An autistic middle school student, Joel Luna Menjivar, has been so badly bullied that his parents fear he may not be able to attend a regular high school.
Two incidents in particular, both occurring in the Howard T. Herber Middle School cafeteria, stand out because they resulted in either physical injuries or trauma. In one case a student struck Joel in the face with a glass bottle and in another, a student tried to pull down his pants.
Although Joel does well academically, and is in an honors class for math, Superintendent Dr. James Hunderfund thinks he should move to a special school to avoid his bullies.
Hunderfund said that through behavioral-modification and character-education programs, which include assemblies and guest speakers, “treatment of others and values are very well-reviewed with students in the curriculum and practiced every day.” But, he added, Joel’s situation is unique — he already has constant adult supervision, yet he is still subject to bullying.
As the school cannot provide “24-7” one-to-one supervision of Joel, they seemingly cannot protect him from bullies. Their suggestion was to move Joel to a placement school instead which his parents refused. Hunderfund said this left the district between a rock and a hard place.
Joel’s mother noted that the bullying has heavily affected her son: He has trouble eating and sleeping and he is constantly nervous, finding it difficult to speak at times and often wringing his hands.
Given the way the bullying has escalated and the fact that the school system is helpless to stop the bullying, Joel’s parents feel they are unable to send him to a regular high school.
Unfortunately Joel’s experience isn’t unique. A survey in Massachusetts found that 9 out of 10 children with Autism reported being bullied. In over half of the cases, the bullying included being hit, kicked or chased. It is hoped that this issue can be addressed with legislation that would require individualized education plan (IEP) teams to address bullying faced by students with autism.