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This is Jay Royster from Whitinsville.
He’s a father of 3, a coach, and until recently a teacher at Northbridge Middle School where two of his children are enrolled. I say recently because he lost his job in November after being stabbed by an out of control student while also trying to protect other children from being hurt by this student.
This story first came to our attention when we were alerted to a Facebook post made by his wife in early November.
Normally I’m skeptical of Facebook posts about things that seem so unbelievable that they can’t possibly be true. But at the same time I’ve also worked in public schools for 11 years, so I knew all too well that it was definitely possible that this story was factual. Everything she wrote about schools having different standards of discipline for well behaved students and poorly behaved students is entirely accurate. Kids who were constant behavior problems were seldom held to the same set of standards as kids who never got in trouble. Often administrators and guidance counselors feel empathy for poorly behaved students because they tend to come from bad homes. I can’t tell you how many times I wrote a kid up for smoking in the bathroom or refusing to take his hat off after I asked him 5 million times that day, and I’d get the referral back with, “Spoke with student about this, won’t happen again,” written by the vice principal.
This happens because Presidents Bush and Obama started pushing for school “accountability.” And part of that accountability was making sure more kids graduated on time, less kids failed, and suspension rates decreased. The idea was that schools were failing these kids, instead of the kids failing themselves. And the only cure for this was for the federal government to threaten to withhold funding for schools that were contributing to the “school to prison pipeline” by suspending kids who committed suspendible offenses, and failing kids who failed their classes.
I’ve also seen a lot of ridiculous IEP’s (Individual Ed Plans). These plans spell out accommodations that the student is to receive because of a disability they have. For instance, kids with auditory issues would have to have seats in front of the class. But others were more ridiculous, such not counting missing homework against a kid’s average, not taking points off for spelling mistakes, and letting a kid go and see the school psychologist whenever they were having a bad day. Most of these IEP’s were legitimate, but on some occasions they were abused by students and overzealous parents who threatened to sue you and the school if every accommodation was not met. IEP’s are legally enforceable, and thus schools generally do not let teachers fail kids who are on them.
With that said, I spoke with James Royster about the incident, and confirmed what he told me with other faculty. He began working at NMS that year in a class for behavior problem students, many of who are on IEP’s. All parties agree that the following occurred on October 18:
- A 7th grader, who is slightly larger than an average man, had an IEP that allowed him to sleep for 15 minutes at a time, but set no stipulations as to the amount of time between naps. In theory if the student wanted to sleep for 15 minutes, go to the bathroom, and then sleep again for 15 minutes, this would be allowed by his IEP.
- The IEP also mandates that teachers provide him with soda in order to help wake him up. I’m not even kidding about this part, the IEP basically was calling for teachers to feed the student a stimulant (caffeine) because he didn’t sleep enough at home. No funding was provided for this so teachers had to pay for sodas for him on their own, and the student frequently abused the privilege.
- The student’s sleeping became an ongoing joke, and he would sometimes sleep on the floor. On one occasion another teacher tape marked around his body to make it look like a dead body.
- James Royster taught in the “Connect Program,” which has a lot of behaviorally challenged students. His official position title was Instructional Assistant, and across the hall from him was a classroom with a padded room that his students sometimes went in.
- His class had hour long group therapy sessions with kids, conducted by the District Adjustment Counselor Andrew Balboni and the Board Certified Behavior Analyst Melissa Young. I can tell you from experience that these people are not there to help teachers. They are there to advocate for the kids, and often blame teachers for the student’s behavior.
- Melissa Young often hugged kids and gave them back rubs, which made it uncomfortable for some of the teachers.
- One day, hours after a session, Royster got the student a soda, per his IEP, but minutes later he fell asleep. The teacher attempted to wake him up, but the student refused and told Mr. Royster that he didn’t have to do work that day. Mr. Royster had no choice but to allow this to happen because IEP’s are legally binding.
- The student was snoring loudly, and his pants were coming down exposing his plumber’s crack. He also ended up missing lunch. When Mr. Royster tapped on the desk to wake him up the student was alarmed and yelled, “fuck you I’m not getting up.”
- Per the student’s plan Mr. Royster responded by saying, “that’s not how you’re expected to behave.” I can tell you from experience that nonsense like this is what teachers are often told to say to students by behavioral therapists because it’s nicer.
- The kid ignored Mr. Royster, pushed his desk, walked out of his classroom, and attempted to go into the padded room classroom across the hallway.
- The teacher in the padded room blocked the student from entering, so the student began to open lockers, lie down on the floor in the hallway, and cause a huge scene.
- Soon after that the student began running down the hallway and Mr. Royster attempted to stop him. The student pushed Mr. Royster and punched him in the face.
- At this point the period was ending so students began to pass in the hallways, which created a dangerous atmosphere for all of them. Mr. Royster attempted to wrestle the out of control student to the ground, grabbed his legs, and kept him on the ground.
- Mr. Royster is not trained in taking down out of control students, even though he was placed in a classroom with out of control students. This ultimately is what would cost him his job.
- However, the teacher across the hallway is trained, but he was busy running his class and could not immediately assist.
- Because of the ongoing danger the student posed to himself and others, Mr. Royster walked the student into an empty maintenance room where the student found a screwdriver, jumped onto a table, and stabbed Royster in the arm, forcing him to be in a sling for several days. It did not puncture his skin because he had a thick sweater on, but it caused substantial bruising.
- Finally the other teacher was able to assist in restraining the student, but once he got up he continued to cause a scene by pulling his pants down and exposing his genitalia to other students in the hallway.
- At this point a female teacher, hearing the commotion came over to help and pulled his pants up. The student yelled “fuck you guys” and once again pulled his pants down, exposing his genitals.
- After that the student saw another student drinking from the bubbler and kicked him in the back.
- Mr. Royster is a larger man who coaches and played football, so he tried to tough out the injury. However, at the request of the school nurse the next day she told him to go to urgent care because his arm was so swollen. He provided us with the medical report from urgent care in Milford.
- At no point did anyone in administration at NMS ask him how he was doing, rather the entire focus was on him violating protocol by restraining a violent and out of control student.
- The student was given an ambulance ride with Melissa Young, and despite the fact that Royster was stabbed, another student was assaulted, and multiple students were exposed to a 7th graders genitals, no report was requested from Superintendent Catherine Stickney or Principal John Zywien.
- Mr. Royster contacted both of them to offer a written report about what happened, and neither of them wrote back to him. He attempted to make an appointment with Dr. Stickney but she was not available, nor was Greg Rosenthal, the head of the SPED Department.
- On Monday October 22 Mr. Royster returned to school, and at the end of the day had a sit down meeting with Zywien and Rosenthal, neither of whom asked him how he was feeling despite being stabbed and being referred to urgent care by the school nurse. The entire focus was on the student, and what Royster had done wrong in this volatile episode.
- The student was never suspended despite committing multiple violations that are grounds not only for suspension, but for expulsion. Despite being stabbed by the kid Mr. Royster was willing to have a sit down meeting with the child and his mother to work out a plan to avoid this from happening again, but the school did not follow through. Instead they threw him back in the classroom and expected the student and Mr. Royster to continue on like nothing happened.
- Because he worked in a classroom with so many behavior problems, Mr. Royster asked several times if he could get restraint trained, but he never was.
- Two weeks later Royster’s wife made her Facebook, and he was terminated shortly thereafter. The reasons given in his termination letter was that his wife mentioned confidential information in her Facebook post (mentioning the sleeping accommodation in the student’s IEP, even though she never said the kid’s name), and the use of restraint without proper training.
- Because Mr. Royster had been at the school less than 45 days they could terminate him without cause, and he had no opportunity to appeal it or fight it with the union.
- This story was confirmed by other teachers, all of whom believe it is outrageous that Mr. Royster was a well liked and competent teacher. Many of them feel unsafe working in such an environment because they know that this student is violent and enabled by administration.
- Mr. Royster documented everything that happened in a notebook, which he sent to me. There are several other students whose out of control behavior has also been accommodated and excused by the school and the district’s behavioral therapists.
- The district contested unemployment because they said he was fired with cause. However, upon appeal by Mr. Royster the state looked into and determined that he was terminated without cause, due to the extenuating circumstances of the incident, and would be receiving unemployment. The school is appealing this, even though they know he has a wife and three kids to take care of.
- The teacher across the hall from Mr. Royster was sent a letter by Dr. Stickney to meet with her about why he didn’t restrain the kid before Royster did. In essence, one teacher was fired for restraining a violent and out of control student, and the other was in trouble for NOT restraining the kid. Again, the student was not punished in any way whatsoever.
After the wife’s Facebook post was seen by so many people the superintendent responded by sending out an email to faculty and parents filled with lies in an attempt to cover up the story.
Unfortunately, I am reaching out to you with a heavy heart. I will begin by stating our revised mission again:
The Northbridge Public Schools, in partnership with students, families and the community, provide a robust educational experience that inspires critical thinking, collaboration and creativity. We strive to cultivate resilience, personal responsibility and effective communication skills in all students to ensure their social-emotional well-being and personal success.
Our sole purpose is to educate and care for your children in a safe, secure environment. This takes a team – a village – to do this most important task well. Personal safety, emotional safety, physical safety, and academics – it’s our agenda everyday.
Please know that we take our responsibilities very seriously. We investigate every report or concern. The public is not made aware of official results or consequences due to confidentiality, whether it be for students or staff. I give you my personal assurance that we will always notify families if we feel as though students’ safety may have been jeopardized. I It is unfortunate to know that posts are very often assumed to be true without actually considering the potential validity of the information. Social media posts often raise questions because they don’t provide factual information. We are more than happy to address any questions or concerns that you may have. Please know that recent stories sound extremely alarming. Given student confidentiality, it is most fair to say that students did not face eminent harm. As you know, if there was a concern for student or staff safety, we would have utilized a lock-down. Mr. Zywien would have followed up with a Connect Ed call.
Please know that we have the staff and students’ best interest at the forefront of all of our actions. If at any time you have concerns, please assist us by making a phone call instead of reacting or speculating based on a social media post. We encourage you to be involved in the operation of the schools. The District Advisory Council meets quarterly, and all are welcome. You are also welcome to attend a School Council meeting at each building.
Parent were not alerted about the incident because in her opinion “student safety” was not jeopardized, even though several student were sexually harassed via flashing, and another student was assaulted at the bubbler, as was witnessed by faculty. So this is either a lie, or her idea of what is and isn’t a safety issue is completely off base.
Additionally, she tries to blame it on social media and plays the “fake news” card. Unfortunately for her everything in the wife’s post turned out to be true.
I’ve been working on this story for a while now because I wanted to make sure I got it right. Everything above has been confirmed and is verifiable. The school will not comment because of confidentiality reasons, and because schools avoid bad publicity like the plague.
What happened to James Royster is an injustice. He was stabbed and assaulted by a student, required medical care, and wasn’t even asked how he was feeling by his superiors. Instead they looked for ways to blame him and ended up terminating him, just because they could. Remember that the next time someone tells you that there’s no reason for teacher’s unions. They could get away with doing this to him because he had been there less than 45 days, but if there were no unions they’d do this to every teacher.
This story is everything that is wrong with public schools today. Because of the top-down mandates from Washington, schools hire administrators who specialize in creating good data. And that means less suspensions, less kids failing, and more “accountability” for teachers like Royster. This manifests itself at places like NMS when violent students are allowed to stay in school because administrators don’t have the guts to stand up to Boston and Washington.
It doesn’t just affect the teachers either; it directly endangers the safety and well being of other students. Let’s not forget, a student was assaulted by the offending student. That student’s parents were never alerted that this happened. Nor were the parents of the countless students who were forced to look at a 7th graders genitals against their will. These are crimes that Northbridge Middle School swept under the rug in the name of confidentiality.
Then there’s the fact that the got in trouble for telling his wife what happened at work. The idea that you can’t tell your wife anything about your work life due to confidentiality is equally absurd. Why are we treating teachers like they’re in the CIA? How was he supposed to explain the sling on his arm to his wife and kids? His wife never mentioned the name of the student, she just saw an injustice and had the nerve to speak out about it. And for that they fired her husband.
This is why I started this blog anonymously instead of using my real name – because public servants have no free speech rights in this country. Every day teachers, firefighters, nurses, EMTs, cops, and anyone who deals with at-risk populations are subject to behavior like this. They are not allowed to tell their stories for fear of losing their jobs, so we will tell it for them.