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Arlington mom calls for changes after bullying incident involving son with autism

Swanson Middle School (7News)
Swanson Middle School (7News)
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After a bullying incident involving her 6th grade son with autism, an Arlington mother asked the school board Thursday night to do more to create an environment where such incidents don’t happen to any child.

On Friday both mother Kathleen Clark and her son Colton described what happened to 7 News, and Kathleen talked about changes she hopes Arlington Public Schools makes to help children better know how to relate to others who are different from them in some way.

“We’re all different. It’s totally normal,” Kathleen Clark told 7 News. “And if we’re not creating that inclusive culture where that’s okay, it’s going to impact our kids later on.”

While standing next to his mother, Colton told 7 News about the bullying incident, which the family says happened during a Swanson Middle School gym class on Monday, March 14.

Colton says he missed an easy soccer shot, then was mocked by fellow students who then tried to trick him into saying a racial slur. After that, Colton says students falsely spread the word that he had used the slur maliciously, and he was confronted by a large group.

“They pinned me up against the trailer, and one kid actually punched me in the stomach. It was awful,” Colton said.

Kathleen Clark described to the school board Thursday night how traumatic the bullying incident had been for her son, and how the boy had actually asked her to take autism away from him, a statement he repeated Friday during our interview.

“I just wish that my mom could take the autism out of me -- yes I do have autism,” he said. “And I’m a lot more sensitive than other people.”

Kathleen Clark says particularly during unstructured time, the Arlington schools system should be doing more to help create an environment where students respect each other and treat each other with kindness, including when other students are different from them.

“We spend thousands of dollars on teaching my child how to fit in. But we don’t spend any time and resources teaching other students how to relate to a child that might be different than them,” she said.

7 News reached out to Arlington Public Schools, which says it takes incidents like the one Colton was involved in very seriously. Spokesperson Frank Bellavia wrote in an email that APS investigated and while he couldn’t give details because of student privacy concerns, “appropriate disciplinary actions were taken.”

He added a number of details about what Arlington Public Schools does – and what it plans to do in the future:

"APS is committed to instilling positive social-emotional skills in students as a part of a safe and supportive school environment. Specifically, social-emotional lessons and programming address kindness, empathy, advocacy and respect. In elementary and middle schools, counselors and teachers present lessons on bullying prevention, including the roles of bystanders. These lessons include recognizing bullying behavior and intervening when bullying occurs. Additional, schools have ongoing kindness campaigns, such as "Be the I in KIND."

As APS receives the results of our first Social Emotional Learning (SEL) survey, we will be expanding social-emotional learning to address competencies in the five areas identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). These include: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision-Making.

In addition, APS is currently in the process of the Your Voice Matters survey. Data from this survey (completed by students, staff and parents) will be used to help identify and subsequently address climate issues. All parents, students and staff are encouraged to participate in this important survey."

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