1. This picture was taken from the now deceased student's daily writing log during the 2019-2020 school year, collected as evidence of his mistreatment by a certain teacher. While blurry, the part that can be read is particularly disturbing: "...all this work it's for nothing, no matter what I do..."
2. Some important names have either been omitted or abbreviated for the purpose of this letter. A long version of this document, including those names, will be sent to the ACSD1 School Board.
To whom it may concern,
On November 1st, 2021, a young man in our community took his life. He was 15. A few weeks prior, another student at Laramie High School sought to end his own life as well. Fortunately, his attempt at this most permanent and heartbreaking act was unsuccessful. Both of these students and the tragedy of their circumstances can be traced, at least in part, to the catastrophically dysfunctional Behavior Support Program previously found at Laramie Middle School, and it's grossly incompetent counterpart at Laramie High School.
We worked with the now deceased student during his time at LMS, and found him to be a good kid who cared deeply about his friends. During the first semester of his 8th grade year (in the fall of 2019), he was enrolled in two classes with the Tier 1 Behavior Support Teacher, 'H,' who would go on to be the subject of multiple complaints regarding issues of extreme instability and dereliction of her classroom (and students) during class periods. We, along with other staff members, witnessed 'H' target and berate this student on numerous occasions. The student regularly confided in us that this teacher made him feel "worthless," and that "nothing I do matters." Long story short, this student did not belong in her classes. His progress went up in every class except the ones he had with 'H' (we still have the data charts to prove this). And yet, this unhinged individual would go on to argue that he should be removed from all regular-education classes (where he was succeeding), and placed exclusively in the self-contained Tier 1 Behavior Support Program- predominantly in classes with her. Data was shown that his progress was improving in all regular-ed classes, and only declining in 'H's' classes. This data was ignored. When confronted about this fact, 'H' told me: “A decision has been made. No offense, but this is above your pay grade.”
We watched this student’s progress deteriorate over the rest of the year. His attitude, motivation, and self-esteem continued to plummet as he spent more and more time in the classroom with an unstable teacher who seemed determined to make his life miserable (or at the very least, indifferent to consequences of her erratic behavior). The Tier 2 Behavior Support Teacher often lamented the comments this student would make to her regarding the transparently unjust treatment he received at the hands of 'H.' Unfortunately, at the end of the day, keeping the peace with this unstable teacher took precedence over the wellbeing of this (and every other student) in her care.
We won’t get into the illegal, dishonest, and morally bankrupt actions taken by Kevin O’Dea and Dr. Yennie in response to overwhelming complaints about the toxic environment this teacher was creating for students and staff. All that matters here is that they were told, in no uncertain terms, what was happening in 'H’s' classroom, and the untenable environment she was creating for these most vulnerable of students. Myself, an LMS school psychologist, and the Tier 2 Behavior Support teacher all filed detailed complaints about 'H.' In blatant violation of the law and their own district policies, these complaints were ignored by Dr. Yennie and his administration. At the end of that school year, 'H' transferred to the High School, where she would continue to work with students, including the students who had previously been her victims at the Middle School.
We don’t know what the past year or so was like for the student who tragically ended his life last week. We don’t know if he had any other classes with 'H.' Frankly, none of this is germane to the fact that he spent a year of living hell suffering at the hands of an incompetent, unstable teacher, slowly losing all hope for himself and his life in the process. Is 'H' is to blame for his death? No, probably not. But did his year of emotional abuse in her care play a role in his overall self-esteem, and consequently, his will to live? You’re damn right it did. The system designed to protect this bright young man instead put him in the care of an individual who made his life miserable, often through no fault of his own. Then that same system, when alerted to his situation, illegally and unethically ignored his plight, allowed it to worsen, and then allowed his tormentor to continue to work with vulnerable students. This is unacceptable.
It took several days to write this. When I close my eyes, I see this student. I see him showing me one of his drawings, or asking my advice about how to help a friend, or just giving that warm smile he had. I see him, and I see a casualty of the indifference found throughout the administration of the Albany County School District. With available information, it’s difficult to imagine a circumstance where the blame for this tragedy doesn’t at least in part fall under a failure of the education system. The other student who attempted to take his life is also a casualty, in a different way. He was sent from being self-contained and largely successful at Laramie Middle School, to the High School where virtually all support was removed, and he was allowed to flunk not once but twice due to the gross incompetence of whatever passes for a Behavior Support Program at Laramie High School. These are just two out of many, many lives who have been permanently and tragically impacted by this district and its administration. It has to stop. We can’t allow another completely avoidable tragedy like this to take place.
This isn’t about going after a specific teacher. 'H' and her failings are merely a symptom of this broken administration. Schools with functioning, competent administrators typically don’t employ “H's,” and they certainly don’t violate the law and their own policies to ignore complaints about them. If we want to help our students, particularly the most vulnerable among them, it starts with replacing the ACSD1 administration, and going from there. Enough is enough. The choice is ours. For our student’s sake, I hope we make the right one.