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Dad Knows Best

Linda Chapman was deeply disturbed by what she had discovered about Jake, one of her 7th graders. Jake had exhibited some unusual behaviors in class and Linda knew he needed more help than she could give. Jake’s father, attending a meeting regarding his son’s behaviors, wasn’t interested in any of Linda’s concerns.


"Jake, are you listening to these directions?" Mrs. Chapman insisted as she moved closer to Jake’s desk. "You were doing so well just a few minutes ago. Please don’t nod off on me now," she concluded in hopes that Jake would respond.

Jake responded by briefly flipping his left hand in the air as he slumped over to put his head on his desk.

"You really need to be paying close attention to this assignment so you will not fall too far behind. Now sit up and try to stay focused," she again pleaded. Jake slid back up in his seat, but his heavy eyelids just wouldn’t cooperate. Mrs. Chapman briefly drifted in thought back to her college days, sitting in Dr. Dulwart’s freshman history class, trying to stay awake for his extremely boring lectures.

"Am I that boring to this young man?" she thought to herself. "This is the fourth time this week he has drifted off in here."

Linda Chapman was in her first year as a special education resource teacher at Greenfield Middle School. Before coming to Greenfield, she had been a behavior specialist for eight years, working with adolescents identified as behaviorally and emotionally disordered. Burnout definitely played a role in her decision to leave her previous position. At her family’s encouragement and with the support of her husband, Linda decided to take the job at Greenfield in the mid-sized town of Meridian where she had grown up. As a resource teacher she taught a fundamental subject block to 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students identified as EBD (Emotionally and Behaviorally Disordered). Jake Ramirez was one of her 7th graders.

Jake had spent the last two months of the previous school year in a residential in-state treatment center for children with emotional disabilities. He was larger than many of his classmates, at 5’6" and 132 pounds. He was well recognized by his peers as the kid who never combed his hair, always had bags under his eyes, wore the same winter coat regardless of the season, and wore winter boots and long underwear under his jeans everyday at school. Jake’s father, Roberto Ramirez, was a recovering alcoholic who was currently employed as a peer counselor at a mental health clinic. According to Roberto, the difficulties in his life during the past few years--alcoholism, his wife leaving him and Jake, and losing a job--had adversely contributed to his son’s behavior. Linda read in Jakes’s file that prior to the 6th grade, Jake had been on Mellaril and Zolof at various times to control his mood swings and sudden outbursts of aggressive behaviors.

"Let’s go Jake. Get up! It’s time for Group Share," Linda insisted as she was writing reminder notes on the blackboard, not really paying attention to what Jake was doing at his desk. As Linda glanced over at Jake, she noticed a trickle of blood running down his left forearm. Linda quietly approached Jake’s desk and he scurried to hide whatever it was he was working on.

"Are you okay, Jake? Do you need to go to the nurse’s office to get that cleaned up?" Linda asked as she pointed to his arm.

"It’s no big deal, Mrs. Chapman. Don’t worry, I ain’t gonna wipe it on no one else," Jake fervently replied.

"Please get it cleaned up then and join the rest of the class," Linda hesitantly responded.

Jake sat directly across from her during Group Share. The administration thought it was a good idea to take about 30 minutes each day to allow members of the class to discuss whatever they felt comfortable sharing. Anything shared was told in the strictest confidence and sometimes this period brought forth some extreme emotions and tales of personal turmoil. One of the other boys started with a story about a family dog. As soon as he finished, Jake chimed in with a bizarre story about the mystery of his missing family cat. The others listened carefully as Jake wove a disturbing tale.

Jake, finding himself all alone after his father left to run errands, had become curious as to what would happen if he put the family cat in the microwave for a couple of minutes. Upon doing so, the cat exploded and Jake described how "guts were left everywhere." Conceding that he might get in big trouble, Jake cleaned up the mess and buried Fluffy’s remains at the bottom of the garbage can outside. When Dad arrived back home shortly thereafter, Jake was sitting nonchalantly on the couch watching TV. When his dad noticed Fluffy’s absence Jake quickly suggested that perhaps the cat had finally run away. "I never liked that cat anyway," he commented as he concluded his story. As the other kids in the group giggled at Jake’s morbid tale, Linda could not help but cringe.

The bell rang and the students scurried to put their things away and get in line for lunch. As they left the room, Linda noticed a white sheet of notebook paper lying on the floor by Jake’s desk. She turned it over and saw two stick figures drawn with what appeared to be blood. One of the stick figures wielded a knife in the direction of the other figure and the title read, "Die Shithead, Die!"

"Oh my God!" Linda thought to herself. "I bet this is what Jake was hiding from me," she speculated. "I need to talk to the principal! This young man obviously needs more help than I can give him."

Linda entered the principal’s office and said, " Mr. Tierny, I’ve come to you out of deep concern for one of my students who has exhibited some really bizarre behaviors as of late."

"Oh, really, Mrs. Chapman? I thought all of your students exhibit bizarre behavior. Isn’t that what got them into your classroom to begin with?" Mr. Tierny replied as he nonchalantly poured a cup of coffee for himself. "Who is this student and what types of behaviors are concerning you?" questioned Mr. Tierny.

"It’s Jake Ramirez. He shared a very disturbing story with the group during Group Share," Linda explained. "I also suspect he is responsible for this drawing," she continued as she pulled the paper from her portfolio.

"Hmm, pretty interesting work. Sounds like a story for the X-files," he chuckled.

Mrs. Chapman could feel her blood pressure rise as her face grew red.

"I apologize, Mrs. Chapman. I should not make those kinds of comments. I think we should call an immediate meeting of the crisis intervention team," suggested Mr. Tierny.

Linda gritted her teeth to keep from saying something she would regret. "That’s fine, Mr. Tierny, but may I suggest adding Mr. Thomas and Mrs. Lanais to the team. I think they would bring important insight to the group," suggested Linda. Genie Lanais was Jake’s English teacher. She had been a special educator at one time and Linda thought she would be a valuable asset to the team. Mark Thomas was Linda’s classroom aide. Linda had the utmost confidence in Mark to handle any situation and she knew the crisis team would benefit from his experience.

"I don’t think it is a good idea for a paraprofessional like Mr. Thomas, even if he has proven himself worthy, to be on a crisis intervention team. Mrs. Lanais, on the other hand, is a good idea if she is willing," interjected Mr. Tierny. "I’ll notify the other members of the team and we can meet this afternoon." Linda nodded as she scooped up her portfolio and headed for the door.

Linda dreaded meeting with the other two members of the team, Barry Jonason and Jorge Gonzalez. They were both well known for their ‘jock’ mentality and male chauvinist attitudes. Linda could almost handle it if it were not for the fact that they were proud of the persona they projected.

Barry Jonason had been the Adapted Physical Education teacher, football coach, and senior member of the crisis team for many years. He and Linda had known each other in high school, but had hung out with different crowds. Barry’s idea of discipline was locking a student in a room alone until they "came to their senses."

Jorge Gonzalez joined the team at the suggestion of Barry. Jorge Gonzalez was a Biology teacher and the girls’ basketball coach. Both Barry and Jorge were born and raised in Meridian and had been friends for a long time. They were hired about two months apart by Steve Tierny’s predecessor and became known as the local high school jocks made good. Their primary role was to manage the physical aspects of crisis intervention, such as restraining students. Although their presence on the team was sometimes useful, they had gained a reputation of being impossible to work with, especially for female staff members. Linda was dissatisfied with the unprofessional manner in which they conducted business. They often said they didn’t like "pushy broads" and made it clear that she was tolerated but not respected. Linda could empathize with her female predecessors who either quit or refused to work with them.

That afternoon Mr. Tierny assembled all members of the crisis intervention team, including Mrs. Lanais.

"Are you aware of the reasons I called you to my office?" Mr. Tierny addressed the group. "A troubling matter has been brought to my attention by Linda Chapman. It seems one of her students, Jake Ramirez, is exhibiting some bizarre and potentially dangerous behaviors. I thought the best plan of action would be to convene the crisis team," he explained. "Mrs. Lanais, you came highly recommended by Linda and your knowledge of this case will be very helpful. Has anybody filled you guys in about what’s going on with the Ramirez kid?" questioned Mr. Tierny looking at Barry and Jorge.

"Well, we know he has the potential to be a pain in the ass, but we usually just close him up by himself in one of those empty rooms and let him work it out. Usually within a couple of hours he’s OK. Why? What has he done this time?" asked Barry. Jorge leaned over to whisper something in Barry’s ear. Barry chuckled as the two focused on Mr. Tierny.

"Linda, would you mind telling the group what you have seen?" Mr. Tierny asked.

"Well, in a nutshell, this kid has exhibited some really disturbing behavior. He tells stories of animal mutilation during group share time, he seldom interacts with the other students, and just recently, I found a picture that he had drawn with his own blood. He is struggling academically and seldom completes classwork. I’ve tried sparking his interest by letting him pick projects he would like to work on, but he still remains disinterested. I have also had several individual conferences with him. Each time, he just sat there with a blank look on his face and told me nothing was wrong. I have come to the point where I feel Jake may be dangerous to himself and/or others," explained Linda.

"What’s the big deal? This kid is just looking for attention," Barry said.

"I don’t think so. I believe it is much more serious than that," Linda replied. Barry and Jorge just rolled their eyes.

"I think we need to meet with Jake and his father. I’ll have the secretary set it up for Monday afternoon, if that is agreeable to you all," Mr. Tierny said, ignoring the previous exchange. Everyone nodded in agreement.

On Monday afternoon, all the team members arrived exactly at 3:30. Roberto Ramirez and Jake arrived shortly thereafter.

"We’re here. Now, what’s this all about?" demanded Mr. Ramirez.

"Mrs. Chapman, perhaps you could explain to Mr. Ramirez why we have requested this meeting," replied Mr. Tierny.

Linda explained, in careful detail, everything that had been going on with Jake in her class. She minced no words in saying she thought his behavior was bizarre and concluded with a question she had been pondering for quite some time. "It is quite obvious to us, at this point, that Jake is in need of more help than we are able to offer him. His records indicate that he was on medication for his mood swings and aggressive behaviors up until his 6th grade year. May I ask why those medications were stopped?" Linda asked.

"Not that it is any of your damn business, but I stopped giving him that medication because I didn’t want him to become a freak like me. And besides, they’ll stunt his growth, not to mention his sexual appetite," responded Mr. Ramirez, glancing over at Barry and Jorge, looking for a signal of male empathy.

"I’ve tried to tell him that I think the medicine really helped," blurted out a voice from the end of the table.

Everyone stopped to look over at Jake.

"That’s enough, son. I’m your father and I think I know what’s best for you." Mr. Ramirez’s voice got louder, making it clear it was not to be discussed further. "I’ve consulted a lawyer, Mrs. Chapman, so I know I am well within my rights. I know the troubles in my life have been tough on my son, but he is basically a good kid. I caught him sneaking out the other night, but that ain’t gonna happen again!"

"Well, what about some counseling for Jake?" Linda questioned.

"That ain’t going to happen either," Mr. Ramirez responded emphatically.

Linda could not believe what she was hearing, and was dismayed that she was not getting any support from her team. Aside from the usual polite small talk, the rest of the team, including Mr. Tierny, had said nothing. Linda really wanted to somehow make them confirm her actions and words, but was too scared that they agreed with Mr. Ramirez. This kid needed intervention soon, and it seemed evident that he wasn’t going to get it.

Mr. Ramirez stood up and pulled Jake by the arm, "Come on, let’s go." As they left the conference room, Jake looked back at Linda with an expression calling for help, but said nothing.

"Isn’t there anything we can do to get some help for this boy?" pleaded Linda, directing her attention to Mr. Tierny. "He is obviously aware that he needs it," she added.

"I’m sorry, Mrs. Chapman. It is really out of our hands at this point. Without the father’s consent, all we can do is plug along as we have," ended Mr. Tierny.

The team left the conference room without a word. Tomorrow would be another day.




Discussion/Study Questions

  1. List what you have learned/know about each of the characters in the case.
  2. What do you think is motivating the thoughts/actions of each of the characters?
  3. What are the issues/problems in the case.


Additional Questions

  1. Are Linda’s concerns about Jake’s behavior justified?  Do you think she is over-reacting? 
  2. Do you think that Jake is at risk?  What for?
  3. How has Jake's family situation impacted his emotional state of mind?
  4. Did Mr. Tierny, the school principal, respond to Linda’s concerns in a professional manner? Why or why not?
  5. Did Mr. Tierny handle Jake’s situation in a professional manner? Why or why not?
  6. Why didn’t Mr. Ramirez, Jake’s father, want Jake on medication?
  7. Why were the two coaches, Barry Jonason and Jorge Gonzalez, included as part of the crisis intervention team? Did their attitudes about students in general and Linda’s students in particular impact the team’s handling of Jake’s situation?
  8. Considering Jake’s history and the types of medication that had been prescribed for him, was Mr. Ramirez’ decision to stop giving it to him sound?
  9. Does a parent such as Mr. Ramirez have the legal right to make such a decision?
  10. What can a teacher in Linda’s position do to advocate for and help students such as Jake?  What evidence or statistics could she use to convince the crisis intervention team and Jake's father that Jake is at risk and needs help?
  11. What do you think Linda should do next in order to help Jake?
  12. In the future, how should Linda approach Mr Tierny and the crisis intervention team regarding concerns about students?




CEC Competencies/Knowledge Areas Addressed in the Case

Major Competencies

Rights and responsibilities of parents, students, teachers, and schools as they relate to individuals with  exceptional learning needs.

Importance and benefits of communication and collaboration which promotes interaction with students, parents, and school and community personnel.

Other Competencies

Typical concerns of parents of individuals with exceptional learning needs and appropriate strategies to help parents deal with these concerns.

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