Should Asperger’s Teacher Lose His Job For Remark to Overweight Student?
A Connecticut high school teacher faces the loss of his job after asking a student, who is overweight, if he had eaten his homework. According to the Hartford Courant, officials in the Brookfield school district want to fire Robert Wollkind who, they say, has made a “string of inappropriate remarks over his 32-year career.” Wollkind, a math teacher at Brookfield High School, was diagnosed in 2002 with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder in which individuals have normal or above intelligence but struggle with social, communicative and sensory skills. Wollkind has been on administrative leave since the November 2010 incident.
Lawyers representing the school district says that Wollkind has “used abusive language to others, including telling one student that he hated him.” According to the News-Times:
The student, identified as “Student 21,” had been previously teased by peers about his weight, said the school district’s attorney Patrick McHale.
Wollkind’s personnel file also contains reported incidents of him screaming at a student, grabbing a student, and using “abusive and foul language” with students.
Wollkind counters that “many of those incidents have been described inaccurately.”
A disciplinary hearing was held on Wednesday night and will continue on April 13. At the hearing, Superintendent Anthony Bivona said that, while he thought Wollkind had the ability to teach, he failed to “provide a classroom environment where students were physically and emotionally safe and felt respected.” After learning about the incident with ‘Student 21,’ Bivona looked in Wollkind’s personnel file and decided (without consulting previous superintendents, teachers, principals or students involved in the November incident) that Wollkind should be terminated. From the News-Times:
“I really have no choice. This has to end now,” Bivona said. “I don’t see any evidence that this behavior is going to cease.”
…Bivona said teachers in the district should not use sarcasm with students nor humor that “crosses the line.”
Wollkind said he uses humor in his classes and does not intend to harm anyone with it. “That’s (humor) supposed to be taboo around here.”
Bivona may well have concluded that Wollkind was a potential legal liability, and that ‘Student 21′ and his family might bring a lawsuit against the school district, charging that it had failed to protect the student’s rights and caused him to be discriminated against in his math class at Brookfield High School.
On the other hand, as Wollkind does have a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, it is possible that he simply did not realize the extent of his effect of his remarks on others. He had been a teacher in Brookfield for 32 years: Why had no one called him on his sarcasm until Bivona (who has been superintendent of the district for four years)?
At the hearing, Wollkind’s former students spoke on his behalf, the News-Times reports. And Dr. Jonathan Bauman, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer of Four Winds Hospital in Katonah, N.Y., who diagnosed Wollkind with Asperger’s Syndrome in 2002, said that he had recently re-evaluated him and thought that he had the ability to teach.
Hundreds of Brookfield residents have signed a petition in support of Wollkind.
Photo by cayoup.