classmates the school administration is setting this student up for significant failure that could lead to a criminal record and the loss of his freedom.

We do not do students with disabilities any good by making up silly excuses for troubling behavior like what Sawicki reports in her suit. It is not acceptable to sexually harass teachers or classmates regardless of diagnosis. If a student’s diagnosis leaves them prone to making such social mistakes then that is something that must be addressed as part of their individualized education plan (IEP), functional behavioral assessment (FBA), and behavior intervention plan (BIP). For the sake of the student these behaviors must not be brushed off. The school district’s assertions that they did enough ring hallow considering the implications for this student’s future.


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