Abuse of Zacharion Townsend by Teacher

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Anthony Townsend started this petition to Principal Cafer Cengiz and

My name is Anthony Townsend Sr. 

My 7  year old son, Zacharion Townsend, has been singled out, ostracized, isolated and subjected to psychological and emotional harm at the hands of one of the adults in his life that he thought he could trust most to have his best interest in mind; His 2nd grade teacher, at Concept School, Horizon Math and Science Academy - McKinley Park.

On May 30th, I was called into a conference with the Dean of Students (Ms. Tatierra Bivens), his teacher (), his PE teacher, and  significant other (Kale Graham), the school Social Worker (Rachel Graham), and his classroom teacher’s assistant and afterschool care provider (Ms. Gamboa). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss his destruction of school property. He’d ripped a page in a book, and made some scratches in his desk and a file cabinet. During what turned out to be an extremely hostile dynamic and volatile meeting, there was an attempt to paint my son as a troubled and destructive child with zero respect for staff or school property. During this meeting I was disrespected by  as I was being questioned with inferences that he was from a broken home as if we were not together and both extremely active in his life. She admittedly told me during this meeting that she was continuously telling my 7 year old that he needed to tell his mother to take him to therapy for mental challenges and anger issues and that perhaps he should be on medication. She became defiant and highly brazen with me reminding her that she was extremely inappropriate and not qualified to diagnose my son, let alone have that sort of conversation with him in class. Coming to her defense was Kale Graham, with accusations that Zacharion was dangerous due to his exposure at home to violent cartoons, based on private conversations he and held outside of the school setting. Because this meeting was taking place with only two weeks of school left, I asked for any existing documentation showing that he had any behavior issues throughout the year, or any year for that matter, and was told he has never had an issue until the last couple of weeks leading up to the meeting.

Zacharion and I both not only acknowledge that he should not have damaged the property but he has expressed extreme remorse for his actions. He feels terrible about acting in this manner and we have been working on understanding and controlling emotions.

A week before, his mother was called to the school and was told our child is in need of therapy for mental challenges and anger issues. While taking a classroom vocabulary test, he wrote on the top of his test “Please take me to a therapist please” and was diagnosed on the spot by his teacher creating the narrative of having an emotional disorder of some sort. She was also presented with a spelling quiz where he wrote a message directly to , at the bottom of the page, “become nice”, “are you sure your nice” and “your not my friend”.  He also drew a circle and inside, wrote the message, place sticker here; Naively expecting a “good job sticker” for knowing every word on the spelling test. His communication was met with a return message from her stating, “Maybe we should try this one again”. His plea to his teacher to become nicer to him not only went unaddressed, but was the ultimate sign of betrayal from arguably the most significant adult his life, aside from his parents, in his 7 year old, second grade life.

On the night of Sunday, June 2nd, I spoke in depth to my son and he finally helped me understand what has been taking place in his classroom. He confided that he is made to feel lonely and separate from the rest of the class and has been placed in a position that has the other kids in class to treat him differently, articulating the following during our conversation:

“Everybody has a caddy on their table except me. All I have is a pencil holder to keep my pencil in place. When we are in art or indoor recess because it is raining, I have to go to each table to ask for things and as a 7 year old that can be annoying”.

“Annoying for who? Are you annoyed or are the other kids annoyed with you?”

“They are annoyed with me. They say that I am always begging and tell me to go ask someone else or get my own stuff. They used to be my friend and now they are not anymore.”

“What stuff? What is in the caddies that you need?”

“Sometimes I want color markers, glue scissors and stuff like that.”

“Do these things belong to each student? You need me to buy you some stuff?”

“No they belong to the class.”

“So everyone has their own caddy except you?”

“No, each group has a caddy with supplies. I don’t have a group.”

“Why not?”

“Because everyone else has their desks together in a group and I have an individual desk all by myself.”

“How long have you been sitting alone?”

 “What month is this?”

“Today is June 2nd. We just got finished with May.”

“Well, let’s just say for some months.”

 “That is not ok.”

“I know, but I’ve come to expect it now.”

Monday morning (June 3rd) I was unsure and afraid of taking my son to school and instead tried to arrange a meeting with the school principal. Only to be told several times that he was unavailable by office staff. I kept my son from school that day.

Tuesday (June 4th) I took my son to school and accompanied him to his classroom to have a clear picture of his learning environment. I was horrified to learn that he has been placed at a desk, pushed up against the wall, in between a file cabinet and lockers with his back to the class. I took pictures of the classroom and was in utter disgust at how he was being treated. Each grouping of tables had a different color caddy and each group of students were referred to as the blue team, green team, etc. When the teacher,, blatantly and proudly told me that my son started giving his desk its own name and pretending he was a part of a team and I saw the look of embarrassment and shame on his face, I died inside. I walked him over to the school book fair ahead of the rest of the class and bought $60+ in his favorite books. He said he wanted to stay in the book fair with the rest of the class while they all perused the selections. I was so heartbroken by his need to be with the class that I hurriedly left, all most in tears.

Wednesday (June 5th) I went to the school and asked to speak with the principal, to again be told he is not here. I asked was there an assistant principal and was told that it is a Turkish Holiday for them and neither would be in. I asked for the Dean, Tatierra Bivens and was told she does not usually come in that early (8: 00 AM) but I could check her office. She was not in. I had my son walk me to the office of the school counselor, Rachel Graham,  hoping she would understand and help. I told her it was unacceptable and I would not allow him to continue to be subject to the demeaning treatment that he had been suffering for so many months. She seemingly agreed and walked us over to the next building only to stop just short of entering to express her concern. She stated that it was awkward for her to go into the classroom and ask that he be moved. She did not want to embarrass him. I told her that she appeared to be more concerned with challenging but reluctantly agreed to wait outside of the building until she finished. She returned only to tell us that refused to include him in the rest of the class and could only move him to a different, isolated area that would allow him to face the rest of the class but he could “work his way back up into her good grace”. I refused the insensitive and belittling offer and took my son home. He was upset that that was missing a class party to celebrate the NWEA testing, which he out-performed the entire class on.

FYI: Zacharion is exceeding in every area of educational subject, so much so, they had to relocate him from the rest of the class during math so that he could start learning Geometry.

Today (June 6th), he did not return to class. I will not further subject him to additional damages at the hands of such a disgrace of an educator, without a full investigation into his situation.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education Non-Curricular Health and Safety Requirements Applicable to Charter Schools (September 1, 2016):


(105 ILCS 5/34-18.20) 
    Sec. 34-18.20. Time out and physical restraint. Until rules are adopted under Section 2-3.130 of this Code, the use of any of the following rooms or enclosures for time out purposes is prohibited: 
        (1) a locked room other than one with a locking
mechanism that engages only when a key or handle is being held by a person;
        (2) a confining space such as a closet or box; 
        (3) a room where the student cannot be continually
observed; or
        (4) any other room or enclosure or time out procedure
that is contrary to current guidelines of the State Board of Education.

In December of 2018, Zacharion proudly launched his own Anti-Bullying campaign that has reached and impacted people across the nation. He wanted to share his message with the world to simply “Stop Bullying”. His campaign has had a huge impact on families across Chicago and he has been preparing for his Anti-Bullying Back to School Rally in August.

He has maintained, when repeatedly questioned about whether he has been bullied by classmates, that he himself has not experienced it. He wanted only to spread the message to help. Not until now have we learned that he was afraid to say that the bully eating at the heart of his 6 month long campaign has been his teacher,.

Teacher to Student Bullying; that is what this is about. 

(105 ILCS 5/27-23.7) 
    Sec. 27-23.7. Bullying prevention.
    (a) The General Assembly finds that a safe and civil school environment is necessary for students to learn and achieve and that bullying causes physical, psychological, and emotional harm to students and interferes with students' ability to learn and participate in school activities. The General Assembly further finds that bullying has been linked to other forms of antisocial behavior, such as vandalism, shoplifting, skipping and dropping out of school, fighting, using drugs and alcohol, sexual harassment, and sexual violence. Because of the negative outcomes associated with bullying in schools, the General Assembly finds that school districts, charter schools, and non-public, non-sectarian elementary and secondary schools should educate students, parents, and school district, charter school, or non-public, non-sectarian elementary or secondary school personnel about what behaviors constitute prohibited bullying.

Bullying on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, physical or mental disability, military status, sexual orientation, gender-related identity or expression, unfavorable discharge from military service, association with a person or group with one or more of the aforementioned actual or perceived characteristics, or any other distinguishing characteristic is prohibited in all school districts, charter schools, and non-public, non-sectarian elementary and secondary schools. No student shall be subjected to bullying:
        (1) during any school-sponsored education program or
        (2) while in school, on school property, on school
buses or other school vehicles, at designated school bus stops waiting for the school bus, or at school-sponsored or school-sanctioned events or activities;
        (3) through the transmission of information from a
school computer, a school computer network, or other similar electronic school equipment; or
        (4) through the transmission of information from a
computer that is accessed at a nonschool-related location, activity, function, or program or from the use of technology or an electronic device that is not owned, leased, or used by a school district or school if the bullying causes a substantial disruption to the educational process or orderly operation of a school. This item (4) applies only in cases in which a school administrator or teacher receives a report that bullying through this means has occurred and does not require a district or school to staff or monitor any nonschool-related activity, function, or program.

Zacharion has suffered “psychological and emotional harm” from being placed in such harmful and uncivil learning environment.

Later in the code on Bullying Policy: (The entire code can be found here.)

"Bullying" includes "cyber-bullying" and means any severe or pervasive physical or verbal act or conduct, including communications made in writing or electronically, directed toward a student or students that has or can be reasonably predicted to have the effect of one or more of the following:
        (1) placing the student or students in reasonable
fear of harm to the student's or students' person or property;
        (2) causing a substantially detrimental effect on the
student's or students' physical or mental health;
        (3) substantially interfering with the student's or
students' academic performance; or
        (4) substantially interfering with the student's or
students' ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school.

Zacharion is an exceptionally bright and gifted child. He loves reading, adores learning and despite what he has been put through, looks forward to going to school each and every day. He is an absolute creative, who loves to draw, author his own books and create sculptures out of Lego’s. He is and always will be one of the most respectful and conscientious children you will ever meet. His caring, kind and friendly soul fuels his sense of justice and his genuine concern for others.

He does not have a behavioral problem. His only challenge is that he sometimes has trouble with coordination and tasks, so some things take him longer than most kids. He taught himself to tie his shoes using a slightly different method that works for him. He is able to achieve the same bow only it takes him a bit longer. He struggles with his handwriting. Depending on what uniform pants he wears, he may need an extra minute or two for the zipper and/or button. Because of these things he has been marginalized and belittled for holding up the class when transitioning, forced to rush out of the restroom and be humiliated in front of the class before he has had a chance to prepare himself appropriately (By Kale Graham, Boyfriend/ Husband to ), isolated from his classmates, exiled to a fabricated and demeaning learning space where he has been on virtual display for the rest of the students, excluded from class trips, made to sit in the hall to study alone and has been told by his teacher to tell his mother to take him to counseling. He has been completely ostracized and made to feel invalid. He is the only African-American boy in class and has been subjected to a hurtful power dynamic. He is not even given the dignity of being called by his name, Zacharion, which is closely associated with Zachariah in the Bible. Instead he is called Zack.

The dynamic created was racist, classist, prejudiced and egregious. This was a clear instance of a team of bullies, led by , implementing and utilizing collective intimidation tactics that were upheld and reinforced by key staff.

Multiple representatives of the school have blind sided our family and created disparate situations for my son that forced him to resort to negative attention seeking because he could find no other remedy.  He attempted to reach out to her with kindness, and she returned his kindness with spite. When he tried to speak up, the teacher and school failed him miserably and ensured he was intentionally ignored.

 acted with malice aforethought in seperating my child from the rest of his classmates, exiled and quarantined him, virtually caging him between class furniture and forcing him to face a wall all day long staring at her hand-written, bullet point reminders on large post-it paper: 

·         by yourself

·         looking at your paper

·         quiet mouth

·         thinking about what you are writing

·         staying in one spot

Along with her reminders of how she was operating behind him: 

·         watching

·         listening

·         working with students

Her intentionally cruel methods were carried out for months without any notice to me or his mom and with no behavioral issues that warranted her behavior. 

should not be teaching Zacharion or any other student for that matter.

I am not only asking for an immediate investigation into the mistreatment of my son, I am calling for the swift termination of and non-renewal of her teacher’s contract by Horizon Science Academy – McKinley Park and Concept Schools.

Thank you in advance for your support!

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