Oregon School Board President P.J. Kapfhammer choked back tears at a school board meeting on Tuesday after officials from organizations representing the disabled expressed their concerns about an altercation Kapfhammer had with a man with autism at Clay High School earlier this month.
“It’s been the hardest two weeks of my life. I’m sorry I let anyone down. I’m sorry my kids had to go through this,” said Kapfhammer, who was charged with menacing and disorderly conduct on Feb. 13 in Oregon Municipal Court.
The charges were filed 10 days after Terry Blachowski, the mother of Thomas Blachowski, 25, who has autism, filed a report against Kapfhammer with the Oregon Police Department.
Blachowski claimed in her report that her son was the honorary manager of the baseball team and was working out in the weight room with 50 other team members on Saturday, February 1, when he was confronted by Kapfhammer.
The report states that Kapfhammer entered the room and began yelling and shouting profanities at Thomas. The baseball team manager went up to Kapfhammer and, “explained what the situation was.”
Kapfhammer, who was at the high school speaking with a wrestling coach outside of the weight room, told The Press after the incident that he was uncomfortable there was an unidentified adult in the weight room with students and had asked Thomas to identify himself. Clay was hosting the Three Rivers Athletic Conference varsity wrestling championships at the time.
Kapfhammer, who is chairman of the school board’s safety committee, said Thomas did not respond.
Kapfhammer denies he threatened Thomas, but conceded he raised his voice while demanding that Thomas identify himself.
Tim Harrington, executive director of the Ability Center of Northwest Ohio, and Lon Mitchell, director and manager of public affairs for the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities, spoke at the Feb. 19 board meeting in support of Thomas.
Harrington asked that the board allow Thomas to continue in his role as honorary team manager.
Harrington, who has cerebral palsy, said he was the baseball team manager with Start High School in 1975-76.
“Tonight, I come to you not as the executive director of the Abilities Center. I come to you as the 1975-1976 Spartan Start High School baseball team manager. That was where I learned the value of community. That’s where my team members learned the value of acceptance and team building and what it means to look out for one another,” said Harrington. “Thomas deserves to remain part of this team. Now it’s up to this district to provide the leadership to make sure that happens.”
Mitchell said he was troubled by rumors that the school board may be considering “tight controls in the wake of the unfortunate incident with Tommy in the high school weight room,” and that Tommy and others who would follow in his path “will not be allowed to participate in school activities.”
“We believe that schools are the hubs of our neighborhoods, where new thoughts, tolerances and sense of community originate,” said Mitchell. “The members of the baseball team have found through their interactions with Tommy, an understanding of people with disabilities that includes more patience, more tolerance and more advocacy. This young man with autism has found friends, and most importantly, a sense of belonging. I know him personally.”
Thomas’s involvement with the baseball team is well known with the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Mitchell added, because the team and its manager received an award from the Arc of Lucas County that “acknowledged the welcoming spirit of the baseball team and its coaches towards Tommy.”
“The award was presented at a banquet in which members of the baseball teams and its coaches were there,” said Mitchell.
He said he understood the “sense of nervousness” regarding school security issues.
“The Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities wants to work with the Oregon School Board in developing whatever procedures and policies the board finds appropriate to ensure that activities, such as the one with Tommy and the baseball team, continue, are secure and are encouraged. We must not go backward,” said Mitchell.
Kapfhammer said the board looks forward to working with Harrington and Mitchell.
“We’ll be reaching out to you,” he said.
“Anyone who knows me in my heart of hearts knows I would not ever hurt someone with disabilities,” said Kapfhammer. “We’re going to move forward and do the business in the district. I do not want the community torn apart. I’m going to put this behind me and move forward and work with groups to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”