GPS Protects a Rogue Teacher’s Disability Harassment of an Elementary ADHD Student

Some people have forgotten that educating students is the purpose for which taxpayers pay a THIRD OF A BILLION DOLLARS in public funds to a group of public employees who have lost the trust and confidence of citizens. The story of how badly one child and her parents were treated shows exactly how craven the administration of GPS has become under Superintendent Christina Kishimoto.  “There ought to be a law!” citizens cry. There are laws, but GPS violates them with impunity. Kishimoto’s attitude: “So sue me.” 

One of the laws is FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which gives parents certain protections with regard to their children’s education records. These include report cards, transcripts, disciplinary records, contact and family information, and class schedules. To protect your child’s privacy, FERPA generally requires schools to ask for written consent before disclosing your child’s personally identifiable information to individuals other than you. In the situation discussed below, another statute, Section 504, Education of Children with Disabilities also applies, which GPS also violated without regard for the rights of this student and other students in the class.

The story begins with Patterson Elementary School teacher Bonnie Hickman’s open declaration on Facebook and in her classroom of how many of her students that year had ADHD. One of the students reported to her parents times where her teacher called her out in class for having ADHD, something which should have remained private — this was personal information protected by FERPA. The child also reported to parents that Bonnie Hickman called out other students, in front of the entire class, for their ADHD status.

Further, on many occasions, Bonnie Hickman questioned … in front of the entire class … whether or not those ADHD students had taken their medication. This attitude soon spread among students, who started asking those students identified by Bonnie Hickman as having ADHD if they had “taken their meds yet.” Other times, Bonnie Hickman publicly asked the student who was harassed for having ADHD if her actions in class were the result of not having taken her medications that day. Can you imagine being the child ridiculed by the teacher, in front of the entire class, because the teacher didn’t like something you said or did? Can anyone in their right mind claim this was NOT targeting a child over her disability? [The answer is NO.]

Unbeknownst to the parents who were hearing about this situation from their child, Bonnie Hickman was posting on social media on August 28, 2015 about her students [see image at right]:

Bonnie Hickman:
28 students…11 diagnosed ADD/ADHD (plus me). Yeah, it’s going to be an interesting year.
Jessica Archambault:
One tiny moment at a time. You will impact these kids because you are passionate about what you do. thank you.
Bonnie Hickman:
Yup…one moment is about the amount of attention span we have! So far so good though!
Michelle Stewart-Casillas:
Sorry B…. sending you some patience.
Bonnie Hickman:
Patience! Heck, we need prozac in the air vents!

The fact that Bonnie Hickman was in a position of power over all of her students made disability harassment not only possible, but utterly devastating for her victims. Do you imagine for even a minute that there was only one child in the classroom ridiculed and taunted over the protected personal information about their disability and medical conditions? Can anyone in their right mind claim this was NOT disability harassment? [The answers are  NO and NO.]

Parents reported the situation to Patterson principal Lucas Blackburn on September 25, 2015. At that point, parents just wanted to see the inappropriate comments and harassing behavior stop rather than make a formal complaint. A month later, when parents again approached Lucas Blackburn, he told them a meeting with Bonnie Hickman was already planned. These parents later learned that other parents had reported their concerns about harassment in Bonnie Hickman’s classroom.

Lucas Blackburn met with Bonnie Hickman on November 3, 2015; she took the next day off. When she returned to her classroom on November 5, 2015, Bonnie Hickman told students she had been absent because she was so upset that someone had reported her to the principal, and therefore, certain privileges would no longer be available, particularly to the ADHD students in her classroom.

While the class had free time on November 13, 2015, the targeted student asked Bonnie Hickman if she could assist with anything. Hickman replied, “No,” and asked the student to sit down and read. The child complied, but approached Bonnie Hickman a few minutes later with a question about the book she was reading. Bonnie Hickman replied that she couldn’t help the student just then, and in the student’s words, Bonnie Hickman “hit [me] under my back pockets” and told the child to sit down.

The student wrote a note and left it on Bonnie Hickman’s desk:

“Mrs. Hickman,
I’m sorry I might be sensitive, but that kind of hurt my feelings. You were telling me to read and I asked you a question about my book, you just hit under my back pockets. And it made me uncomfortable. Then you told me to sit down. I am so very sorry for my rudeness. I hope it is ok that I told you. Let me know in private if I was rude or oversensitive. I hope you forgive me.
My apologies,
Student Name”

Bonnie Hickman called the student up to her desk and stated that the child’s note offended her. Bonnie Hickman said, “I will NOT lose my job because of you. I know you were the one that told on me to Mr. Blackburn. You’re going to tell everyone I hit you.”

This was a very, very bad situation, but what happened after the top administrators of Gilbert Public Schools got into the act was just unbelievable. We’ll share more of this story in our next post.

Calendar alert! October is ADHD Awareness Month. If your child, or someone you know has ADHD, please help them through research, compassion and caring. There’s a special place in heaven for people who overcome disabilities to find love and success in their lives!

If your child has been harassed because of a disability, get invaluable advice here.

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