Monday, May 18, 2015

AJ's Plight: A Horrendous Tale of Racism and Suppression of Test Resistance in an Upstate NY Town

AJ's plight-

It should be noted that the story below is only a snapshot of what this child has endured and the grandparents, who are raising him, have detailed accounts supported by various methods: 
•Audio tape
•Written reports
•Video tape
as well as a meticulous paper trail spanning more than 10 years.

AJ is a 13-year-old bi-racial male in a 96% white school, in Fort Ann Central School District, in upstate NY. 
The largest employers in the community are two local prisons which house a majority of non-white males.  AJ is also a child with disabilities including: Dyslexia, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Language Processing Disorder. 

He was classified as a child with disabilities at two years old and provided special education services until Kindergarten. Suddenly, two weeks before entering Kindergarten -- the Fort Ann Central School removed all of his special education services without ever re-evaluating him
He was given only a full time 1:1 Aide support on paper.

Just five weeks into his Kindergarten year and barely five years old -- while left unattended --  he went missing from the school campus and wandered a mile down a 55-mph highway in the rain.
He was found by migrant farm workers.

When he went missing the school *did NOT call the police. The school made the family wait for an entire week to sit and discuss the incident. The grandparents requested an "incident report" to document the details of what happened. The District produced a written "report" which did not even identify AJ's name, gender or age. It simply stated, "a student in kindergarten did not get on his/her designated bus and walked home."  The grandparents were shocked and horrified that such a negligent act would be completely covered up!

One month later, AJ was physically accosted by his 1:1 Aide. He was playing with a tree branch at the edge of the play ground and didn't move away when the Aide told him to do so. The Aide draped her metal whistle chain over his head and bore down with a jerking force. The contact to his skin was under his hair so it was not visible but was sore for days afterwards. As a result of our report to the school, they changed his Aide immediately but *REFUSED to call the police.

Despite the District's negligence in removing his Special Ed services, putting him in danger by leaving him unsupervised to go missing,  and his being abused, the administration  dug in and would NOT reinstate AJ's Special Education services. Instead the grandparents were forced to seek help from an Advocate and initiate a Due Process Hearing to have him Re-Classified to receive Special Ed services.

AJ endured many challenges throughout his elementary school experience including: racial 
bullying, discrimination & harrassment by staff and peers, public humiliation by staff, educational neglect, low self esteem and distorted self-image. 

Over the years, school surveillance video recordings conveniently disappeared or were not made accessible to us if AJ was the victim. In the videos that the grandparents were allowed to see, the volume was often indiscernible.

The grandparents were allowed to see one video of AJ being shoved with excessive force into his bus seat by an adult Aide. As AJ sat there crying the Aide leaned over close to his ear and repeatedly told him to "SHUT UP... SHUT UP..." but the volume was turned down very low. When they requested to view the video a second time with full volume -- the video suddenly disappeared! *The School did NOT call the Police on this matter either.

During AJ's 6th grade school year, the school staff reported that AJ did NOT engage in any challenging behaviors and did NOT need a Behavior Intervention Plan (positive proactive supports).

He had only received four behavior referrals up until May of that year, for very minor infractions.
However, in May,  his 1:1 Aide said that the Principal directed the staff to write AJ up for everything, no matter how minor. They even wrote him up for the same thing twice but it still only totaled nine referrals for the year. Based on those NINE MINOR infractions, the Principal emailed the grandparents and threatened to contact the County Family Court to file a PINS (Persons In Need of Supervision) petition against AJ. The grandparents were in shock because they knew another parent in the school who told them that her son had received upwards of 70 referrals in a single year for major infractions, BUT was NOT referred to PINS. That student was white and a star athlete.

In February 2014, during  AJ's 7th grade year, the District introduced an Independent Consultant named Dave Mitchell -- to act as a Special Education "Co Chairperson" for only a select few students.  Mr. Dave Mitchell  has attended every one of AJ's meetings since then and continues to work toward stripping away AJ's services and supports today.

AJ continued to be harassed and bullied throughout his middle school experience, enduring racist and disability slurs from peers, biased reporting by staff and educational neglect across the board. In 7th grade, a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA) conducted a school observation of AJ and noted in her report that AJ was being bullied by his Special Ed teacher in front of the entire class with the BCBA present...
The school Psychologist stated to the BCBA that "AJ is not innately motivated to achieve academically."  Her statement appeared baseless in fact, and the grandparents think it may be more reflective of the Psychologist's opinion of young black men in general.

During 7th grade several independent parties wrote to the school in an attempt to document the bullying that AJ was enduring and to appeal to the District to put a STOP to it. These letters and reports were written by his former 1:1 Aide, a parent who scribed for her son, his graphic account of what he watched AJ endure daily, the BCBA and his Pediatric Neuropsychologist.  

Sample excerpt from an eye witness's letter:
"He states that ..." ____, ____ and ____ would "always run behind AJ during soccer, kicking his legs so he would fall and calling him nigger, cunt, retard, and ass-hole"
When asked what "always" means to him he said he witnessed it "at least every other practice -- but usually every single one," that AJ was at.
He stated that they would say he was "horrible at soccer because black people don't play soccer. They were made to fight in gangs." They would also "constantly" say to AJ that "blacks aren't REAL people."

These letters and reports were refuted by the school and they staunchly defended that AJ was NOT a victim of bullying at school.

By the end of 7th grade, AJ was entering puberty and finding it even more difficult  to emotionally handle  the taunts of his peers. One day, after he had hit several balls out of the park in BB practice, a teammate told him he "sucked."  André was so confused and frustrated by the insult that he ended up punching a door and breaking his hand. This was a huge warning sign that AJ was unable to cope with the ongoing harassment from peers. His grandparents supported him the best they could last summer. 

Then, he entered 8th grade. Three weeks into school, AJ was verbally threatened and physically attacked by a student who had consistently called AJ a nigger and other racial slurs. On this particular day, there was a girl provoking the attacker. He verbally threatened AJ before punching and shoving him onto a lunchroom table. AJ fell backwards onto the table and as he sprang up trying to regain his balance the lunch monitor was publicly ordering him to go to the office -- NOT THE ATTACKER. The attacker simply walked over to another table and sat down smugly. This frustrated AJ immensely, so he picked up his belongings and threw them (not at anyone) and swore as he went to the office. AJ was suspended for four days out of school for throwing his belongings and swearing. It was reported that the (white) student was only suspended out of school for five days after verbally threatening AJ, punching him, and shoving him onto the table.

By October of 8th grade, the school was allowing AJ to sit and listen to music on his school issued IPad. The grandparents voiced their disagreement but the school kept allowing it. Although the IPad was of little educational benefit to AJ -- the grandparents were concerned it was a way for the school to harass him and track him.

In November, the Principal's son told AJ that he had the District's private password and a new music App had been purchased and made accessible to AJ. As a result, AJ downloaded music to his IPad during a study hall. Shortly thereafter his IPad was confiscated and he was given detention for the unauthorized music download. When AJ told the Principal that his son had given him the information, the matter was quickly swept under the rug. 
The Principal should have recused himself from the investigation immediately upon learning that his son was involved but he did not. Instead, AJ served detention and the referral was added to his record

By the end of November, AJ continued to explore the features on his IPad and learned to master the keyboard in different fonts. He wrote his name in seven different languages & since the fonts are in alphabetical order, the first was ARABIC. AJ was proud of his accomplishments and made a handwritten poster of his name in seven different languages to display in his binder.

One day, he used his poster to write his name in Arabic on his English paper. The teacher confiscated the paper and gave it to the Principal who asked AJ about it later. AJ was confused and the grandparents were too. The grandparents asked the Principal if he was aware of any concerns with AJ's paper and him writing in different fonts. The Principal emailed the grandparents stating, HE WAS NOT AWARE OF ANY CONCERNS.

The teacher who confiscated AJ's paper later divulged to the grandparents that she took the paper and gave it to the Principal because  he had the staff monitoring AJ's activity. What she described was watching him for TERRORIST activity.

In January 2015, AJ was being harassed by two other students (a boyfriend and girlfriend) who had displayed nude pictures of the girl. AJ was being blamed for telling other students about the pics -- but he hadn't told. AJ continued to endure foul, sexual, racist and threatening comments from the girl and boy. The boy put his hands around AJs neck and told  him he was going to kill him repeatedly during school. This was reported to the Principal but  he did not put a stop to it. 

(By February, the District became aware that AJ's grandparents have obvious Anti -Common Core affiliations.)

In March 2015, after two months of being badgered, AJ decided to take matters into his own hands and called the boy out and punched him one time giving him a black eye. Then AJ calmly picked up
his books and went to the office. *The police were called immediately. AJ was suspended out of school for five days. 
His suspension letter was sent by overnight mail. The letter stated reason for suspension, "jumping over a lunch table, punching student causing injury and substantial pain. (Penal Code Language)

One week later, a white classmate was shoved in gym class by a peer. The classmate shoved back and then punched the peer square to the face, splitting his lip open and connecting with three or four more punches to the head of the injured peer.  This is all on video!
Parents of the white students arrived at school and took  their sons home for the weekend and came back on Monday to meet with the Principal to discuss consequences. The Police weren't called until Monday (three days after the incident). The student who threw the punches broke his hand and required a cast; the student who was punched had a lacerated lip. The Principal met with the boy who threw the punches and his parents and reviewed the Penal Code Language with them. The Principal told them he was going to go with the NO INJURY code. He then told  them he was going to suspend the boy out of school for two days and discussed how he was  going to word the suspension letter. The letter is received SIX days AFTER the incident. The suspension letter OMITS ANY RECORD OF INJURY and states the reason for suspension as "punching another student during an incident in physical education class."

AJ, the bi-racial student is portrayed as a violent offender whereas the white child is portrayed as merely throwing a punch during an incident. 

AJ's school Internet activity was also being monitored by the District's Network Coordinator via remote desktop. While AJ was randomly surfing the internet in the library he went on a PayPal site and was immediately reported and called to the Principal's office. *The Principal immediately called the Police AGAIN without even confirming whether AJ had done anything wrong. While the Police were standing in the office, the Network Coordinator confirmed that AJ did not do anything illegal. Obviously,  the Principal jumped the gun in an effort to pin another criminal charge on AJ. Fortunately the Principal was unsuccessful, but he still gave AJ a behavior referral for going on the site. Again, this was a school computer with school filters and blocks. Why wasn't that site blocked?

In April, AJ opted out of New York State Testing. He was placed in an alternate location where he was made to sit and read silently for 90 minutes each day. This was an extreme challenge for AJ as he is a dyslexic student and the District refused to allow any of his IEP accommodations.

On the second day of testing AJ was sitting quietly with a headache (not reading) when the principal entered the library and announced that all students had to read silently or they would get referrals. He then singled AJ out and told him that he had to read silently. AJ responded in a normal tone and said that he did not want to read, and he didn't care what he got. The principal said you're coming with me so AJ got up to leave and tossed his magazines on the table. As they were leaving the library the Principal publicly humiliated him on the way out the door by smacking the door and announcing sarcastically, "You did good AJ, you did great!" AJ was taken to the office and immediately suspended out of school for one day because he was unable to sit and read silently for 90 minutes. 

It should be noted that another student who did not like his assigned seat during the alternate location, had announced loudly, "Hell no. I'm not sitting here," and walked out of the library on the same day. That student was allowed to sit in the office during the opt out time.

The grandparents protested the obvious discriminatory treatment towards AJ BUT the district only escalated  their efforts against him  by holding a premature Manifestation Determination Team meeting to decide if AJ's behaviors that led to his suspensions were a result of his disability. 
Dave Mitchell also served as the Manifestation Hearing Officer. During the meeting, the High School Principal flat out LIED to the team denying that there ever was a physical attack on AJ's body in the September lunchroom incident where AJ swore and threw his belongings after being punched and shoved onto the table. The grandparent immediately requested that the team be allowed to see the video BUT the Manifestation Hearing Officer refused to allow the team to view the video of the lunch room incident. Instead, Dave Mitchell unilaterally determined that AJ's behaviors were not connected to his disabilities in any way.

After the Manifestation Hearing, the school SuperintendentKevin Froats, ramped up the retaliation toward AJ even more by assigning Dave Mitchell as sole disciplinarian of AJ- in place of the HS Principal. An unprecedented act of discrimination, retaliation and harassment toward AJDave Mitchell serves as AJ's CSE Co-Chairperson, his Manifestation Hearing Officer and now AJ's School Disciplinarian.

On the first day of Dave Mitchell's assignment as AJ's Disciplinarian, he wrote AJ up and gave him two nights of detention for name-calling that had occurred the previous week. The following week, Dave Mitchell wrote him up again for another incident of name-calling/lewd gesture and gave him a four-hour Saturday detention. On this incident he said he was sending two separate referrals for the SAME incident. The grandparents believe Dave Mitchell is trying to increase the total number of referrals for the year, in order to justify taking harsher actions against AJ since there's very little time left in the school year. 

Despite the fact that AJ is a child with a significant Language Processing Disorder and has received punishment after punishment for language infractions, Dave Mitchell tried to hold AJ's Special Education annual review meeting WITHOUT conducting the required Speech and Language re-evaluation. The grandparents insisted that the re-evaluation be conducted per Education Law, prior to developing next year's Individualized Educational Program for AJ.

The grandparents know that time is of the essence for AJ as the District continues to strip away his services and replace them with behavior referrals. The District is withholding a Free Appropriate Public Education from AJ and instead trying to push him into the penal system. His day-to-day physical and emotional safety is NOT secure in such a hostile environment. The Fort Ann Central School District must be forced to stop the harassment, intimidation, retaliation and discrimination against AJ and his family. All involved are destroying any and all chances for him  to function normally or have opportunities for a future. P


mithra swagath said...

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Hina Khan said...

AJ was taken to the office and immediately suspended out of school for one day because he was unable to sit and read silently for 90 minutes.

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Lydia Brown said...

Has either AJ or his family reached out for any legal support here? I'm an autistic POC (East Asian) and would like to reach out if that's okay. My email is

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