When The Teacher Is Also A Bully

A teen with ADHD just won a ‘Most Likely To Not Pay Attention Award’

Image via Fox 5 Atlanta screenshot

From “Most Improved Student” to “Most Likely to Win an Oscar,” end-of-school-year awards are usually a fun way for teachers to acknowledge the positive traits of their students, printing up personalized certificates for their kids and handing them out at a special ceremony. Sometimes parents even attend to cheer the kids on. (Full disclosure: I was once awarded “Most Likely to Become a Romance Novelist,” which didn’t exactly pan out, but was a nice gesture of creative solidarity.)

But a trophy handed out at a middle school near Atlanta has become a sobering reminder of how critical it is to ensure that end-of-year awards don’t end up demeaning students. Last week, two teachers at Memorial Middle School in Conyers, Georgia, gave a 14-year-old girl with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder a trophy inscribed with the words “Most Likely to Not Pay Attention.” The trophy’s wording called attention to the difficulty people with ADHD often have with paying attention or remaining still for long periods of time.

“I feel like it was very derogatory. I feel like it was humiliating,” the student’s mother, Nicole Edwards, told Fox 5 Atlanta on Friday. Edwards found out about the trophy after her daughter brought it home. “My first thought was, I wanted to know how my child felt when she walked across that stage and got that award. I became furious,” she said.

Other parents in Conyers shared Edwards’ outrage. “Teachers are supposed to know what conditions their students have, and then to give them an award, that's totally ridiculous," parent Cheryl Davis told ABC affiliate WSB 2.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]It is my job to protect my child from being humiliated and bullied, especially when the bully is her teacher.[/quote]

Roughly 11 percent of children—6.4 million kids aged 4–17—have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Psychiatry Association states that these students’ “hyperactivity and inattention are noticeably greater than expected for their age and cause distress and/or problems functioning at home, at school or with friends.”

As a result, kids with ADHD face plenty of harassment in school. One recent study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that students who take medication for ADHD are twice as likely to be bullied in school as other students. So it doesn’t help when teachers join in and shame these students, too—and it probably happens more than people realize. After receiving about 2,000 complaints from parents alleging ADHD-related discrimination over the past five years, last summer the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights issued a letter clarifying that schools should support students with ADHD and keep them from being bullied. “The failure to provide needed services to students with disabilities can result in serious social, emotional and educational harm,” wrote assistant secretary for civil rights Catherine Lhamon.

To that end, it seems the school district has taken complaints from Edwards and other parents seriously. “Earlier this week, we learned about an awards ceremony held during spirit week at Memorial Middle School that had insensitive award categories,” Cindy Ball, chief of strategy and innovation at Rockdale County Public Schools, said in a statement on Friday. “RCPS will neither condone nor tolerate any activities or insensitive behavior that may cause embarrassment or humiliation to our children.”

District officials said the two teachers will not be returning to the school and will not be working at other schools in the district, but because of personnel privacy laws, they refused to say whether that is related to the incident with the trophy.

As for Edwards, she is focused on ensuring that similarly demeaning awards are never handed out again “As a parent, it is my job to protect my child from being humiliated and bullied, especially when the bully is her teacher. Making fun of any disability is not acceptable,” she said. She’s asking for future end-of-year awards to be approved by school administrators.

Julian Meehan

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