'Most Annoying Male' award given to Bailly Preparatory Academy fifth grader

Gary parent Rick Castejon says this award was given last month to his 11-year-old son, who has autism, at a Bailly Preparatory Academy awards lunch.

GARY — New documents released Friday by the Gary Community School Corp. detail two teachers' creation and one principal's failure to review a "Most Annoying" trophy given to two Bailly Preparatory Academy students at an awards luncheon last month.

A week ago, Gary schools announced it had issued notice of contract cancellation for three Bailly employees — fifth-grade teachers Bianca Jones and Crystal Beeks, as well as Alexis Anderson-Harper, who taught the Bailly fifth-grader's special education class.

A similar notice was issued to Bailly Principal Carlita Royal on Tuesday, Gary Emergency Manager Pete Morikis said in an advisory board meeting later that night.

Gary schools shared copies of all four notices Friday with The Times, painting a picture of internal investigations into the events surrounding the May 23 luncheon at the Golden Corral in Merrillville.

'Most Annoying' trophies

The district brought on Michelle Cooper, an education attorney with the law firm Lewis Kappes, to assist its internal Human Resources Department with an investigation of last month's luncheon.

Jones and Beeks were responsible for creating the trophies given to two Bailly fifth-graders, one a general education student and another with autism, according to the district's investigation. A third teacher, identified as Anderson-Harper, handed the trophies to the students on the day of the luncheon.

The Times could not reach Jones, Beeks and Royal for immediate comment Friday.

Anderson-Harper, who admits to handing trophies to students at the May 23 lunch, told The Times last week she believes she is being made a scapegoat for the incident, which has garnered national attention.

The Bailly teacher said her role in the awards celebration was handing paper ballots to her students for superlative voting prior to the Merrillville Golden Corral lunch and then handing those ballots over to other teachers in the building.

She said she was not involved in the creation of the ballots, including designations such as "Most Friendliest," "Most Sleepiest" and "Most Talkative." Anderson-Harper told The Times she did not know how ballots were calculated among the two general education and one special education fifth-grade classes and that she was unaware Rick Castejon's son, who has autism, would be selected for "Most Annoying."

Withheld information

The district's notice given to the Bailly principal further details Gary schools' investigation of the May 23 incident following a complaint from the parents of the 11-year-old student with autism handed the "Most Annoying" trophy.

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Royal met with all teachers involved in the complaint following a parent's message raising concerns the same evening of the awards luncheon, according to district documents. Royal reportedly told Morikis and outside legal counsel that her conversations with the family of the student — including a phone call with the student's mother May 24 — were positive.

However, the investigation later found Royal failed to disclose an "in-person verbal conflict" with the mother of the student given the award at Bailly Preparatory Academy the morning following the awards lunch.

"You have a duty to always maintain professional communications and interactions with parents of your students," Royal's notice of contract cancellation reads. "By failing to handle yourself in a professional manner toward the student's mother when she came to your office, you neglected this duty."

The investigation also found that Royal failed to approve the creation of the trophies, as had been her practice with prior awards.

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Royal told investigators she did not ask to approve additions to the Bailly fifth-grade luncheon ballots because these awards had been given to students before she became the school's principal and she assumed the new awards created would be acceptable, according to Gary documents.

The principal told investigators had she been given prior knowledge of the award additions this year, she would not have approved the "Most Annoying" designation, according to documents.

"As the building principal, it was your duty to pre-approve the student award before they were handed out," the Gary notice reads. "By failing to do so prior to the May 23, 2019 luncheon event, you neglected your duty. Because of your neglect, you allowed an inappropriate and disparaging award to be given out to students."

Firing process

All three teachers and the principal have been given the right to seek meetings with Gary Deputy Superintendent Nakia Douglas and Morikis prior to contract cancellation. Gary schools spokeswoman Chelsea Whittington said Jones, Beeks and Royal have requested meetings with the deputy superintendent and Anderson-Harper has requested a meeting with the Morikis.

The meetings have not been scheduled yet, Whittington confirmed Friday afternoon. 

Anderson-Harper's attorney, Rinzer Williams III, told The Times last week he and his client are "prepared to take every legal action necessary to give Ms. Anderson her good name back."

Gary advisory board members apologized to members of the Castejon family, who sat in the front row of the board's public meeting Tuesday night.

"It is not acceptable," Vice President Larona Carter told the Castejons. "This is not an isolated incident. However, we are moving forward in trying to do better."

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Education Reporter

Carley Lanich covers education in Lake County and throughout the Region. She comes to Northwest Indiana from Indianapolis and is an IU-Bloomington grad.