Gaston County teacher accused of bullying autistic student over physical appearance

- A Gaston County mother claims her autistic son has repeatedly been bullied at school, not by another student, but by his now former teacher, who she says repeatedly called him homophobic slurs, and called him useless in front of the class.

FOX 46 Charlotte will not be identifying the teacher in this report.

Amanda Pettus’ 14-year-old son Alex Davis is an 8th grader at William C. Friday middle school. Davis has Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism, and last week, Pettus said she pulled him out of class after months of repeated bullying from his own teacher, primarily about his physical appearance.

Davis typically wears his hear in a “man bun” style.

“He said I can’t have my hair up like that because I’m not a girl, or I’m not a fag,” Davis said.

Pettus told FOX 46 that as a mother, what her son was telling her was hard to believe at first.

“You want to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt, and figure they’re just playing around,” Pettus said.

But Pettus said the complaints from her son kept coming, including a time when Davis said he answered a question correctly, and the teacher mocked him in front of the class.

“He said ‘so you’re not completely useless’. I thought okay, well maybe I’m not, and he was like ‘just most of the way’, and then I felt like, well, maybe I am useless, but I did answer the question correctly,” Davis said.

Davis told FOX 46 Charlotte the teacher continued to harass him about his hairstyle, even going as far as physically pulling hair ties out of his hair.

“He said get that crap out of your hair, and then I took it down, and I put it back up because my mom told me he can’t tell me I can’t have my hair up or down because it’s my hair, and then he took the hair belt away from me.”

“My first thought is assault, why are you touching my child?” Pettus said. “That’s when I decided let’s send him with a cell phone and record this.”

Davis told FOX 46 he turned the phone’s recorder app on during class one day when he says the teacher began asking him if he had permission from his mom to wear his hear in a man bun.

“He asked, did you bring your note today? And I said no my mom emailed it to you, and he says no she didn’t, I said yes she did, he says no she didn’t, and he was like, get out, I asked why, and he was like because, and then the whole class starts laughing,” Davis said. “Then he says, I’m gonna give you the benefit of the doubt, one benefit of the doubt, and if your mother makes a big deal out of this, it’ll suffer for the whole class, then he goes back to teaching.”

“My first thought was why is this such a big thing?” Pettus said. “I was glad I finally sent him with the recorder.”

Pettus said she emailed the teacher to confront him about the alleged bullying, and received a response from him which said in part:  “As far as insulting Alex, or any other student for that matter, that is something I would never do.  I have no recollection of calling Alex or any other student for that matter "not completely useless".  I try to keep a light atmosphere in my classroom and like to have fun with what we do.  I don't insult students, but I do tell jokes from time to time to try to keep things from getting too stuffy or serious in my classroom.  This is the first e-mail I've ever gotten that notifies me of hurting children's feelings, but if I've done so, I apologize.  I enjoy having Alex in class and am pleased with his progress.  I just ask that he gives his best effort on everything.  I really think he didn't give his best effort on the most recent STAR test because I told the students they could play a game when they were finished, and this may have caused him to rush.”

That email was sent back in January, and Davis said the bullying continued up until last week, when his mom decided to pull him out of the teacher’s class.

Pettus provided FOX 46 Charlotte with emails and recordings where she says she brought the issue up to school administrators, but she claims nothing was ever done.

“I have been to the vice principal, I spoke to the principal on the phone, she refuses to meet with me, and now she doesn’t return my calls at all,” Pettus said. “I have spoken to the school board, left messages with the Superintendent, nothing is being accomplished. I’m not looking for this guy’s job or anything like that, but something needs to be handled.”

The teacher accused of the bullying never responded when FOX 46 reached out to him for his response to the allegations.

His employer, Gaston County Schools, disputed the allegations, and would only tell FOX 46 Charlotte that the teacher has no prior disciplinary action, and that the school does not have any information to support the story that the mother and son are telling.

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