22 December 2011

Can ordinary people effect change?

Trigger warning: Abuse and torture of an Autistic person by a teacher.

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Update 30 Dec. 2011: Close to 150,000 people have signed the petition.
Update 27 Dec. 2011: Over 75,000 people have now signed the petition.


Can ordinary people effect change?


If you'd asked me that question even a few months ago, my answer would have been a snide, "Only if those people have powerful connections and money." In the last week or so, that cynicism went out the window. First, with the successful result of the petition in Alabama this Monday, and now, with national attention turned to Chris Baker's case in Kentucky, I can make no case for pessimism ever again.

What happened with Chris?

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A 9-year-old autistic boy who misbehaved at school was stuffed into aduffel bag and the drawstring pulled tight, according to his mother, who said she found him wiggling inside as a teacher's aide stood by.

The mother of fourth-grader Christopher Baker said her son called out to her when she walked up to him in the bag Dec. 14. The case has spurred an online petition calling for the firing of school employees responsible.

"He was treated like trash and thrown in the hallway," Chris' mother, Sandra Baker, said Thursday. She did not know how exactly how long he had been in the bag, but probably not more than 20 minutes.

...

Chris is a student at Mercer County Intermediate School in Harrodsburg in central Kentucky. The day had barely begun when his family was called to the school because Chris was acting up. He is enrolled in a program for students with special needs.

Walking toward his classroom, Baker's mother saw the gym bag. There was a small hole at the top, she said, and she heard a familiar voice.

"Momma, is that you?" Chris said, according to his mother.

A teacher's aide was there, and Baker demanded that her son be released. At first, the aide struggled to undo the drawstring, but the boy was pulled out of the bag, which had some small balls inside and resembled a green Army duffel bag, Baker said.

"When I got him out of the bag, his poor little eyes were as big as half dollars and he was sweating," Baker said. "I tried to talk to him and get his side of the reason they put him in there, and he said it was because he wouldn't do his work."

Baker said when school officials called the family to pick him up, they were told he was "jumping off the walls." Days later, at a meeting with school officials, Baker said she was told the boy had smirked at the teacher when he was told to put down a basketball, then threw it across the room.

At a meeting with school district officials, the bag was described as a "therapy bag," Baker said, though she wasn't clear exactly what that meant. She said her son would sometimes be asked to roll over a bag filled with balls as a form of therapy, but she didn't know her son was being placed in the bag. She said school officials told her it was not the first time they had put him in the bag.


Read the rest of the Associated Press article here, or on any of the literally dozens of local and national news syndicates that have republished it in the last few hours alone. That's right -- this news article has been republished in dozens of places, gathering over four hundred comments at Yahoo and hundreds of views. The petition, which had several hundred signatures as of earlier today, now has well over 1,200, and the number continues to swell every several minutes. (It should be 1,300 soon.)

I had been called earlier today by staff for Change.org, Katie Bethell, who works to publicize and advance education-related campaigns. Katie put me in touch with an AP reporter, Janet Blake, who asked about Chris's situation and the petition campaign. How does Change.org work? Every time an individual signs the petition, an email is sent to all fourteen targets containing the text of the petition. So far, that's over 1,200 emails to the entire Board of Education in Mercer County, and the principals of each school in the county.

The school has not yet announced firing the teachers involved, nor formally responded to the demands in the petition that would mandate extensive training about autism and other disabilities for all special education teachers, basic training about autism and other disabilities for all non-special education teachers, and an explicit prohibition of the use of any kind of restraint or seclusion on any student except briefly and as a last-resort emergency measure. That kind of training would give teachers a better foundation for interacting positively and meaningfully with their Autistic students and students with other disabilities, and prevent a majority of these kinds of incidents.

But I am hopeful now that with increased national attention, enough pressure will force the Board of Education to take action.

Torture and abuse are always wrong. You couldn't do this to an "enemy combatant." You couldn't do this to an animal. You couldn't do this to your own child without having Child Protective Services removing your child from your home. It's not okay for teachers to do it either.

Yes, ordinary people can effect change.

1 comment:

  1. Well said Lydia, I agree with everything except the part about, Ordinary, you are Extraordinary!
    Way to go!
    Rosie

    ReplyDelete

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