Last week, a fourteen-year-old autistic student was suspended from his school and accused of “making a terroristic threat” because he drew some stick figures on a classroom worksheet.
Sara Hartman (IRR), the boy’s Ridgeview Charter Middle School special education teacher and Principal Karen E. Cox’s administration deemed the boy’s stick-figure doodle a purposeful threat of violence.
Using the Fulton County Code of Conduct and Discipline Handbook, Ms. Hartman requested a hearing and Ms. Cox referred the child to the Office of Student Discipline.
A hearing tribunal will be selected from a list prepared by Superintendent Cindy Loe, Ph.D.-[ ] and must be approved by the Board. A ruling will then be made on the validity of the allegations against the student.
If found guilty, the child faces expulsion and possible criminal proceedings.
Title 16, Section 11-37 of Georgia Code:
(a) A person commits the offense of a terroristic threat when he or she threatens to commit any crime of violence… with the purpose of terrorizing another.
That is the fundamental test. Was the child’s doodle an intentional, purposeful act?
Common sense would indicate otherwise.
Had the school done it’s job responsibly, it would have instead called for a Disability Manifestation Determination Meeting under the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Sec. 300.530 to determine whether:
The conduct in question was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the child’s disability; or the conduct in question was the direct result of the Local Education Authority’s failure to implement the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Why didn’t Sara Hartman and Karen Cox first call the mom, and convene an IEP team meeting?
What was happening in class between the boy and Ms. Hartman prior to her discovery of the offending stick-figure doodle?
Did the school assess whether the curriculum and teacher covering the book “The Outsiders” was an appropriate set of supplements and services for this child to access his placement goals and meet state standards?
Who would scrub Sara Hartman’s name from Ridgeview’s staff list over the weekend, and why?
(An inquiry to Ridgeview’s administration has gone unanswered).
In the meantime, summer break looms over a special needs child unjustly accused, and a family is now threatened with extensive paperwork, legal bills and ostracism by a once trusted school system.
When we as parents say we want our children to be safe when we send them off to school, we don’t just mean safe from potential harm by a nearby sex offender on parole, or hoping they cross in the crosswalk at the bus stop.
We also want the teachers and administrators watching over our kids to make rational decisions. We want to know that reason and common sense are exercised en loco parentis. Not the sweeping intolerance of draconian ‘zero-tolerance’ policies run amok.
Perhaps Hartman and Cox’s taking such extreme action against this child was more about convenience than terror. Children with special needs require patience, care and yes, extra spending even in hard fiscal times.
Ironically, Ridgeview Assistant Principal Angelo Umoh states:
I believe as educators, it is our responsibility to assist in the development of the “total” child and I operate from the premise that all children can learn if given the needed support.
That’s kind of hard to believe now, isn’t it?