Aliyah Melaver, 15, with her parents Tovah Melaver (left) and Edison Wolf (right) at their home in Decatur on Wednesday, May 15, 2019. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

At school for autistic kids, parents say principal failing children

Three weeks after teacher Rocco Carsia’s sudden resignation from Tapestry Public Charter School in August 2018, the school’s governing board received a letter from the state stating he was under investigation for inappropriate conduct with students.

In February, a popular drama teacher was immediately asked to resign after allegations of misconduct surfaced. Jacobi Howard’s dismissal was the last straw for many in the Tapestry community, with many fears his swift termination had more to do with race than the allegations levied against him.

Parents say both incidents represent a failure by the school’s principal, Barbara Boone, to manage the safe space created for students at Tapestry, a modest charter school for grades 6 through 12 located in Doraville that opened its doors in 2014 and where more than half the students are on the autism spectrum.

They have called for her to resign.

“Her leadership poses a risk to our children,” said Tovah Melaver, whose daughter attends the school.

The incidents also are representative of the racial issues parents and staffers, many unnamed for fear of retaliation, say rule the school: Carsia, whose allegations went unresolved for years, is white. Allegations against Howard, who is black, led officials to ask that he resign in less than a week.

Many of the staff members who have left over Boone’s tenure are people of color, according to current and former staff members and parents. They also allege favoritism for the children of board members and prominent donors.

The termination of a beloved teacher at Tapestry Public Charter School in Doraville has opened the door to complaints about racist practices and sexual misconduct among teachers to which parents say leaders have turned a blind eye for years. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Officials have told parents that Boone, who is white, currently is under investigation by the school’s board for allegedly using a racial slur against African-Americans in front of staff members.

“We’ve lost a lot of the very best teachers because [Boone] had not renewed contracts or … terminations,” said Valerie Singer, whose son is a junior and not on the autism spectrum. “She’s made some questionable hiring decisions, including some who were only at the school a couple months before being let go.”

A complaint made about Carsia to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission on Aug. 22, 2018, came from Tonna Harris-Bosselman, the board’s chairwoman, a day after Carsia resigned from the school.

It detailed allegations against Carsia that allegedly persisted for more than two school years. Following the state probe, Carsia’s teaching certification being suspended a year, beginning in February.

Melaver and her wife, Edison Wolf, said their teenage daughter brought concerns to them last spring that Carsia was inappropriate with her and other freshmen girls, saying he would touch her hair, and comment on its curly texture. The teen said Carsia often would rub other students’ backs and shoulders, making them feel uncomfortable. Melaver said she took the allegations to Boone.

“She seemed surprised by what I was telling her,” Melaver said. “She said she had not heard anything like that about him before.”

“Ms. Boone has not properly acted on these many complaints, constituting a failure on numerous levels,” the parents wrote in a letter to the school’s board last summer. “Her lack of understanding or minimization of the gravity of the ongoing touching; her disregard for the effect these boundary breaches have had on students personally and academically…render her unfit to supervise our children and lead our school.”

Through their attorney, school officials declined to comment for this story.

Many parents said they began learning of other issues after Howard, the drama teacher, was removed.

“There was no communication from the school,” parent Rebecca Raymer said about the dismissal. “Then, I started hearing about issues of racism [from other parents and teachers] and touching. And right there, my entire perspective of the school changed.”

Raymer said she remembers the day she received the news her son, Jonah, was taken off the wait list and enrolled at the school. She said her son, who is on the autism spectrum, dealt with depression and anxiety from bullying and harassment by both students and teachers in a previous school district.

“I pulled over on the side of the road and just cried,” she said. “It meant, to me, that he was going to be educated in a safe environment. He would not be bullied. He’s not going to be the only kid on the spectrum.”

Raymer describes her son as high-functioning with some issues socially integrating. Tapestry offered therapeutic support in addition to an inclusive environment. She said his first year was a dream.

However, a third-party investigation looked at misconduct allegations against Carsia and whether there were failures by Boone in addressing the allegations.

The consultants, Education Planners LLC, said they also looked into allegations that the school fostered “a culture of discipline that permits some students to engage in inappropriate behavior sometimes towards other students, often without consequences.”

Investigators said a number of people contacted for the investigation “were either reluctant to participate” or “found it inconvenient to do so.”

The investigators said they substantiated claims that Carsia had been inappropriate with both male and female students and that Boone failed to treat the reports from about Carsia with any credibility.

They also recommended the school’s board commission a survey to examine issues of race, equality and equity at the school.

“There’s just been so much incompetence and she’s just not dealing with the problems properly at all,” Wolf said about Boone. “Ultimately, we want her to go.”

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