When his phone calls to administrators were not returned, Caracciolo, 45, felt like he was being stonewalled by an unfeeling bureaucracy. "They could have easily just made the phone call," he says. That simple reply might have saved Franklin from what followed: A flood of letters to Principal John Jackson, Superintendent Joseph Olchefske, and various other teachers, lawyers, and officials at Seattle Public Schools, copies of which Caracciolo keeps carefully filed in a green folder labeled, simply, "Jackson." Most of the letters are "more vinegar than honey," he says.
His overzealous behavior has started to alarm administrators. After Caracciolo visited the school in early November, talking to students in the lunch room without a visitor's pass, Jackson gave him a formal order to stay off campus. Franklin staff says Caracciolo's initial interest in the special education program exploded into a crusade against any perceived shortcoming at the school. "Dan's got a couple of issues," one teacher said. "He's trying to find anything and everything he can with [regards to] problems with Franklin."
Indeed, Caracciolo, a professional butler, has cast a wide net. In a January 10 letter to Superintendent Olchefske, using bold-face letters, he blasts school leadership, overcrowding, the detention system, lunch hours, hiring practices, and diversity training at Franklin. (He says the school's policy of having students wipe cafeteria tables for detention "uses humiliation to coerce students into behaving.") He has requested a meeting with school board officials to contest his expulsion from Franklin's campus; and he plans to film the meeting for a documentary. When discussing particular aspects of his mission, his voice drops to a whisper, and he uses phrases like "my investigators tell me."
Though extreme and annoying, Caracciolo's gadfly persistence may not be entirely misplaced. After all, problems with violence in schools (and in special education classrooms in particular) are real. Last December, in a Federal Way school, a 16-year-old boy with developmental disabilities allegedly punched his teacher repeatedly in the face. The boy is now in the care of Washington's courts. Meanwhile, another "Columbine" was barely averted last December in New Bedford, Massachusetts, when five high school students were arrested after their massacre plot was exposed. Franklin has also seen its share of violence. In October, the school was locked down and flooded with law enforcement after a student reported being robbed at gunpoint inside the school.
Caracciolo, a tidy, slightly rotund man, is no doubt concerned for children; he cannot describe his worries about Franklin students without some tears. He says the school's failure to appropriately monitor its special-needs students is endangering the entire school, including his daughter, currently a freshman. The threat that startled Caracciolo came in October, after a student with behavioral disorders said he would bring his grandmother's gun to school. The student was suspended, and the event is still undergoing review, though large portions of the proceedings are not disclosed--to protect the child's privacy, Franklin administrators say. But Caracciolo says Franklin's reaction was unsatisfactory, calling it part of a pattern of cover-ups and threats at the school. Caracciolo is not simply relying on his "investigators" and "sources" to detail the "cover-up." In this instance, the angry father is upset about his own experience with the school.
Caracciolo tells it like this: While observing a special-education class in late September, he witnessed a group of students taunting a ninth-grader with a litany of anti-gay slurs and physical abuse. One of the boys pushed Caracciolo against a wall when he tried to intervene; all of the students in the class have behavioral disorders. Caracciolo reported the harassment to the teacher.
"These kids had pegged this kid as the one to go after," he says. Caracciolo did not hear back from the teacher, and his impression of the school began to sour. In October, Caracciolo heard that the boy who had been harassed made the gun threat. Caracciolo began to fear for his daughter. School administrators assured him that measures for dealing with harassment were built into the students' curriculum. Caracciolo decided that school policies on harassment were being disregarded, and began his inquiries.
He says that last week, in the same classroom, there was another gun threat, which required the use of restraints on a student. Franklin teachers say no such threat occurred.
Franklin administrators claim Caracciolo is simply experiencing culture shock. Before he started volunteering at the school, Caracciolo had been actively involved at his daughter's small, private middle school. Franklin administrators say Caracciolo's lack of experience with behavioral disorders and urban public schools led him to overreact to an altercation he experienced at Franklin.
At press time, Caracciolo was planning to hand out 400 fliers detailing his grievances at the Franklin-Garfield basketball game on Tuesday, January 22. Students with similar concerns planned on staging a protest for Wednesday, January 23. Seattle Public Schools has told Caracciolo to leave it to the experts. People familiar with students who have emotional and behavioral disorders said what Caracciolo witnessed is common. "They say 'fuck you' like they say hello in the morning. It's just part of their disability," one Franklin teacher said.