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Princeton Superintendent Issues Statement About Fight Involving Student with Autism

Princeton Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane has issued a statement in response to the Planet Princeton story and comments on social media regarding an 11th grader with autism who had to get stitches after a fight at Princeton High School.

“The incident is one we take very seriously and one we investigated promptly and thoroughly,” Cochrane wrote.

“While we are limited in what we can share as a school district, our findings continue to be consistent with what the police reported regarding a mutual altercation between two young men in a hallway,” Cochrane wrote. “There is no evidence of any group assault as is being alleged and discussed by some on social media. We recognize the sensitivity of the situation, and we are committed to supporting the rights and the dignity of each student involved.”

The fight took place on June 16 and police had to be dispatched to the school. Part of the incident was recorded on a cell phone by at least one student, and a student posted a clip on Snapchat, students told Planet Princeton.

There have been conflicting reports regarding whether the fight was mutual. Police said Friday afternoon that two students allegedly engaged in a verbal argument in the cafeteria.  The argument allegedly escalated and the boys walked to a nearby hallway, where they got into a fight. The autistic student was cut in the head, and the other student injured his hand.  According to police, no other students were involved in or took part in the fight, although there were several students present during the fight.

Students supporters of the 11th grader with Asperger’s Syndrome told Planet Princeton that more than one student was involved in the fight, and said the other students did nothing to stop the fight. Students allege that the eleventh grader was invited to the hallway to “show him something.” But other students claim the student with Asperger’s started the fight and tried to fight the entire group of students.

After the fight, the student with Asperger’s Syndrome was allegedly told to stay home for the rest of the term, and the student who hurt his hand in the fight was suspended for two days.

A recent graduate of the high school posted a petition online decrying the incident and calling for an investigation this weekend, but the petition was redacted Monday and the statement on the petition page was removed. The petition had received almost 300 signatures.

Children who have autism spectrum disorders are three times as likely as their non-affected siblings to experience bullying, according to a 2012 national survey conducted by the Interactive Autism Network and Johns Hopkins University. Sixty-one percent of kids with Asperger’s experienced bullying, while 28 percent of children with autism and 37 percent of children with other autism spectrum disorders had been bullied, according to parents who took part in the survey. More than half of the autistic children experienced intentional triggering of meltdowns or had been provoked into fighting back, according to parents.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • FreshAir

    Sad but not surprising to learn that the school’s “solution” may not be balanced enough, to equally support both students in learning more about the need for healthy interaction. Administration’s decision has possibly marginalized justice for the disabled young adult. Parents & educators have a huge role in teaching children compassion. understanding, & healthy decision making. I am posting to remind all parents that our school system doesn’t provide adequate attention to student safety and support. So, as a family, we have dedicated ourselves to discussion of social issues & the needs of others. Our kids seem very thoughtful about, kind & courteous to everyone, as a result. It seems essential that parents fill in the huge gaps the school leaves in educating… but I’m sorry to note that this still doesn’t protect one’s child from being punched or worse.

  • FreshAir

    Thanks for your post, Yash. Your valuable insights are an excellent contribution here.

  • Yash

    Yashas Kulkarni Hi, I’m diagnosed with Gifted Autism and Sensory Processing. Students nowadays don’t do anything to stop the fight. All they do is take out their phones and watch. I read the report above. The child with Aspergers acted in self defense. Aspies take everything anyone says literally. They can’t read between the lines, or differentiate between joke and sarcasm. I know this only because I go to a Social Therapist to learn this. I’ve bullied many times even at the Community College I go to. The family of the Aspie should know, the Autism Speaks center in Princeton has an Autism Responses Team

  • Joann Hardy

    My daughter is 44, so it’s been a while since I had to do an IEP. However, social iskills should be able to be written into the IEP as a related service, or goal, and/or method, which should include support needed. Everything can be measured. Not sure if it is against the rules or just a convenient exclusion. And, God forbid anyone should actually inform the parents about such possibilities.

  • Blake Cash

    Until they find a way to place social skills on a standardized test those skills will not be taught at PHS.

  • Joann Hardy

    Let’s not put it all on teachers. The administration needs to see that schools are adequately staffed to meet ALL the needs of mainstreamed developmentally disabled. Not to mention that they are failing ALL students if they do not teach tolerance and the social skills necessary to be able to truly make a place for the disabled in the community. That’s more important than anything else they will ever learn and will help them deal with other situations..

  • Joann Hardy

    We can’t wait for Karma. Schools need to be prepared to mainstream the disabled appropriately and for the right reasons, not just using mainstreaming as a way to reduce costs.

  • Joann Hardy

    The facts are simple: There was an incident between a disabled and non-disabled student and the school did not handle it well.

  • Joann Hardy

    As a parent of an adult on the autism spectrum I can only express dismay at the failure of PHS to understand the true nature of the challenges ASD students face every day. It is also quite telling that students at PHS have not been adequately educated about ASD and appropriate supervision was absent. Mainstreaming or community inclusion or anything else you may want to call it should not mean just allowing the developmentally disabled access to the community. It needs to include the proper supports. In many ways the greatest challenge is not in the classroom, but in the “unsupervised” interactions among students in hallways, cafeterias, school busses, etc. Anyone with even basic knowledge of ASD should know that social functioning is the most difficult , and it is not only the student with Asperger Syndrome that has the difficulty. If we truly care to include the disabled, we need to educate the public about appropriate ways of interacting, including how not to misinterpret the behaviors of those with ASD. The school system has failed to understand its responsibility. Graduates will go out into the world without the skills to include the disabled in the community or the desire to welcome them into their lives. Building social skills and understanding of others does not only apply to interactions with the disabled. There is too much anger and hate in this world and bias of all kinds needs to be “unlearned”. It is interesting that the ASD student was suspended for the rest of the term and the other party only for a few days. Why? Do they blame the disabled more than those with the capacity to act more appropriately and exert more self-control? Or do they just feel unprepared to do their jobs and decided to tale the easiest, though unfair, solution?

  • Blake Cash

    I suspect there are good teachers at PHS, such would be expected in any random group. My issue is this is not a random group, and the existence of bad teachers is a reflection on the hiring/firing practices and the administration of the school.

    As with any body, the presence of any pollutants pollutes the entire body.

  • FreshAir

    Compassion, yes, Blake. Wish Karma would place compassionate adult staff in PHS student break areas & common areas to monitor, lend support, & share positivity with passing students. Kids do walk through those halls feeling scared or worried. A “hello” & a compliment would mean so much to those who are developing, awkward, outliers, or feeling alone. The adults in charge at PHS are responsible for the injuries incurred in this incident. There are good teachers at PHS who really love the kids & love their jobs… this incident is not sitting well with them or with anyone who cares about our community.

  • Valerie Walker

    i certainly agree with regard with rush to judgement. However, I think that nothing that has been reported has added any more facts. Just another account of multiple, conflicting reports. All we really know is who was involved and the injuries. The author of the Planet article is very careful to use the word “alleged”, and Mr. Cochrane, rightfully, cites district confidentiality, so no hard facts there regarding the origins of the fight. The police reports cited also use the word “alleged”as far as the circumstances. The only thing for sure is what was seen on the recording. I did not see this, but it was described to me by someone who did. Awful in and of itself for sure, but It does not account for what happened before the student got punched. We will likely never know.

  • Blake Cash

    This was not just a fight between boys at the end of the year. Special students means special precautions, so yes, PHS failed.

  • Joe

    I don’t see this as a failure for PHS. Fights do occasionally happen between teenage boys towards the end of the school year. The teachers and staff can’t be everywhere every second of the school day. Perhaps the autistic child is high functioning and incredibly bright, who knows? Perhaps he’s getting extra services, support and counseling? I don’t know, you don’t know. Many of the students appear to have compassion and support for the autistic student and then there are always empathy-less jerks in any setting. It appears that every witness to this fight has a different version of what happened. I guess this an example of the Rashomon effect.

  • Princeton Rez

    The superintendent’s lame statement doesn’t say anything new. The original story had the same “facts.” It’s old news now. That’s why we aren’t wasting our breath complaining.

  • Robert Dana

    One of the most valuable lessons I learned from my great mentor as a young professional was to reserve judgement until you learn the facts.

    I find it interesting that before the facts came out on this story, (as reported in the article above), there were no fewer than 52 comments over a two day period posted in connection with Planet Princeton’s earlier story, which cited the incident but didn’t elaborate on the facts. Many of those comments were negative about PHS, critical of one of the combatants and rushed to judgement with respect to the incident.

    Since the more recent, more fulsome, story came out – almost a day ago – there are only two comments, including mine, which doesn’t count.

    Tells you something about people and our society.

  • Blake Cash

    It is too bad the school felt no obligation to the autistic student. It is wonderful to mainstream the disabled, but in a school setting the learning required by the allegedly normal students needs to include compassion rather than survival of the fittest. I don’t think injuring one’s hands by breaking open another kid’s head is a measure of a “mutual” fight.

    Total failure for PHS, perhaps Karma will settle this one.

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