How the Internet May Have Ruined the Life of an Innocent Teacher This Thanksgiving

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If you haven’t seen the viral video entitled, “Autistic boy left in tears at Thanksgiving play after teacher snatches microphone away him”, you may soon find yourself in a dwindling number of people — not long after being posted onto Facebook, the short recording became one of the top trending posts on social media and quickly spread around the globe.

The morning of the Nutter Fort Primary School’s Thanksgiving performance in Harrison County, West Virginia, not a single staff member could have anticipated the level of attention their tiny performance would receive from millions of individuals around the globe.

No one could have imagined that video recorded during the play would be featured in an episode of Inside Edition; however, a split-second decision by a life-long educator, caught on camera, forever altered the course of what was supposed to be just one out of thousands of elementary school performances taking place around the country.

Posting the video under the title, “Mom Outraged After Teacher Snatched Mic From Son With Autism During Play”, Inside Edition’s clip has garnered nearly a half-million YouTube views.

Inside Edition used the following words to describe the video to their 573,678 online subscribers:

“An autistic little boy was left in tears at his school play when a teacher snatched the microphone away from him as he tried to speak.  Furious parents Kent Squires and Amanda Riddle shared footage of their son Caleb sobbing following the incident at his Thanksgiving performance on Wednesday.

“The six-year-old, who is described as having high-functioning autism, played a turkey in the production at Nutter Fort Primary School in Harrison County, West Virginia.  Dad Kent posted a 17-second clip on Facebook showing first-grader Caleb stepping up to the microphone as a teacher grabs it away.  The child is seen to be visibly distressed as he grabs the microphone stand and cries out to the teacher before bursting into tears.”

As you can imagine, this teacher pretty much sounds like the worst human being on the planet, and as you can imagine, the Internet wasted no time in letting her and everyone alive know this to be the case.

“That teacher can kill her self” wrote one commenter to the video- as of early Thursday morning, this single comment had been “thumbs upped” by 326 people.

In another post of the same video, a commenter wrote, “That b*** needs to be fired! My wife told me of this story and I looked it up. It makes me sick to see this video. If she treats this kid like this in public, I wonder what she does in private. The principle needs to get some balls and stand up for the kid. It’s clear as day she takes the mic from him.”

These are just two of the milder excerpts from the +4,000 Inside Edition comments.

Across the Internet, blogs, online news organizations, social media users and a dizzying cast of individuals grabbed their megaphones and began denouncing this woman as being Satan incarnate.

However, as we awake to the morning sun on Turkey Day, there seems to be another side of the story coming to light — perhaps things weren’t exactly as they appeared.

At least one individual, Susan Shannon, is claiming that the general public may have been deceived as to the events concerning the video.

In a post entitled, “Caleb’s Mother Lied And Really Needs to Apologize to Mrs. Lindsey”, Shannon writes, “I just wanted to know why Mrs. Lindsey pulled that mic. But no one else seemed similarly interested! Just the rush to judgment… And, wha-lah, the facts do come out. It appears that Caleb’s mother insisted that her son be put into the show on the very day of the show. She never filled out a permission slip and had never taken Caleb to a single practice… In any case, the teacher agreed to allow Caleb to participate so that he wouldn’t feel left out because she was nice, but apparently agreed on the condition that Caleb would have no speaking lines. Remember, this is because he was entered at the last minute and didn’t even know the play- not because he was autistic or because the teacher was mean. It was a way to allow the child to participate without much disruption to the play.

“That means that Caleb didn’t have a line that said, ‘Gobble, gobble!’ which means that mom must have made it up and told him he could say it. If so, it would mean that mom had no respect for the play, the other kids , the teacher or the school, for that matter. She just thought that it would be cute for her kid to say, ‘Gobble, gobble’ at the end of the play… During the show, it became clear that mom did nothing to ensure that Caleb understood this. If you watch the full video of the show, you can see that Caleb actually broke this rule and spoke several times when he wasn’t supposed to. And he aimlessly walks around on the stage because he doesn’t know what to do- of course! And I would say that it had nothing to do with having autism- it was due to never going to practice and having no clue what the play was even about. Whose fault is that? Mom’s.

“At the times when Caleb makes these understandable mistakes, people in the audience and kids laugh at Caleb- some of it seems unkind. You can even hear Caleb’s mother bemoaning the laughter and some of Caleb’s actions. Well, the mother states that the teacher ‘snatched’ the microphone ‘before he could say ‘gobble, gobble’, but that is completely disingenuous, isn’t it? The teacher had no idea what he was doing or what he was going to say considering that he no speaking parts. She didn’t have a crystal ball to know that this was ‘all’ he wanted. Also, were other kids allowed to continue speaking into the mic after the play was over? Does autism mean that you can do whatever you like, no matter what? Does a teacher setting limits for an autistic child equal cruelty just because that child cries and the mother goes into hysterics? I don’t think so. The teacher could very well have been trying to prevent more laughter at Caleb’s expense. In fact, I believe she was doing her best to end the play in the least embarrassing way for Caleb and everyone else as possible.

“Since all of this has gone down, other parents and teachers from Nutter Fort have come forward with the truth of the situation. Almost none of it is getting through the noise of the mob, though.”

Others are beginning to question whether the event occurred exactly as it has been portrayed to the public.

Another commentator writes, “What is interesting to me is the mom’s voice during the recording. There’s a point early in the play where she says very flatly, dejectedly even, ‘Yeah, that’s Caleb.’ Her emotion for how her child is perceived can be felt through the recording. She doesn’t like the laughter. She pleads in a whispered prayer for him to get his fingers out of his mouth. She knows he’s being laughed at and that he isn’t even aware of the ridicule and it breaks her heart. I don’t necessarily blame her for her reaction. I hurt for her. But I also think she is being unreasonable and is irresponsible in her demand for revenge. Not justice. Revenge. Her actions are not going to make the school a better place. They are keeping other parents from being able to contact the administrator about equally important issues. They’re broadcasting to thousands of people the faces and location of dozens of other children. They are dragging the school into what will be months of a public relations and HR nightmare, which will distract from the school’s fundamental purpose. And, they’re firing up a hateful, irrational mob. Sadly, the end result will most likely not be a better learning environment for Caleb.

“Here is what should be terrifying for all educators. 30 seconds, on film, taken out of context, could end careers and destroy lives. Show me a teacher who has never snapped at a child in exasperation, has never misinterpreted a situation and doled out improper consequences, has never erred in judgment, has never wished they could take back a word or action and I will show you a tap-dancing unicorn. The same could be said for parents. There are some pretty unrealistic expectations for educators. Very few teachers enjoy being on display at public events. Teachers get stage fright, just like everyone else. I get sick to my stomach and lightheaded and my thoughts and words get all tangled anytime I have to face a full auditorium of parents, students, and coworkers. I know every avoidance technique to get out of speaking publicly. But I’m a good teacher. A really good teacher. I have made some horrible public blunders, including a Steve Harvey moment in which I awarded a prize to the wrong student. It was a dozen years ago and I still wilt each time I remember it.”

Are these new developments accurate?  Should young Caleb’s mother actually be the one to apologize to the teacher for ruining her career without just cause?  Are these just educators circling the wagons around one of their own?  Is the teacher as terrible as the World Wide Web says she is?

I don’t know.  I simply don’t know.

And guess what.  You don’t either.

Neither you nor I know what the teacher’s motivation was in taking the microphone.  And sadly, neither do the hundreds of thousands of social media armchair parents and teachers calling for this woman to be immediately fired at the very least and in many other cases to “do the world a favor and just go kill herself.”

But that’s the problem altogether in 2016: No longer is an individual innocent until proven guilty.

No longer do we live in a society where even the worst of humanity is entitled to due process.

In modern-day Western Civilization, an individual is considered innocent until a viral online post is published… once this happens, you’re done.  Your career is ended and your life is ruined.

As you gather around your family to eat Thanksgiving turkey and announce what you’re thankful for, perhaps you should include the fact that your worst moment wasn’t recorded by a cell phone user and then published onto Facebook or that a moment in which you were perfectly above-board wasn’t taken out of context and shared around the globe.

We are living in frightful times.  As a society, we are becoming no different than the individuals carrying pitchforks in Salem, Massachusetts, 300 years ago.

Though we’re not burning people at the stake, we’re still doing what amounts to be the same thing – we’re destroying lives in a mob mentality… The only difference is that the mob in Salem did take the time to offer a trial first.

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21 COMMENTS

  1. Wonderfully put. I will throw this fact out there though because the parents and those backing the parents will attempt to discredit anything that goes against their side. Practice takes place during school hours. His mother wouldn’t have to bring him to practice. He would have practiced with the participants during school hours if a permission slip was returned. If one was not returned, he may know the songs a bit because many of the teachers practice the songs in class as a whole group, but he would not have been assigned a particular line for the performance.

    I have seen the statement of her not bringing him to practice a few places recently. There is no practice to be brought to. If you signed up to participate, and went to school, you practiced your lines in school. Not an outside practice. All three of my children have participated in this play at this school.

    • It could be possible that the “she didn’t bring him to practice” was due to not bringing him to school, as in, he was absent due to illness, or he was absent due to the mom wanting him to avoid the practice sessions. Being autistic, his mom may have excluded him because of the noise, stress, and unpredictability of the practice sessions. I don’t know the facts, but just offering this as a potential reason for why you’re seeing it in various places that she didn’t bring him to practice.

      • Also the teachers need to know who and how many children and families are commmitted and plan to attend this after-school-hours play. Children need to know where they are standing, when it’s their turn, what their parts are, and the basic logistics of entering and leaving the stage area.

    • Because even though the practices are during school the performance usually is after school and some parents aren’t able to be there or to get their kids there.

    • A permission slip is often used because it is an event that puts the children on public display. They are being videotaped and observed by non-school personnel. Not every district uses permission slips but most do.

    • Some parents do not celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s a respectful gesture to ask permission from the parents before inviting a child to participate in a play that might not align with their beliefs. Also, if the play was being held after school hours, it would be prudent for the faculty to ensure that the parents are able to provide transportation.

      That being said, when this story first came out, I refused to share it on my FB page for these very reasons. A short video clip and a mother’s perspective does not make a complete story. As a parent to five children, I often sign permission slips that never make it back to the teacher. Perhaps mom sent it back and her son never handed it in or it got lost. Perhaps she never got one to begin with. It would have been considerate for the teacher to follow-up with a phone call or email if she had not received one, but teaching is a hectic job.

      My mind doesn’t sit on the first or even second explanation, but the plethora of explanations that could have caused this. I have sympathy for the parents, for the teacher, and for Caleb most of all. He was probably just a kid, looking to be a part of something with his classmates and feel included. No one can blame him for wanting that.

  2. It does not matter what happened weeks, days, hours, or minutes before THE MOMENT of grabbing the mic and a 6 year old crying due to an action by and ADULT. All the excuses in the world do not excuse that action. The teacher could have redirected Caleb as he patiently waited for the other 2 children to speak, she could have redirected as she was taking the mic rather than grabbing and turning, she could have responded when Caleb started crying and again redirected and comforted, and most importantly she could have responded to the parents when they tried to question after the incident instead of blowing them off. After all that I would have posted the video as well especially since school policy states the school and parents can post videos and pictures from school events on social media and like the parents never expected it to go viral.

    Compounding this issue as posts and blogs have revealed teachers, staff, volunteers, and PTO officers have continued to violate FERPA laws by stating their excuses online. True or not true they can not publicly state any info on child or family. Examples of these are school records (permission slips are school records), attendance (practice), discipline (saying he is disruptive or unpredictable), prejudicial info (calling mom a liar, etc. All of these are violations of FERPA laws. This means each of these people violated state and Federal laws to try to defend an ADULT hurting a 6 year old child. This proves they need training on Autism, disabilities, and FERPA laws. There is NO excuse for what this teacher did.

    According to the West Virginia department of education all staff, volunteers, and 3rd parties sign confidentiality agreements and non disclosure agreements. FERPA law applies to posting on personal social media accounts as well.

    Confidential data means information that would tend, by itself or with othier information, to identify particular person(s). Confidential data includes information which is intended for the use of a particular person/group and whose unauthorized disclosure could be prejudicial to the individual it identifies.

    3.1.o. “Personally identifiable” means that the data or information includes, but is not limited to, (a) the name of a student, the student’s parent, or other family member, (b) the address of the student or student’s family, (c) a personal identifier such as the student’s social security number, or student number, (d) a list of personal characteristics that would make the student’s identity easily traceable, or (e) other information that would make the student’s identity easily traceable.

    Nothing about a student can be discussed be staff, volunteers or 3rd parties without written consent if parents.

    http://static.k12.wv.us/tt/2014/datamanagement_guidance%20FINAL%201-21-14.pdf

    • Kellie, when the parents put the information out to the public in a Facebook post (very public) then they have opened the door and made their information very public. If a school employee were to just post this, then yes, you would be correct. Since the parents made the situation public they have not much of a complaint with what information is used to refute their negative and untrue claims. The school then has the right to defend to itself. Now, please, let this die. It’s over and let everyone go back to their lives and stop stirring it up. Let both these families and this community have some peace!!!!

      • That is not correct I checked with FERPA they can only release info with court order, parent permission, or very limited reasons. Refuting in social media is not a reason to release info. Truth or Not the Truth they CAN NOT release info on parents or students ever.

  3. He’d need a permission slip because it’s the way to have his parents commit to bringing him the night of the performance. They sign stating they allow him to perform and they will bring him the night of the show.

  4. First – It smells a lot like BS regarding the need to a “permission slip” for a play. Second, even if a permission slip was required,.. no, ESPECIALLY if a permission slip was required, the teacher should not have allowed him on stage that day if there wasn’t one turned in. The teacher created the issue no matter how you look at this.

    • Hello, plenty of parents do not want their child participating in these kind of plays due to religion issues. A good example is a Christmas play, and I think thanksgiving could fall into that same line. Thus, a permission slip is needed to avoid getting into legal trouble. Also, plays typically are not doing school hours. Therefore, a permission slip needs to be signed so that they know who can make it to the play.

      Lol yeah, that’d be another awesome headline too ” parents angry after teacher refuses to let autistic child in the school play”

      No matter what you lose.

  5. I know the Lindsey Family well and they are wonderful Christian People who would NEVER intentionally hurt or upset anyone, let alone a child!! People need to find ALL of the FACTS before they come to judgement!!! It makes me sick to think what this misunderstanding has caused the Lindsey Family!!

  6. They’d need permission for the play to prevent controversy. Some parents do not celebrate holidays. On another note, some plays have after school rehearsals but that is usually for larger plays or older students. This definitely looks like it is a during the day event. What an awful mess.

  7. I read the entire article and saw the entire video on YouTube. This teacher may be a wonderful person; however, the way she snatched that microphone was rude, inappropriate and evil. She even had a smirk on her face, the last few seconds of the video shows how much she cares about this child. If she didn’t want the child to speak, why didn’t she take the microphone and in a polite manner dismiss the show by saying something positive and mentioning Caleb’s Name.

  8. I appreciate your perspective and agree with you on many points. As an educator myself, I agree that we cannot be judged by one clip. However, As a special education teacher I feel there are a couple of things that in some ways discredit your arguement. First, you have not used child first language. This child is first and foremost a child who just happens to have autism. Second, unless you know this child you have no idea how he can be expected to behave. Autism being a spectrum disorder, can have many different outcomes. Would you expect a child with severe CP to stand quietly during a performance? Nope. It is not your place to say what this child should be expected to do. Lastly, I feel we also need to extend grace to the child’s mother as well as the teacher. Perhaps she didn’t sign the permission slip, perhaps it never made it home. Perhaps her life is incredibly difficult due to the fact that she is raising a child with autism. Did she do the right thing by posting a video? No, but should she also be burned at the stake for not being a mother that always makes right choices? Name one mom that never let her momma bear roar too quickly.

  9. Obviously, none of you know anything about autistic children and quote frankly it doesn’t sound like you care, which is a problem in itself and quite frankly sad and pathetic. Regardless of the circumstances the way in which this teacher actions will affect this child is disturbing. You can disagree with the mother, but this child had nothing to do with that. Shame on all of you. You are all truly vile people.

  10. The problem is this….everyone wants to give “special consideration ” to Caleb because he has autism. By saying he should be getting by with this, or we should not expect this, or we should overlook that, none of you are doing Caleb any favors. It’s seems that in the last 20 yrs, every child had some type of diagnosis such as Aspergers, autism, ADD, ADHD, sensory disorder, etc. When the truth of the matter is 90% are simply badly behaved children with badly behaved parents. For God’s sake, stop making excuses and stop acting like your child is “special, or “different” more than any other child. Every single parent feels their child is special and different, as they should feel. But here’s the difference people…good parents still know that their children still have to obey the rules, follow direction, be courteous to others, learn how to accept consequences, and don’t also get their every want and desire fulfilled. And people wonder what has happened to society……really?!?
    Autism or not, if Caleb didn’t put in the work the other children did to be in the play, the consequences should have been he wasn’t in the play AT ALL. that’s real world! Is it fair the other children practiced over and over, went to rehearsals, behaved properly on stage, didn’t “ham it up” to stand out and then got to watch Caleb get all the same benefits without any of the work? Now, it’s not Caleb’s fault at all…but it is Caleb who will reap what his parents are sowing as he gets older. All of you screaming he should have been able to say his “Gobble Gobble” are the very same parents raising brats who will grow up thinking the world’s owes them everything.

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