To my friends of the special needs community: I request your public support on this issue. You can support us in any way you feel is best, from writing a letter to the school board, showing your support on social media by sharing this open letter, contacting the school administration staff themselves to share your dissatisfaction, contacting our local state and area representatives, sharing your own stories, or any other way you deem appropriate for your situation. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Remember, this isn’t about just one child. It’s about raising awareness about the discrimination that special needs children and other marginalized communities deal with on a daily basis and the fights we as parents must endure.
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- Hershel Delane Beckwith, Superintendent
- Paul Lynch, Principal
- Theresa Richardson Clarkton C-4 Special Needs Coordinator
- Clarkton C-4 School District Members
- Congressman Jason Smith
- Ken Jackson, Area Supervisor, Region E, Department of Education & Secondary Education
- Office for Civil Rights, United States Department of Education, KansasCity@ed.gov
- Friends of the Special Needs Community
TL:DR: My son, Winthrop, is 5 years old, and has been diagnosed with autism, sensory processing disorder, and a severe speech delay. He is friendly and popular among his classmates. We allege that since March 2018, Clarkton Elementary school administrators have discriminated against him because of his disability. They won’t recognize our concerns or assure our family the alleged discrimination will stop. We’ve tried being reasonable and spoke privately with them, but they refuse to talk with us unless we speak through our attorney. All we ask is for the school district to honor the civil rights of special needs children.
We learned that, according to the Southeast Missourian website, Superintendent Mr. Beckwith was “charged with [a] felony in the Circuit Court of Camden County” and “arrested on charges of domestic assault” in 2011. The website reports that he “injured [his girlfriend] when he grabbed her by the throat, threw her on the bed and then grabbed her by the hair to drag her back into the couple’s room.” A man named Hershel D. Beckwith pleaded guilty to Assault in the 3rd degree in 2011 according to a search of https://www.courts.mo.gov/. We question why Mr. Beckwith is in a position of power with the ability to be left alone with children.
Update: On August 17, 2018, Mr. Beckwith and the special needs coordinator, Theresa Richardson, refused to enroll our both of our special needs children at Clarkton Elementary for the 2018 – 2019 academic year. They claim its an issue of residency, but as you’ll be convinced below, I believe it’s about discrimination on the basis of disability.
Mr. Beckwith, Dr. Lynch, Ms. Richardson, and Friends of the Special Needs Community,
I’m sorry that it has come down to this: an open letter.
Unfortunately, recent events have occured such that it’s now necessary to publicly air my concerns regarding the conduct of Clarkton C4 school district administrators and elementary school administrative staff.
Although we tried speaking with Mr. Beckwith and Dr. Lynch privately, both have made it clear they do not take our allegations of discrimination against my special needs child seriously nor recognize they erred by refusing to accommodate him during the 2018 summer session as required by both Missouri and United States law.
Hopefully, this open letter will move Mr. Beckwith and Dr. Lynch to listen, perhaps lead them to become more socially enlightened, cause them to educate themselves, or at the very least expose them for the bullies I believe they are.
What’s happened over the past few months is a much smaller microcosm of the social issues that effect the special needs and other marginalized communities, and addressing it privately is no longer an effective or desired option.
In my years as a mother of special needs children, I’ve become deeply aware of the varying levels of experience and harsh microaggressions that exist for different people in America.
In the event Mr. Beckwith and Dr. Lynch aren’t sure what a “microaggression” is, here’s a working definition for the sake of this letter.
Microaggression: indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group (source: Dictionary.com)
At first, this revelation of different experiences really, really surprised me. Then it made me feel physically very, very cold as I realized that others have experienced this for centuries.
I developed empathy.
It made me profoundly sad that these subtle but grossly harmful acts cause innocent children to grow up feeling tiny and expendable.
It spurred me to rethink what I thought I understood about The American Experience.
And I developed a strong desire that no child feel marginalized, isolated, and expendable.
I think unless you belong to a population that experiences these microaggressions, it’s sometimes hard to realize or even believe they exist.
As a social media influencer with expert knowledge to broadcast a message, I feel morally required to leverage the large platform I’ve built to hopefully shed light on these varying levels of experience with my own stories.
Perhaps it’ll help lend a voice to children who cannot speak for themselves, but still feel injustice deeply.
I hope it enlightens Mr. Beckwith and Dr. Lynch, particularly since history teaches us that a socially inclusive and culturally diverse society is one that thrives, innovates, and progresses humanity, while an exclusive and closed culture ensures a dark mindset that limits the development of new ideas and civilization as a whole.
Think: Galileo and the Inquisition.
But we aren’t here to discuss history.
We aren’t even here to discuss how the recent actions taken by Clarkton C4 administrative staff reflect an endemic ignorance about the special needs community.
We’re here to discuss how I believe the actions taken by school administrators Mr. Beckwith, Dr. Lynch, and special needs coordinator Theresa Richardson caused my autistic child to be discriminated against in violation of Missouri and United States law, their continued abuse of their authority, and their refusal to be reasonable, speak with us, and admit their error.
First, let’s look at some background to clarify the matter. It’s a bit lengthy, but please bear with me. You will better understand why I’m concerned at the end.
This also stands as a record of what actually happened, rather than the false truths Mr. Beckwith tried to convince himself occurred.
My 5 year old son Winthrop attended Clarkton C4 in the 2017 – 2018 school year, and also during the 2018 summer school session. Winthrop has been diagnosed with autism, sensory processing disorder, and a severe speech disability. Mr. Beckwith and Dr. Lynch are well aware of these diagnoses, and Winthrop has an IEP in place to address them.
Mr. Beckwith and Dr. Lynch are also aware that he has the language ability of a 2 year old, does not yet speak in full sentences, and cannot tell an adult if he’s in trouble or sick, or what he feels.
Winthrop loves school, his friends, animals, muddy puddles, Paw Patrol, and occasionally ants. He’s terrified of not fitting in. He’s well aware that his speech delay makes him different.
We originally attempted to register Winthrop at Campbell R2 school district, but the administrative staff there said we did not live in their district. They forwarded Winthrop’s files and assessments to the Clarkton C4 school administration, and Winthrop was enrolled in Clarkton C4 Elementary in August 2017.
He was happy and he thrived. He was popular with his classmates and his teacher. He loved his classroom, so much that during weekends, we would have to show him photos of his school to cheer him up.
Then, in March 2018, several months later, we received a letter from Mr. Beckwith explaining that Winthrop did not live in school district C4, and he was no longer eligible to attend Clarkton Elementary School.
We were surprised, because according to our real estate records, we pay taxes into the Clarkton C4 school district.
After some examination, it became clear the district line runs through my horse pasture, and the only house on the property at that time was just outside the school district.
Yep. A grand total of about 200 feet.
When we tried speaking with Mr. Beckwith, he made it clear that unless our house itself was in district or we paid approximately $1,200 tuition, Winthrop would not only be withdrawn from school, but lose access to the speech and occupational therapy he received from the district.
Either Mr. Beckwith was ignorant of, or did not care, that Missouri state education laws require that when a particular school district refuses to provide services for a special needs child, they must pay for a second school district to provide the services.
In our case, because Campbell R2 school district refused to enroll and provide services for Winthrop, whether intentional or not, they became responsible for paying Clarkton C4 district to educate and provide services for my son.
Even though we explained this, Mr. Beckwith maintained we either had to pay the $1,200 tuition or remove Winthrop from school.
At this point, we sought legal help, and through our attorney, informed Mr. Beckwith that, if necessary, we would file for a due process hearing. Only once we pursued legal options did Clarkton C4 administrative staff agree Winthrop could continue to attend classes at Clarkton and access speech and occupational services without paying $1,200 for tuition.
As you might be aware, consistency is key to preserving the happiness of autistic children.
To resolve the question of residency in the future – so my son could stay in the same school district as his friends – I paid nearly $30,000 plus other expenses to establish a second address and for a house to be placed on the portion of my property that’s indisputably within the Clarkton C4 school district.
In other words, I went to the extreme lengths to split my property into 2 separate plots of land with two different 911 addresses and willingly accepted a higher real estate tax bill so my son could be happy and continue to attend his school.
At the end of the spring session, we enrolled Winthrop in the 2018 summer school session.
Winthrop did not adjust to summer school as easily as we’d hoped, so we asked the Clarkton C4 school district to provide additional accommodations.
During the 2018 summer session, despite our repeated requests, the Clarkton C4 School District refused to accommodate Winthrop, in violation of the Americans With Disability Act. We were told that summer school is “enrichment” and they do not need to accept every child into the program or accommodate them.
My husband and I received daily calls from Mr. Beckwith, Dr. Lynch, and the Clarkton Elementary staff – up to 4 times in one day – that amounted to complaints about Winthrop’s behavior.
It was obvious they did not intend to implement any of our suggestions, care about the effects their actions had on his happiness, or think about the behavior they were role modeling for their staff and other students.
They asked us to leave Winthrop at home instead of allowing him to join school field trips with his friends because the school did not want to accommodate him.
They marginalized and excluded him, and created a situation in which he was cast as “different” than the other children, instead of including him as they were legally and morally obligated to do.
They then forced his removal from summer school before the session was over, despite our protests.
I spoke several times with Dr. Lynch, to assert Winthrop’s rights. During our final conversation, even though it’s part of his job to deal with parental concerns, Dr. Lynch became hostile, raised his voice to me, and refused to listen to my concerns.
He repeated that the school did not need to accommodate special needs children during the summer session, which is, again, a patently incorrect claim.
He stated, in a patronizing tone that indicated I did not comprehend the situation, that “your child cannot handle being in a classroom with other children.” Winthrop was present for this discussion.
How can Dr. Lynch claim he cares about children when not only did he marginalize Winthrop, but he insulted a 5 year old boy directly to his face with an accusation proven to be untrue, especially since Winthrop previously thrived at school?
Dr. Lynch continued, and said that unless I speak through our attorney, he would not converse with me further.
In other words, unless I had my lawyer – who Dr. Lynch knows is a man – do my talking for me, my concerns as a mother were invalid.
When I replied that I would file a formal complaint for discrimination based on Winthrop’s disability – which is my right as a parent – Dr. Lynch said “I’m through with you, you need to leave” and escorted me off school property.
These men did not have to deal with nor – I imagine – even consider the fallout:
- After they forcibly removed him from summer school, Winthrop spent the entire next day in bed, crying, because he missed his friends and knew he was treated unjustly for being who he is.
- He has asked every day since to go back to summer school and play with his friends.
Just because he has autism and a speech delay and therefore is foreign and insignificant to Mr. Beckwith and Dr. Lynch doesn’t mean he fails to experience the whole depth of human emotion.
Forget the law for a minute:
Mr. Beckwith and Dr. Lynch, did you take the feelings of a 5 year old boy into consideration when you decided he was an inconvenience?
In an attempt to resolve our concerns without resorting to legal recourse or the court of public opinion, I filed for mediation through the Department of Education and Secondary Education (DESE).
Two weeks after the mediation request was processed by DESE and sent to me, Mr. Beckwith, and Theresa Richardson, the school’s special needs coordinator, I supplied the necessary paperwork to prove residency in the Clarkton C4 school district, and was assured by Clarkton Elementary school staff that the homeowners insurance policy and W4 I provided were enough to establish residency.
I felt confident that these documents were appropriate after being assured in writing by employees at DESE and Mr. Beckwith’s own staff – who showed me a physical list of the documents the C4 district accepts – that they were sufficient.
I did not hear from Mr. Beckwith regarding the mediation request, so I sent him an email to confirm he received it.
The following day, Mr. Beckwith informed us that the proof of residency we supplied wasn’t sufficient, and demanded a water bill and electric bill. He claimed these were the only documents that were sufficient to prove residency, in contrast to the recommendations and assurances in writing we received from DESE and his own staff.
I asked repeatedly to see the school policy that states only electric and water bills are sufficient, and Mr. Beckwith nor his staff would provide them. The school’s policies can be viewed here.
[Update: On August 18, 2018, we received a copy of relevant school policies from Mr. Beckwith via certified mail. Nowhere does it state only an electric or water bill is required to prove residency.]
I believe Mr. Beckwith required an electric and water bill only because he thought we could not supply them and he would not be forced to deal with our mediation request and accommodate Winthrop during the 2018 – 2019 academic year.
We provided the proof of residency Mr. Beckwith required during a meeting on Friday, August 10, 2018, and he concurred this was acceptable.
I would like to mention at this point that there are several children attending Clarkton Elementary – including 3 of my husband’s nephews – that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, do NOT reside in the C4 school district.
My husband’s nephews have not resided in district since 2014. They live full time in Malden, MO with their mother, and, as of the time I write this, they use their great grandmother’s address to attend Clarkton Elementary.
Their great grandmother confirmed this information just this week.
Since their mother maintains social relationships with C4 administrative staff – and tags Clarkton C4 district in posts on Facebook – it’s impossible that every single teacher and school administrator is ignorant of this fact. Yet their mother has not been required to show residency.
This is just a single instance, and I know of many such examples. One student was in Winthrop’s preschool class, and clearly took away a spot from a child who actually lives in district.
Yet to the best of my knowledge, Mr. Beckwith does not investigate any of these circumstances – just Winthrop, who requires accommodation.
As of time I write this, my husband’s nephews are still enrolled in Clarkton for the 2018 – 2019 academic year, as stated by their mother on Facebook:
Because of this hypocritical behavior, I believe Mr. Beckwith is trying to turn our situation into an issue of residency to distract from the obvious elephant in the room:
His alleged discriminatory actions against an autistic child.
But back to the events that bring us to our conversation today.
Again, in order to avoid turning our conflict with Mr. Beckwith and Dr. Lynch into a legal matter with a due process hearing – which would be a great expense to all parties, including those of us who are Clarkton C4 tax payers – my husband and I spoke directly with Mr. Beckwith, who informed us that unless our attorney became involved, he would not attempt to resolve our claims of discrimination nor listen to our concerns.
During this discussion, Mr. Beckwith continued to claim that the district does not need to accommodate special needs children during summer school.
He also claimed he allowed Winthrop to stay enrolled last March – when he tried to force us to pay $1,200 in tuition – because “he cares about children.”
This is typical gas lighting behavior – altering facts to make one’s accusers look unreasonable and oneself appear as the victim.
Mr. Beckwith is not the victim here. The victim is a 5 year old child.
The real reason is the school district’s attorney agreed that the law required Clarkton C4 to accommodate Winthrop.
As we confronted him with this information, Mr. Beckwith became so angry he shook, and after we continued to assert Winthrop’s rights and asked why he made claims that violate the laws of Missouri and the United States of America, he asked us to leave.
Because Mr. Beckwith made it clear that he would not speak with us unless we involved our attorney, as well as information we found out about Mr. Beckwith which I explain below, we withdrew our request for mediation and decided to move forward with a formal complaint with the state on the grounds that we believe the Clarkton C4 school district discriminates against Winthrop on the basis of his disability.
Update: On August 17, 2018, even though we were told on August 10, 2018 that the electric and water bills were sufficient, Mr. Beckwith and the special needs coordinator, Theresa Richardson, refused to allow us to enroll Winthrop in Kindergarten and my daughter, Yael in preschool.
This action was taken after we withdrew our mediation request and chose to proceed with a due process hearing regarding our allegations of the school district’s discriminatory actions.
Now, after that lengthy background, let’s chat about my concerns and questions.
If Mr. Beckwith and Dr. Lynch weren’t aware that if a school district receives Federal and State funding, it is required, unequivocally, to accommodate special needs children in every program it offers to the public, they certainly are by now.
I thank whatever heavens that be that these laws exist, because they protect children from bullies like Mr. Beckwith and Dr. Lynch.
In a separate letter to Mr. Beckwith, I asked how the school district intends to ensure the rights of special needs children are not violated again. I asked for standard operating procedures to be altered and established so the laws of the United States were honored. I asked for staff education, since Mr. Beckwith and Dr. Lynch clearly require it.
I also asked for a profound apology from Mr. Beckwith and Dr. Lynch for their ignorant and hostile behavior the past few months.
During our meeting with Mr. Beckwith on August 10th, 2018, he made it clear he believes he and Dr. Lynch did nothing wrong, and refused to apologize or admit their error.
I think, by now, Mr. Beckwith and Dr. Lynch are the only two people who believe they acted appropriately and within the confines of the law, and I believe they clearly intend to abuse the authority of their position.
So, in a public forum, I ask again.
Mr. Beckwith and Dr. Lynch: How will the Clarkton C4 school district alter its operating procedures, provide staff education, and honor the established laws of Missouri and the United States? How will you ensure special needs children are accommodated without this level of drama?
If you do not plan on answering these questions, if you do not wish to deal with parent concerns, and if you intend to deny children their civil rights, I demand your resignations so someone more suited to the role of Superintendent and Principal can take your place.
We have also been made aware that according to the Southeastern Missourian website, “Hershel Delane Beckwith, 44, of Sikeston, Mo., was charged with the felony in the Circuit Court of Camden County,” in 2011, due to an event which allegedly transpired during the Missouri Association of Secondary School Principals’ spring conference.
According to the officer’s statement and this article, Mr. Beckwith allegedly brought his then-girlfriend on the trip and “Beckwith injured [his girlfriend] when he grabbed her by the throat, threw her on the bed and then grabbed her by the hair to drag her back into the couple’s room.”
“It should be noted there was a strong odor of intoxicants emitting from [Beckwith’s] person and his speech was slurred when he spoke,” [the onsite officer] reported in the court document.”
He was arrested and formally charged.
During our meeting, Mr. Beckwith confirmed this is true.
This knowledge gives context as to why Mr. Beckwith could not maintain his composure during the 15 minute conversation I had with him on August 10th.
It also explains why he demanded to speak with my husband without me.
How a man with this background became involved in the Clarkton C4 school district – which gives him access to defenseless individuals in loco parentis – is beyond me.
Since he is willing to deny a 5 year old boy his civil rights rather than do the right thing, I believe Mr. Beckwith clearly has no empathy for people, limited control of his emotions, zero comprehension of State and Federal laws, and is interested only in saving his own skin.
Well, I’ll stop here.
Leaving aside what I believe are Mr. Beckwith’s questionable qualifications to be around children and women, if Mr. Beckwith and Dr. Lynch will not:
- Respond to my requests
- Develop procedures to safeguard disabled children in their care,
- Properly train their staff, and
- If they only intend to collect a paycheck and avoid inconvenience
then they are in the wrong line of work, and should not be involved in the education sector.
So, I’ll ask one more time.
Mr. Beckwith and Dr. Lynch: What are your plans to resolve this?
I, and the special needs community, await.
Maat van Uitert & Larry Cronan, Jr.
CEO, PCM Media Group
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