Erica Edmonds fears that her son's trip to Europe could have ended much worse, maybe with something like what happened in New York City last summer to Leiby Kletzky, who was kidnapped and murdered on his way home from a summer day camp. But what 13-year-old Julius Hill allegedly went through on the trip at the hands of Vicki Reed, an eighth-grade math teacher at Greiner Middle School, was bad enough.
In the weeks leading up to the June 14 departure, Edmonds tells Unfair Park, she and Reed were on friendly terms. They talked on the phone about trip plans, and Edmonds helped send trip-related emails to other parents. She gave no indication that she had any problem with Julius.
"She was smiling all the time," Edmonds said.
That changed, Edmonds said, once her son was on the other side of the Atlantic with Reed. She would scream at him for no reason, force him to sit at a separate table from the other students during meals, and make him wait when he asked to go to the bathroom. On one occasion, she says Julius was caught in the crowd at a parade and that Reed left him behind, which, for a 13-year-old in a foreign country, "could have been a really, really terrible situation."
The alleged mistreatment, which Edmonds said is described by two parent chaperones in reports as part of a DISD investigation into the trip, had no apparent explanation. Julius is a good kid who, even when he realized he was being treated unfairly, dutifully obeyed Reed.
According to a chaperone who spoke to the Morning News, Reed behaved irresponsibly with all the kids. She took the kids, who ranged in age from 11 to 15, to a nude beach in Spain and went shopping while the students attended the parade where Julius was left. On another occasion, Edmonds said Reed offered to take a couple of the students to a dance club and told a couple of the girls she would help introduce them to guys.
But Reed's ire seems to have been reserved for Julius, which Edmonds believes is because he's black. As Julius told WFAA, "She said, 'I need to put a rope around your waist or your neck. Which one would you prefer?'"
The phone Edmonds had set up for Julius' trip didn't work, and an email to Reed at the time wasn't returned, so she had no idea what was happening for nine days. It was only when she arrived at the airport and was shooed away by Reed as the chaperones tried to show her photos of Julius sitting alone at meals that she realized something was up. Julius told her some of the story. The rest she learned through other parents.
"He told me it was just sad, just a sad situation," Edmonds said.
Reed is on administrative leave while DISD investigates what happened on the trip. That report is almost complete, and Edmonds fears that Reed could be allowed back. That's why she's speaking out now.
"Basically I don't think this teacher should be teaching," she said. "Our fear is she'll end up back at Greiner."
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It's clear, though, that what happened on the trip can't be blamed on DISD. Reed promoted the trip to her classes and Edmonds says Greiner's principal was aware of it, but families paid their own way, and it was organized through a company called EF Educational Tours, not DISD. It was the company that let Reed participate in the trip and supplied a tour guide. It has not returned a call seeking comment. Reed, too, could not be reached.
Edmonds says Julius "went inside of himself" for a while but is doing fine. He's suffered through the embarrassment of having his story in the media, and he still likes his school and his friends there. Still, it's enough to make Edmonds wonder whether she should keep him in DISD.
Update at 2:44 p.m.: EF Educational tours just sent over a statement saying student discipline is the teacher's responsibility. It reads, in full:
We strive for every student to have educational, exciting and fun experiences on our tours. The safety and well-being of our travelers is always our top priority.
Our educational tours are led by a school teacher, who serves as the group leader and is responsible for the supervision of his or her student travelers. It is the teacher's responsibility -- not the tour director's -- to monitor and determine if a student's behavior warrants intervention or possible discipline. The tour director that is provided by EF is responsible for logistics, educational expertise and additional support for the group leader.