Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Local autistic student suspended for drawing of a bomb

At left: Rhett Parham, student suspended from Hillcrest Middle School.

On our radio show today, we interviewed Amy Parham, mother of 13-year-old Rhett Parham, who has been suspended from Hillcrest Middle School in Simpsonville, SC, for drawing a picture of a bomb.

Rhett has autism and greatly enjoys drawing pictures. His picture is based on one of his favorite video games, Bomberman 64, a Nintendo game from the 90s. He watches it on YouTube and likes to draw what he sees. Amy told us, "I am not fully believing that this is actually happening." Certainly, she isn't the only one, and supporters all over upstate South Carolina have come to Rhett's defense. She and Rhett have been interviewed by WSPA, FoxCarolina, and several other radio shows besides ours.

Apparently, Rhett told other students he "had a bomb"--when he was referring to the picture. People with autism are often very "literal-minded" and to Rhett, having the picture and "having a bomb" are synonymous, said his mother.

WSPA reports:
Rhett, who has autism, got suspended from Hillcrest Middle School in Simpsonville on Monday for telling people he had a bomb and showing them a drawing based on the video game.

“I said, 'Are you kidding me?'" said his mother Amy Parham.

Parham said her son poses no threat and is not capable of actually making a bomb.

“I don't really think he understands the brevity of this whole situation because of his disability.”

Greenville County Schools denied 7 On Your Side’s request for an on-camera interview, but sent us a statement that reads in part: “This investigation began when threatening comments were made, resulting in the responsible removal of the student from the school to ensure everyone's safety while the incident and intent were assessed.”

"Principals are in a very difficult spot with this. They have a lot of interests that they're trying to juggle," said Janet Stein, Director of the South Carolina Education Association's member advocacy program.

Stein used to do crisis prevention training for North Carolina schools.

She said Hillcrest Middle's Principal did what he had to do in order to protect the school and its students.

“If he had not done what he did and had decided that student didn't mean it, it doesn't mean anything -- if something had happened, the district would have been accountable for that," said Stein.

Parham said she's looking into whether she should transfer her son to a different school, but Rhett said he wants to stay at Hillcrest Middle.
Tomorrow there will be a "manifestation hearing" to determine if Rhett's behavior was caused by his disability. If the school decides that it was not, Rhett can face disciplinary action and the suspension may be permanent.

And here is the bomb drawing (below), which looks like one of the many bombs thrown by Wile E. Coyote in the cartoons:

If you would like to help out, contact Greenville County Schools superintendent W. Burke Royster and let him know how you feel.
Telephone: 864-355-8860
e-mail: wroyster@greenville.k12.sc.us

Amy Parham is now using the bomb-picture as her Facebook profile picture, as are many of her supporters.


EDIT AND UPDATE 10/16/2013: Rhett Parham's suspension has been lifted and his absences excused by the county. GREAT NEWS! What I have learned from this: how crucial it is for parents of disabled students to have a support network in place before these types of incidents occur. Amy was able to get the word out quickly to activists like Traci Fant ((waves at Traci!)) who was on our show today.

We are glad we were able to help out, and thanks to everyone else who participated, reblogged, gave us a +1 on Google and all of that stuff. (((hugs)))

It really does take a village.