Arizona third-grader Cassandra Garcia came home with an end-of-term award no parent wants their child to receive -- the "catastrophe award" for the most excuses for not having her homework done. The award was signed with a smiley face from her teacher.
Needless to say, Cassandra's mom, Christina Valdez, was not impressed:
"I was so ticked off," she tells the Toronto Star. "She said the teacher announced the award in front of the whole class and all the kids laughed at her."
Valdez insists she regularly checks her daughter's homework and that Cassandra even attends an after-school homework program.
"It's not the case that I was MIA. I am there 24-7 with my kids and they do have a routine that they follow with homework and things they have to do around the house," Valdez tells ABC news, defending herself against the criticism that surfaced when the story went viral.
"There are a few assignments that weren't turned in and I didn't know of because Cassandra didn't write them in the homework book," she adds.
The principal at Desert Springs Academy shrugged off the award as simply joking between teacher and student. Valdez says she's still waiting for an apology from the school.
The award sparked an online debate about the responsibilities of parents and teachers — and questioned whether the award could be considered a form of bullying.
Was the intent to humiliate? Was it to make Cassandra an example in order to motivate her peers?
"I think it's cruel and no child should be given an award like this," Valdez says. "It's disturbing."
Experts, bloggers, and parents nationwide are weighing in:
"That isn't an award. It doesn't fit the criteria," psychologist Sheri Bauman at the University of Arizona College of Education tells KGUN9, adding that negative awards — even ones made in jest — are inappropriate, especially for young students. "They feel less than, they feel fearful of authority of what might happen if they make a mistake."
The Stir's Julie Ryan Evans argues that Valdez's knee-jerk reaction is perhaps more damaging to Cassandra than the award itself:
"Look, while I don't think the award was the best move on the teacher's part, I think the mom's reaction will do a lot more damage to the girl in the long run. Instead of just telling her to brush it off as a bad joke, she's teaching the girl to take herself way too seriously," Evans writes.
Other commenters support the teacher for calling out lack of responsibility in a light-hearted manner. Others call the award passive-aggressive.
BabyCenter blogger Denise Cortes acknowledges that most teachers work with parents in the quest to see homework completed. Did Cassandra's teacher connect with Valdez throughout the year to address why Cassandra wasn't completing assignments on time?
Valdez is not planning to enroll Cassandra in the same school next year.
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