Falmouth, Maine school officials banned a home-schooled boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism, from the town’s only public playground. Jan Rankowski, 9, “challenged the staff’s control at the playground and presented ’emotional safety’ risks to the other children,” school officials told the Boston Globe. Emotional safety? What does that mean?
They said he undermined adults, used unacceptable language, and played aggressively with other children, including pushing a first-grader too hard on a swing.
School officials control the playground’s use during the school day. The boy, supervised by his mother or a home-school aide, joined public school students during recess so he could interact with kids his own age.
At the age of 8, Jan had the social skills of a 4-year-old, a doctor concluded. He gets angry when frustrated or runs away. He doesn’t look people in the eyes or make small talk. Loud, sudden noises upset him.
Still, he’d played with other children for a year without problems after his parents pulled him from school and hired specialists to teach him at home. Last fall, however, other students began calling Jan “crazy” and other names.
The principal’s response to complaints was to assign an aide to monitor the playground and take notes on Jan’s behavior.
In an interview last week, (Principal Barbara) Powers said the increased supervision of Jan’s behavior revealed problems with aggressive play, including throwing rocks, and defiance of authority.
Throwing rocks at a person? Or just throwing?
The teacher’s aide noted that the autistic boy jumped off a bench the wrong way, walked away from a game, refused to greet an aide, cursed at the staff, and reported that someone was spying on him, according to court records.
He’s an awkward jumper with poor social skills, but he’s smart enough to know the aide was spying on him.
Six weeks later, Powers said, the situation came to a head when the boy defied authority on several occasions. She declined to give details.
With Superintendent Timothy McCormack’s approval, the principal suspended Jan, then 9, from using the playground until the school could evaluate his behavior and set expectations for his behavior in the school yard.
The parents, who no longer trust the school staff, refused to let Jan be evaluated. They filed suit.
The family’s lawsuit includes school records of other students’ misbehavior at the playground, including an incident in which a student brought a knife to recess and another kicked a peer. Both lost recess privileges for three days.
Meanwhile, Jan is spending more time with his computers and no time with other children.
Most of the time, I side with school staffers who complain about the burden of mainstreaming very disabled children. But this boy’s problems, which stem from his disability, aren’t that severe. He can be taught to greet people, if that’s essential. I know because my nephew, who has Asperger’s, was taught that by a special ed teacher at about the age of 9.
And the school’s going to lose in court. “Emotional safety” implies that other kids have a right not to have their feelings hurt by a kid who doesn’t know when he’s being rude. That’s not going to fly.