ABUSE, OR RETALIATION.
Complaint filed in Disability Rights of NC v. Wake Co Bd of Ed and Robert Sturey in abuse & restraints case (pdf) 09/16/08
Children with disabilities are sometimes left open to potential abuse when those who are charged with their care do not understand the difference between "bad behavior" and "behavior as communication". The term "behavior as communication" refers to a child's effort to communicate dislikes, needs, desires, etc. but cannot do so because of a communication deficit (ie. no speech, limited speech). Sometimes happiness can look the same as sadness, anger the same as excitement...emotions can be very hard to distinguish.
When a child's "behavior" is seen merely as bad behavior and not as an effort to communicate, the child can become even more frustrated thus causing escalation. Adults who are not properly trained to distinguish these "behaviors" or to decipher the "communication" attempts can sometimes escalate the child to a critical point when the use of physical and/or mechanical restraint comes into play.
Imagine that you cannot express your thoughts in a way that others can easily understand. Now, imagine that you are a child who cannot communicate your fears, likes, dislikes, or pain. Imagine being misunderstood constantly. Imagine having others schedule every moment of your life without knowing what you would like to do. This is reality for some children. Is it any wonder that these children get frustrated?
STORIES INVOLVING RESTRAINTS, SECLUSION, ABUSE, OR RETALIATION.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 20, 2008
Two teachers charged with abusing student
By Will Richmond
Herald News Staff Reporter
Posted Jan 17, 2008 @ 08:13 PM
Two Macomber Elementary School teachers have been summonsed into court to face charges they physically abused a special education student.
Teacher Renee Rego, 47, of 91 Horton St., Fall River, is being charged with a single count of caretaker who permits or commits an assault and battery, and mistreatment or neglect on a disabled person. Assistant teacher Linda Liberty, 46, of 9 Sylvania St., Westport, is facing two counts of simple assault and battery on a mentally retarded child. All three charges are felonies.
Both women have been scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 5 in Fall River for their arraignments.
Superintendent Linda Galton offered few comments on the matter, but did say both women are still teaching at the Macomber School and will continue to do so unless further allegations should lead to their removal.
“At this time we have completed our investigation, and the staff remains in place,” Galton said.
Prior to that comment Galton said, “We really don’t comment on these sorts of things. They involve staff and staff matters are confidential under state law. “Whenever issues like this are brought to our attention we take them very seriously and investigate and make assessments, and we have done that.”
Westport Police Department spokesman Sgt. Jeffrey Majewski, in a brief statement before referring comments to the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office, said the investigation was thorough and justified the bringing up the charges.
District Attorney’s Office spokesman Gregg Miliote said that office will pick up where the Westport police left off.
“We are investigating this alleged incident, and once they’re in for arraignment we can proceed with the case,” Miliote said. In the meantime, the father of the child — whose identity is being withheld by The Herald News to protect the identity of the child — is keeping his out of school.
“My son is not returning until those teachers are removed, but I’m told they are not taking any disciplinary action” the father said. “I’m concerned for his emotional well-being in the classroom and I fear of him getting some kind of action put on him for doing something wrong. My son is autistic, he can’t come home and say ‘Daddy my teachers hurt me.’”
The father said a meeting has been scheduled with School Department officials to take place this morning, though, he was not sure who from the School Department would be in attendance. He said he is not yet sure if his family will take any legal action against the school or teachers.
For now, though, the father is not happy with the way this matter has been handled.
“I feel that we’ve been left totally in the dark and ignored,” he said. “I’m chasing them (school officials) and it’s almost like from their point of view that it’s not a big thing and we should just let it go. They have no sense of urgency. ... I would expect the school to be more willing to fix this than to say there’s nothing wrong here.”
According to a police report filed in District Court by Westport Police, Jill Alberto, a substitute teacher employed in a special education classroom on Jan. 8 and 9, witnessed the two teachers participate in what the report described as “disturbing events.”
During the course of the two days, Alberto said she observed Liberty stepping on the feet of a student who kept removing his shoes due to sensory issues related to the child’s disability.
“Ms. Alberto explained that she witnessed Ms. Liberty step on (the child’s) feet at least ‘twenty times’ during both days while she was wearing sneakers on her feet,” the report penned by Majewski reads. “Ms. Alberto told me that (the child) was visibly in pain while Ms. Liberty was stepping on his feet.”
Alberto alleged that Rego forced the child to go over to the class fish tank and feed the fish even though the child has an aversion to water.
The allegations also include a paraprofessional reporting that she witnessed Liberty grabbing the same student by the arm as the he exited a bathroom. Lucy Cordeiro told police Liberty pulled the child “so forcefully that she ‘thought it had the possibility of dislocating his shoulder.”
The report continues to state that “Ms. Liberty looked mad when she grabbed and pulled (the child).”
According to the report, the child’s parents were told his shoes were taken off because the child had food on his feet and that the staff didn’t put his shoes back on because the child thought it was funny.
Rego also told police that one of the strategies to keep the child from removing his shoes was to “go over to him and ‘tap his feet with their feet.’”
However, the child’s mother told police that the foot tapping was not part of the student’s individual education plan.
In regard to the bathroom incident, Liberty, according to the police report, said the child had begun to run and she simply put her arm up to stop him from getting away.
Under a later round of questioning, however, Cordeiro, according to the report, said the child “was not doing anything wrong” when the child turned his head and Liberty “grabbed his arm and pulled him hard.” After further questioning about whether the incident could have been as Liberty described it, Cordeiro continued to deny that could be the case. “Ms. Cordeiro was adamant that was not the case and that there was no need to grab and pull (the child) the way Liberty had done,” the report states. Alberto also accused Rego of placing her fingers in a jar of peanut butter and then proceeding to put them in the mouth of another child.
The report states that Alberto said this caused the child discomfort and resulted in a lot of peanut butter in and around the child’s mouth and that the tactic was done right after the child had acted out in class. Alberto said in the report that this was done as a form of punishment because the child had eating issues and basically required food be in a pureed form. According to the police report police were stonewalled by Westport school officials.
The report indicates that the parents of one child had spoken with Special Education Coordinator Ralph Tripp III and were told by him that he was unaware of any allegations, only for the parents to then learn that a meeting between Tripp, Principal Sue Wilkinson and Galton had taken place the previous day.
Both Galton and Tripp responded that they were at the school on an unrelated matter.
During initial questioning during a phone conversation, Tripp allegedly told police he was not going to comment on the matter.
“With no disrespect, I am not going to speak with you any further about this,” Tripp told police, the report states.
Galton also told Majewski that she had filed a complaint with Town Administrator Michael Coughlin because the police chief had not notified her of the investigation. In that conversation, Galton told Majewski that the School Department had conducted its own investigation and determined there was no wrongdoing.
Galton would not comment Thursday about allegations of School Department officials refusing to cooperate with police.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Dartmouth Public Schools refused to provide transportation for student with Autism unless parents agreed to restrain him on the school bus and had Parents arrested
by Irwin and Pearl H. Jacobowitz
Posted February 22, 2010
On October 16, 2008, the parent of three children diagnosed with special needs, Irwin Jacobowitz, and the Special Education director, Linda Maniglia, of the Dartmouth Public School had a disagreement due to the school district’s refusal to provide transportation and an experienced aide for their son, Arizona. As Mr. Jacobowitz walked away, the sped director stated, “Do you know who I am and what I can do?”
On October 17, 2008, DPS’s Superintendent, Stephen Russell, had two Dartmouth Police officers, Sean McGuire and Kyle Costa, present upon parents' arrival at James M. Quinn Elementary School. The police officers told the parents that they were investigating abandonment charges reported by the school, because they were late picking up our children from school. The parents explained that we were late, because they had to pick Arizona up first and then pick up their two other children,Dakota and Montana, because DPS refused to provide transportation for Arizona. The two police officers physically assaulted Mr. and Mrs. Jacobowitz in front of their children, the principal (Lorraine Granda), the vice principal (Richard Porter III), and Wendy Weidenfelder. The police arrested the parents on false charges-disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Dakota, Arizona, and Montana were placed in foster care and DCF in New Bedford sought full custody of the children. Dakota, Arizona, and Montana have been out of school for more than one year. Several agencies, including DCF, and local officials are aware that the children are being denied an education, but have decided to turn their heads. On October 17, 2008, DPS’s superintendent issued a restraining order to keep the parents away from the school, thus preventing them from bringing their children to school. The abuse endured by the children while in the Dartmouth Public School's custody, the Dartmouth Police department's custody, and New Bedford Department of Children and Family's custody include- Dakota was locked in a vault at James M. Quinn Elementary School, Dakota and Arizona was assaulted by the police at the school in front of staff, Arizona was given psychiatric medication which caused his seizures, Arizona was burned on his elbows with what is believed to be by a tazor, Arizona wasrestrained in a basket restraint, Arizona was denied behavioral interventions for a child diagnosed with autism, etc.
Dartmouth Public School was aware that Arizona was previously restrained in a Rifton chair for 2-3 hours each day without his parents' knowledge at a school in West Chester, Chester County Pennsylvania; yet refused to transport Arizona to South Coast Educational Collaborative-the Hoyle school in Swansea without using restraints. Mr. and Mrs. Jacobowitz refused to allow the school to restrain Arizona when Dartmouth could have easily provided an experienced aide as they promised and as provided for in Arizona's Independent Education Plan (IEP). Dartmouth repeatedly refused to comply with Arizona's IEP.
Currently, Dakota, Arizona, and Montana has been out of school since October 17, 2008. The parents have sought assistance from various agencies, including- the Office of the Child Advocate in Boston, the Office of Civil Rights in Boston, the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA), and the United States District Court in Boston. All agencies stood tall with the school district and has refused to help. On February 9, 2010, Judge Rya Zorbel denied a motion to return the children back to school without explanation. The case is now in appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Boston.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
PARENTS ON TRIAL FEBRUARY 24, 2011 IN NEW BEDFORD DISTRICT COURT IN MASSACHUSETTS FOR REFUSING TO ALLOW DARTMOUTH PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO RESTRAIN SON
DARTMOUTH PUBLIC SCHOOL, THE DARTMOUTH POLICE DEPARTMENT, AND THE NEW BEDFORD DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN, YOUTH, AND FAMILIES (DCYF) COLLABORATIVELY FRAMED PARENTS OF THREE SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN
How Far Will A School District Go To Rid Themselves of Parents That Strongly Advocate For Their Child(ren)?
They will have them sent to jail on false charges and have their child(ren) taken away!!!!!
The Parents of 3 special needs children, diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD-NOS) will go to trial on February 24, 2011 at the New Bedford District Court on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
On October 17, 2008,the next day after Irwin Jacobowitz and the special education director, Linda Maniglia, of Dartmouth Public Schools had words over the district's refusal to provide appropriate transportation for his son, Arizona, he and his wife, Pearl H. Jacobowitz, a former student at The Southern New England School of Law (UMASS-Dartmouth School of Law), were arrested shortly after arriving at James M. Quinn Elementary School.
An ongoing dispute over Dartmouth's refusal to provide an experienced one-to-one aide on the school bus ride to South Coast Educational Collaborative (SCEC)in Swansea, Ma. led the parents to file complaints with the OCR in Ma. and Washington, D.C., the Bureau of Special Education Appeals(BSEA), the office of the Child Advocate, and Michelle Obama.
The parents are represented by attorneys Kristine Hammond of New Bedford, MA. and Stephen Dalrymple of North Smithfield, RI. The Bristol County District Attorneys Office is prosecuting the case. The State's witnesses are officer Sean McGuire, officer Kyle Costa, Dartmouth's Superintendant Stephen Russell, Special education director Linda Maniglia, Principal Lorraine Granda, Vice Principal Richard Porter III, and Wendy Weinfelder.
The Parents believe that the case is significant, because Parents should not be forced to restrain their child on a school bus or anywhere else if they choose not to and it is important to send amessage to schools that retaliation against parents and advocates will not be tolerated.
The trial will be held on February 24, 2011 at 9:00 A.M. in the New Bedford District Court in MA.
(See above story for details)
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 18, 2008
Block Island officials defend room in school basement
10:23 AM EDT on Saturday, June 14, 2008
By Katie MulvaneyJournal Staff Writer
NEW SHOREHAM — Room 20 in the basement of the Block Island School is small and bare. Its concrete floor is painted green, its ceiling sky blue with white clouds, its main window covered with plywood. And, until earlier this week, its knob-less door had double bolts on the outside.
An anonymous letter raising questions about the room and a DVD showing it arrived at The Providence Journal, three television stations, and the attorney general’s office last week. In the brief video, a camera silently pans the room, showing the locks. It also shows pillows and blankets in a jumble on the floor, an open utility outlet, chipped paint and fingerprints smudging the walls. The letter makes no allegations, but raises questions about whether unruly children might have been sent there.
On Tuesday, Davida Irving, principal of the two-story school since last July, acknowledged that there might be such a room, but didn’t know its location. She said she had been told it was developed in consultation with Bradley Hospital as a space for a child “to chill out.” Asked if there were external locks, she went to look, returning perplexed. “I’ve never seen a student locked in there since I’ve been here,” she said.
During the interview, she placed a call to Supt. Leslie A. Ryan, who was off island. Ryan told her not to let a reporter see the room.
When the superintendent, who doubles as special-education director, returned on the 3 p.m. ferry, she said the school lawyer would issue a statement the next day as she stormed to her car.
Calls that evening to all five School Committee members were not returned. Teachers reached for comment said they knew nothing of the room, or were reluctant to talk. One said it was a special-education issue and she didn’t have the authority to discuss it.
Jack Lyle, the school’s previous superintendent, said there was no such room when he led the district from 2004 until Ryan took over in 2006. “That wouldn’t have happened on my watch,” Lyle, now a practicing lawyer, said. “That would go against every fabric of my being.”
An official at Bradley Hospital denied any involvement. “There is not a chance. Nobody would have worked on a room like that,” said Dr. Dale Radka, director of Bradley School who oversees all consultation with school districts. “Bradley doesn’t consult anybody about these kinds of locked facilities.”
It is common, he said, to have focus rooms in which students can quietly calm down, but a locked seclusion room would only be used as a last resort to prevent a very disturbed child from endangering him or herself or others. But, he added, there should be stringent policies and a highly trained staff in place first.
He speculated that more districts would turn to such approaches as budget cutbacks sway them to integrate high-needs children into public schools.
The Journal returned to the Block Island school Wednesday morning, and Ryan again rebuffed attempts to view the room, saying she had to protect students. She handed out a statement that read:
The Block Island School excels in providing support and appropriate education to all of its students. We have never taken punitive action involving locked doors or any other archaic practice. Specifics of behavior plans designed for special-needs students are confidential and, on this island, can prompt immediate identification of the student. We have a team of qualified and caring teachers and therapists who advocate every single day for every single child.”
Ryan refused to answer questions. “I’ve given you a statement and that’s the end.”
She referred the reporter to Vincent Carlone, the island’s chief of police.
In his office looking out on Old Harbor, where the ferries come in, Carlone said that he investigated the room Tuesday after a television reporter asked about it. He concluded there were no safety concerns, adding that the two outside locks had already been removed.
The district created the room, he said, as a way to keep a specific child with violent tendencies on the island, instead of being sent to a residential facility away from family. A difficulty of living on an island is having limited access to services readily available on the mainland, he said.
Asked why a police chief was talking about an education matter, he said school officials were restricted by “confidentiality laws.”
The superintendent told him, he said, that one or two aides always accompanied the child. The room was used “infrequently” and had not been used “recently,” he said. He was unable to be more specific. He said he had heard nothing about any other children being placed in the room.
“I don’t know if they locked that lock,” he said. But, he said, the child enjoys the room.
“No one’s in danger,” the chief said. School officials “go out of their way to help the kids.”
He emphasized that the superintendent told him the room had been set up in consultation with Bradley, an East Providence hospital specializing in children facing emotional, mental and behavioral challenges.
Told that Bradley denied any involvement with the room, the chief said, “They [school officials] wouldn’t lie to me.”
Repeated efforts to get the name of the Bradley contact were denied. School lawyer Denise Myers said, through the chief, that such disclosure would violate a federal law that protects the privacy of personal health information.
After getting clearance from Myers, Carlone took The Journal to see the room. A Journal photographer, however, was barred from taking pictures.
A thin floor mat lay in one corner with a pile of fabric resembling a blanket on top. The plywood on the window is there to prevent a student from striking the glass, Carlone said. The door has a small rectangular window and holes where the locks had been removed.
“If they made a mistake, they made a mistake with the locks,” the chief said. “But they certainly didn’t do it to hurt anyone.”
The wife of a School Committee member reprimanded the reporter, saying it was a private matter.
The state police and a prosecutor from the attorney general’s office visited the school Thursday. They will discuss their evaluation with state education officials, Maj. Steven G. O’Donnell said later.
The investigation is expected to conclude in the next few weeks, according to Michael J. Healey, spokesman for the attorney general.
“It looks like the room was used as some sort of time-out space,” Healey said. “I really doubt we’re talking about anything of a criminal nature.”
After The Journal inquired about regulations involving locked isolation rooms, Marvin Abney, the assistant to the education commissioner for equality and access, called school officials Thursday. He was assured that the locks had been taken off the room, Elliot Krieger, spokesman for the Department of Education, said.
Rhode Island regulations do not allow unobserved time-out rooms or rooms used solely for time-outs. They also do not allow a student to be confined alone in a room without access to school staff.
“Any kid in a locked room would concern the state — period,” Krieger said. “That seems to be a safety problem.”
Yesterday afternoon, the School Committee met in closed session to discuss the issue. Chairman Bill Padien could not be reached for comment.
The individual behind the DVD and the letter sought anonymity yesterday, saying he feared there would be retribution against his family for blowing the whistle on the locked room in the basement.
THURSDAY, JULY 10, 2008
Questions linger over school’s room
07:39 AM EDT on Monday, July 7, 2008
By Katie MulvaneyJournal Staff Writer
School officials created a room in the basement of the Block Island School as a last resort for a student with mental health and behavioral problems who needed a place to calm down, according to a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.
The room was used four or five times with one or two school staff accompanying the student, two during more violent episodes, in which he was observed through a small window on the door,
Michael Healey said during a recent interview.
“Appearances notwithstanding, it seems to be a good-faith effort to try to deal with a young boy with special needs,” he said.
Working with the boy’s mother, the school created the room because options are limited on the island, he said.
“I don’t know if it was ever locked or not,” Healey said.
“We don’t see anything criminal about the conduct of anybody so far,” Healey said, adding it appeared staff never used the room to punish that child or any other.
The student occasionally asked to go to the room to “chill out;” another student liked to read there, he said.
Healey offered these preliminary observations when asked for the outcome of a visit to the school June 12 by state police detectives and Assistant Attorney General Susan Urso, chief of the juvenile division. They are working with the school district’s lawyer, Denise Myers, to get documents to corroborate the school’s official explanations about the room’s use and have interviewed staff and probably will speak with parents, he said.
The Journal first reported on the existence of the room, which until recently could be bolted shut from the outside, after receiving an anonymous letter raising questions about whether unruly students might have been sent there. In a DVD accompanying the letter, a camera slowly pans Room 20 showing door locks, pillows and blankets in a jumble on the floor, an open utility outlet, chipped paint, and fingerprints smudging the walls. Plywood covers one window. The doorknob is missing.
The state police were very concerned by the letter and the DVD, said Maj. Steven G. O’Donnell. “Our concerns are greatly diminished” upon visiting the school, he said late last week.
Still, fire, building and education officials find news of such a room troubling.
“There should be no lock on the outside that someone could accidentally lock,” said William Howe, chief of inspections for the state fire marshal’s office.
Seclusion rooms at Butler Hospital and the school at Bradley Hospital, he said, have fail-safe designs using magnetic locks that can only be latched from the outside when someone presses a button. Once the button is released, the door unlocks.
“I’ve never seen one where they lock the kid in,” said Howe, who had not heard of the room at the Block Island School. Fire-safety inspections are done locally, he said.
Block Island’s building official, Marc Tillson, said he does a cursory inspection of the island’s only school every year. He did not notice exterior locks on the basement room during his inspection last August, but could have missed them, he said.
“If and when somebody put locks on that exterior, I have no knowledge of it,” he said. But, he would consider pursuing criminal charges against the person who placed the locks on the door, he said, if he learned who it was.
“I hope whoever put the locks on the exterior of the door learned their lesson and never does it again,” he said.
The locks were removed June 10, the same day a Journal reporter inquired about the room’s existence, according to Police Chief Vincent Carlone. The Journal’s request to see the room that
day was refused.
In response to a question about the locks on the door, Myers, the district’s lawyer, said by e-mail last Thursday, “It is unknown when the doorknob was removed and it is unknown when the slides were installed.” It remains unclear how long the room has been in place. Jack Lyle, the school’s previous superintendent, has said there was no such room when he led the district from 2004 until Supt. Leslie Ryan, who doubles as the special-education director, took over in August 2006. “That wouldn’t have happened on my watch,” Lyle, now a practicing lawyer, said. “That would go against every fabric of my being.”
Davida Irving, principal of the two-story school since last July, has said she had been told the room was developed in consultation with Bradley Hospital as a space for a child “to chill out.”
Bradley has repeatedly denied any involvement.
Someone from Bradley consulted with the school in early 2007 about the educational and behavioral needs of a student, but “did not provide clinical recommendations on the design or development of a specific behavioral room” at the Block Island School, Jessica Grimes, spokeswoman at Bradley Hospital, reiterated late last week.
Asked for the name of the Bradley consultant who reportedly helped develop the room, Myers said: “At this time, the School Department will not comment further as to consultations regarding the room.”
Officials from the state Department of Education’s office for equality and access plan to visit the school, possibly in the fall, according to Elliot Krieger, spokesman for the department.
“From what we’ve heard, we’re very concerned,” Krieger said.
While locked time-out rooms are debated nationwide, they are not allowed in Rhode Island.
Schools may have designated areas to isolate violent or disturbed students, but cannot have rooms only for time-outs, he said.
State regulations do not allow unobserved time-out rooms or a student to be confined alone in a room without access to school staff.
Krieger said he was not aware of any similar rooms in the state.
The department is awaiting reports from Block Island about students being physically restrained at the school, Krieger said. All districts are supposed to detail any time a school uses restraints, he said, and the department has not received such reports from the district.
“We’ll take a very close look at that when we get it,” Krieger said. The absence of reports from the district, he said, “is another reason why the [office for equality and access] wants to talk to the superintendent.”
A district would not have to file a report if restraint was not used, he said.
When reached last week, Superintendent Ryan said the letter and DVD and subsequent news reports have caused a great deal of anxiety on the island and have been harmful to staff and teachers.
“We have never nor would we ever take any action that in any way would be harmful to students,” she said.
She hoped the person who sent the anonymous letter and DVD would be “brought to some type of justice.”
Meanwhile, the district’s School Committee met June 16 and voted to assess the overall safety at the Block Island School in light of the controversy about the basement room.
The School Committee has agreed to hire one or two consultants to ensure that the school meets all state fire-safety codes and regulations, Myers said.
“The priority is to make sure going forward it is safe,” Myers said. Their findings, which will be made public, will not address use of the room before the date of their review, she said.
School Committee Chairman William Padien did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Posted by FamiliesAgainstRestraintandSeclusion at 4:43 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Labels: Block Island, July 2008, Rhode Island, Seclusion Room
Isolation room deemed to violate school, fire rules
09:22 AM EDT on Thursday, August 21, 2008
By Katie Mulvaney
Journal Staff Writer
Read the New Shoreham Facility Report: http://www.projo.com/news/2008/pdf/new_shoreham_school_facility_report.pdf
BLOCK ISLAND — An isolation room set up in the basement of the Block Island School for students who needed to “chill out” violated state education regulations and the state fire code, according to a report by independent consultants.
The room violated regulations because its door had two sliding bolts on the outside, and also because staff members were unable to observe a student at all times through the small window in the door, the consultants concluded.
If a time-out room is needed for students in crisis, it should be a smaller, padded room that can be clearly observed, and equipped with a lock that disengages immediately when the person monitoring from the outside takes his or her hand away, the consultants said. The district should also develop clear policies for dealing with students who need crisis intervention, and all staff in the 150-student school should be trained in “de-escalation strategies.”
The School Committee called for the consultants’ review in June after the existence of the room –– referred to by some students as the “freak-out room” –– became public.
The Journal began asking questions about Room 20 after receiving an anonymous letter wondering whether it was being used for “unruly students.” In a DVD accompanying the letter, a camera slowly pans the corridor leading to Room 20 and shows a door with two bolts and a hole where a doorknob should be. The video also shows pillows and blankets in a jumble on the floor, an open utility outlet, chipped paint, and fingerprints smudging the walls. One window is boarded up with plywood.
The locks were removed June 10, the same day the Journal first asked to see the room and was refused.
The consultants said a lever door handle was on the door to Room 20 the day they toured the school later the same month.
The School Committee was briefed on the consultants’ findings at a meeting Monday, after which Chairman William Padien said, “As you stated, Room 20 will now be used for something else.”
Referring to the report as “phase 1,” Padien said the board would continue its investigation into “the matters that led to us having to get this report.” He could not be reached yesterday to elaborate.
Supt. Leslie A. Ryan, who doubles as the special-education director, did not comment on the findings at the meeting.
According to the report, Room 20 was initially set up as a brightly painted space where teachers could work with students individually. It also served periodically as a place for students to go voluntarily to “chill out,” or de-escalate, in a controlled, low-sensory environment, sometimes with staff interacting with them. At some point, its use became “more restrictive” to handle an overly aggressive boy.
“[T]heir intent was to reduce the impact of the student’s behavior on other students and at the same time, prevent other students from watching him when he was having a difficult time,” the report reads. It also said the boy was placed in the room a few times when he became so aggressive that he couldn’t be safely held and staff members were being hurt.
Ryan told the consultants that she called the student’s mother on each occasion that “the room was used in a restrictive manner.”
Another parent told the consultants that her daughter was also sent to the room as a consequence of an “undesired behavior.”
The consultants were Susan Stevenson, director of autism spectrum disorder services with Gateway Healthcare, and Christopher Suchmann, maintenance director at The Groden Center. Their work included conversations with staff and the parents of two children.
The report states that the parents were concerned about the use of restrictive procedures and expressed a desire to be involved in decision making and informed about interventions. State regulations require parental consent before these approaches are used.
Other districts use time-out rooms, but not ones that can be bolted from the outside, Stevenson said yesterday. “You don’t expect, because of fire-safety regulations, to see locks on doors.”
The report says that state regulations differentiate between “seclusion restraint” and “time-out procedures.” Seclusion restraint is confining a student alone in a room without access to school staff. This is prohibited in Rhode Island’s public schools. Time-out is allowable because a staff member remains “accessible to the student.”
The consultants did not indicate whether the use of Room 20 was ever considered “seclusion restraint.”
After The Journal’s story, the state Department of Education asked Block Island officials to report on any student who had been physically restrained. All districts are supposed to detail any time a school uses restraints, and the department had not received such reports from the district.
The district filed a restraint report with the state Aug. 4 in which Ryan detailed one incident that occurred last Nov. 30. In a letter accompanying that report, school lawyer Denise Myers referred to the event as one that “required temporary use of a latch” because a student was “attacking staff and trying to punch through a glass door” and continued to push and kick to get out of the room.
Myers said in the letter that “we are not acknowledging that a physical restraint occurred, as defined by the regulations.”
Elliot Krieger, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the state did not agree with or dispute Myers’ representations. State education officials plan to visit the school for an on-site investigation this fall, he said.
In addition, state police detectives and Assistant Attorney General Susan Urso, chief of the juvenile division, are conducting their own investigation into the room after visiting the school in June in response to the DVD.
The attorney general’s office is still waiting for the district’s lawyer to get documents to corroborate the school’s official explanations about the room’s use, said Michael J. Healey, spokesman for the attorney general.
“The only thing we’re waiting for is documents to confirm what we heard out there,” Healey said.
Myers did not return two phone calls yesterday afternoon or respond to several questions posed by e-mail.
Healey and state police Maj. Steven G. O’Donnell said they did not think anything criminal had occurred.
Posted by FamiliesAgainstRestraintandSeclusion at 2:50 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Labels: August 2008, Block Island, Rhode Island, Seclusion Room
School of Shock!
Eight states are sending autistic, mentally retarded, and emotionally troubled kids to a facility that punishes them with painful electric shocks.
How many times do you have to zap a child before it's torture?
Jennifer Gonnerman June 13, 2008 Features
The Texas Observer
Rob Santana awoke terrified. He'd had that dream again, the one where silver wires ran under his shirt and into his pants, connecting to electrodes attached to his limbs and torso. Adults armed with surveillance cameras and remote-control activators watched his every move. One press of a button, and there was no telling where the shock would hit—his arm or leg or, worse, his stomach. All Rob knew was that the pain would be intense.
Every time he woke from this dream, it took him a few moments to remember that he was in his own bed, that there weren't electrodes locked to his skin, that he wasn't about to be shocked. It was no mystery where this recurring nightmare came from—not A Clockwork Orange or 1984, but the years he spent confined in America's most controversial "behavior modification" facility.
In 1999, when Rob was 13, his parents sent him to the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, located in Canton, Massachusetts, 20 miles outside Boston. The facility, which calls itself a "special needs school," takes in all kinds of troubled kids—severely autistic, mentally retarded, schizophrenic, bipolar, emotionally disturbed—and attempts to change their behavior with a complex system of rewards and punishments, including painful electric shocks to the torso and limbs. Of the 234 current residents, about half are wired to receive shocks, including some as young as nine or ten. Nearly 60 percent come from New York, a quarter from Massachusetts, the rest from six other states and Washington, D.C. The Rotenberg Center, which has 900 employees and annual revenues exceeding $56 million, charges $220,000 a year for each student. States and school districts pick up the tab.
The Rotenberg Center is the only facility in the country that disciplines students by shocking them, a form of punishment not inflicted on serial killers or child molesters or any of the 2.2 million inmates now incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons. Over its 36-year history, six children have died in its care, prompting numerous lawsuits and government investigations. Last year, New York state investigators filed a blistering report that made the place sound like a high school version of Abu Ghraib. Yet the program continues to thrive—in large part because no one except desperate parents, and a few state legislators, seems to care about what happens to the hundreds of kids who pass through its gates.
In Rob Santana's case, he freely admits he was an out-of-control kid with "serious behavioral problems." At birth he was abandoned at the hospital, traces of cocaine, heroin, and alcohol in his body. A middle-class couple adopted him out of foster care when he was 11 months old, but his troubles continued. He started fires; he got kicked out of preschool for opening the back door of a moving school bus; when he was six, he cut himself with a razor. His mother took him to specialists, who diagnosed him with a slew of psychiatric problems: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Rob was at the Rotenberg Center for about three and a half years. From the start, he cursed, hollered, fought with employees. Eventually the staff obtained permission from his mother and a Massachusetts probate court to use electric shock. Rob was forced to wear a backpack containing five two-pound, battery-operated devices, each connected to an electrode attached to his skin. "I felt humiliated," he says. "You have a bunch of wires coming out of your shirt and pants." Rob remained hooked up to the apparatus 24 hours a day. He wore it while jogging on the treadmill and playing basketball, though it wasn't easy to sink a jump shot with a 10-pound backpack on. When he showered, a staff member would remove his electrodes, all except the one on his arm, which he had to hold outside the shower to keep it dry. At night, Rob slept with the backpack next to him, under the gaze of a surveillance camera.
Employees shocked him for aggressive behavior, he says, but also for minor misdeeds, like yelling or cursing. Each shock lasts two seconds. "It hurts like hell," Rob says. (The school's staff claim it is no more painful than a bee sting; when I tried the shock, it felt like a horde of wasps attacking me all at once. Two seconds never felt so long.) On several occasions, Rob was tied facedown to a four-point restraint board and shocked over and over again by a person he couldn't see. The constant threat of being zapped did persuade him to act less aggressively, but at a high cost. "I thought of killing myself a few times," he says.
Rob's mother Jo-Anne deLeon had sent him to the Rotenberg Center at the suggestion of the special-ed committee at his school district in upstate New York, which, she says, told her that the program had everything Rob needed. She believed he would receive regular psychiatric counseling—though the school does not provide this.
As the months passed, Rob's mother became increasingly unhappy. "My whole dispute with them was, 'When is he going to get psychiatric treatment?'" she says. "I think they had to get to the root of his problems—like why was he so angry? Why was he so destructive? I really think they needed to go in his head somehow and figure this out." She didn't think the shocks were helping, and in 2002 she sent a furious fax demanding that Rob's electrodes be removed before she came up for Parents' Day. She says she got a call the next day from the executive director, Matthew Israel, who told her, "You don't want to stick with our treatment plan? Pick him up." (Israel says he doesn't remember this conversation, but adds, "If a parent doesn't want the use of the skin shock and wants psychiatric treatment, this isn't the right program for them.")
Rob's mother is not the only parent angry at the Rotenberg Center. Last year, Evelyn Nicholson sued the facility after her 17-year-old son Antwone was shocked 79 times in 18 months. Nicholson says she decided to take action after Antwone called home and told her, "Mommy, you don't love me anymore because you let them hurt me so bad." Rob and Antwone don't know each other (Rob left the facility before Antwone arrived), but in some ways their stories are similar. Antwone's birth mother was a drug addict; he was burned on an electric hot plate as an infant. Evelyn took him in as a foster child and later adopted him. The lawsuit she filed against the Rotenberg Center set off a chain of events: investigations by multiple government agencies, emotional public hearings, scrutiny by the media. Legislation to restrict or ban the use of electric shocks in such facilities has been introduced in two state legislatures. Yet not much has changed.
Rob has paid little attention to the public debate over his alma mater, though he visits its website occasionally to see which of the kids he knew are still there. After he left the center he moved back in with his parents. At first glance, he seems like any other 21-year-old: baggy Rocawear jeans, black T-shirt, powder-blue Nikes. But when asked to recount his years at the Rotenberg Center, he speaks for nearly two hours in astonishing detail, recalling names and specific events from seven or eight years earlier. When he describes his recurring nightmares, he raises both arms and rubs his forehead with his palms.
Despite spending more than three years at this behavior-modification facility, Rob still has problems controlling his behavior. In 2005, he was arrested for attempted assault and sent to jail. (This year he was arrested again, for drugs and assault.) Being locked up has given him plenty of time to reflect on his childhood, and he has gained a new perspective on the Rotenberg Center. "It's worse than jail," he told me. "That place is the worst place on earth."
One Punishment Fits All
The story of the Rotenberg Center is in many ways a tale of two schools. Slightly more than half the residents are what the school calls "high functioning": kids like Rob and Antwone, who have diagnoses like attention-deficit disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other emotional problems. The other group is even more troubled. Referred to as "low functioning," it includes kids with severe autism and mental retardation; most cannot speak or have very limited verbal abilities. Some have behaviors so extreme they can be life threatening: chomping on their hands and arms, running into walls, nearly blinding themselves by banging their heads on the floor again and again.
The Rotenberg Center has long been known as the school of last resort—a place that will take any kid, no matter how extreme his or her problems are. It doesn't matter if a child has been booted out of 2, 5, 10, or 20 other programs—he or she is still welcome here. For desperate parents, the Rotenberg Center can seem like a godsend. Just ask Louisa Goldberg, the mother of 25-year-old Andrew, who has severe mental retardation. Andrew's last residential school kicked him out after he kept assaulting staff members; the Rotenberg Center was the only place willing to accept him. According to Louisa, Andrew's quality of life has improved dramatically since 2000, when he was hooked up to the shock device, known as the Graduated Electronic Decelerator, or ged.
The Rotenberg Center has a policy of not giving psychiatric drugs to students—no Depakote, Paxil, Risperdal, Ritalin, or Seroquel. It's a policy that appeals to Louisa and many other parents. At Andrew's last school, she says, "he had so many medicines in him he'd take a two-hour nap in the morning, he'd take a two-hour nap in the afternoon. They'd have him in bed at eight o'clock at night. He was sleeping his life away." These days, Louisa says she is no longer afraid when her son comes home to visit. "[For him] to have an electrode on and to receive a ged is to me a much more favorable way of dealing with this," she says. "He's not sending people to the hospital."
Marguerite Famolare brought her son Michael to the Rotenberg Center six years ago, after he attacked her so aggressively she had to call 911 and, in a separate incident, flipped over a kitchen table onto a tutor. Michael, now 19, suffers from mental retardation and severe autism. These days, when he comes home for a visit, Marguerite carries his shock activator in her purse. All she has to do, she says, is show it to him. "He'll automatically comply to whatever my signal command may be, whether it is 'Put on your seatbelt,' or 'Hand me that apple,' or 'Sit appropriately and eat your food,'" she says. "It's made him a human being, a civilized human being."
Massachusetts officials have twice tried to shut the Rotenberg Center down—once in the 1980s and again in the 1990s. Both times parents rallied to its defense, and both times it prevailed in court. (See "Why Can't Massachusetts Shut Matthew Israel Down?" page 44.) The name of the center ensures nobody forgets these victories; it was Judge Ernest Rotenberg, now deceased, who in the mid-'80s ruled that the facility could continue using aversives—painful punishments designed to change behavior—so long as it obtained authorization from the Bristol County Probate and Family Court in each student's case. But even though the facility wasn't using electric shock when this ruling was handed down, the court rarely, if ever, bars the Rotenberg Center from adding shock to a student's treatment plan, according to lawyers and disability advocates who have tried to prevent it from doing so.
Since Evelyn Nicholson filed her lawsuit in 2006, the Rotenberg Center has faced a new wave of criticism and controversy. (See "Nagging? Zap. Swearing? Zap," page 41.) And again, the facility has relied heavily on the testimonials of parents like Louisa Goldberg and Marguerite Famolare to defend itself. Not surprisingly, the most vocal parent-supporters tend to be those with the sickest children, since they are the ones with the fewest options. But at the Rotenberg Center, the same methods of "behavior modification" are applied to all kids, no matter what is causing their behavior problems. And so, while Rob would seem to have little in common with mentally retarded students like Michael and Andrew, they all shared a similar fate once their parents placed them under the care of the same psychologist, a radical behaviorist known as Dr. Israel.
Dr. Israel's Radical Behavior
In 1950, matt israel was a Harvard freshman looking to fill his science requirement. He knew little about B.F. Skinner when he signed up for his course, Human Behavior. Soon, though, Israel became fascinated with Skinner's scientific approach to the study of behavior, and he picked up Walden Two, Skinner's controversial novel about an experimental community based on the principles of behaviorism. The book changed Israel's life. "I decided my mission was to start a utopian community," he says. Israel got a Ph.D. in psychology in 1960 from Harvard, and started two communal houses outside Boston.
One of the people Israel lived with was a three-year-old named Andrea, the daughter of a roommate. The two did not get along. "She was wild and screaming," Israel recalls. "I would retreat to my own room, and she'd be trying to pull away and get into my room, and I'd have to hold the door on one side to keep her from disturbing me." When company would come over, he says, "She would walk around with a toy broom and whack people over the head."
Through experiments with rats and pigeons, Skinner had demonstrated how animals learn from the consequences of their actions. With permission from Andrea's mother, Israel decided to try out Skinner's ideas on the three-year-old. When Andrea was well behaved, Israel took her out for walks. But when she misbehaved, he punished her by snapping his finger against her cheek. His mentor Skinner preached that positive reinforcement was vastly preferable to punishment, but Israel says his methods transformed the girl. "Instead of being an annoyance, she became a charming addition to the house."
Israel's success with Andrea convinced him to start a school. In 1971, he founded the Behavior Research Institute in Rhode Island, a facility that would later move to Massachusetts and become known as the Judge Rotenberg Center. Israel took in children nobody else wanted—severely autistic and mentally retarded kids who did dangerous things to themselves and others. To change their behavior, he developed a large repertoire of punishments: spraying kids in the face with water, shoving ammonia under their noses, pinching the soles of their feet, smacking them with a spatula, forcing them to wear a "white-noise helmet" that assaulted them with static.
In 1977, Israel opened a branch of his program in California's San Fernando Valley, along with Judy Weber, whose son Tobin is severely autistic. Two years later, the Los Angeles Times reported Israel had pinched the feet of Christopher Hirsch, an autistic 12-year-old, at least 24 times in 30 minutes, while the boy screamed and cried. This was a punishment for soiling his pants. ("It might have been true," Israel says. "It's true that pinches were being used as an aversive. The pinch, the spank, the muscle squeeze, water sprays, bad taste—all those procedures were being used.") Israel was in the news again in 1981, when another student, 14-year-old Danny Aswad, died while strapped facedown to his bed. In 1982, the California Department of Social Services compiled a 64-page complaint that read like a catalog of horrors, describing students with bruises, welts, and cuts. It also accused Israel of telling a staff member "to grow his fingernails longer so he could give an effective pinch."
In 1982, the facility settled with state officials and agreed to stop using physical punishments. Now called Tobinworld, and still run by Judy Weber, it is a $10-million-a-year organization operating day schools near Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Rotenberg Center considers itself a "sister school" to Tobinworld, and Israel makes frequent trips to California to visit Weber. The two were married last year.
Despite his setback in California, Israel continued to expand on the East Coast—and to generate controversy. In 1985, Vincent Milletich, an autistic 22-year-old, suffered a seizure and died after he was put in restraints and forced to wear a white-noise helmet. Five years later, 19-year-old Linda Cornelison, who had the mental capacity of a toddler, refused to eat. On the bus to school, she clutched her stomach; someone had to carry her inside, and she spent the day on a couch in a classroom. Linda could not speak, and the staff treated her actions as misbehaviors. Between 3:52 p.m. and 8 p.m., staffers punished her with 13 spatula spankings, 29 finger pinches, 14 muscle squeezes, and 5 forced inhalings of ammonia. It turned out that Linda had a perforated stomach. She died on the operating table at 1:45 a.m.
The local district attorney's office examined the circumstances of Vincent's death but declined to file any charges. In Linda's case, the Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation investigated and found that while Linda's treatment had "violated the most basic codes and standards of decency and humane treatment," there was insufficient evidence to prove that the use of aversives had caused her death.
The local district attorney's office examined the circumstances of Vincent's death but declined to file any charges. In Linda's case, the Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation investigated and found that while Linda's treatment had "violated the most basic codes and standards of decency and humane treatment," there was insufficient evidence to prove that the use of aversives had caused her death.
Israel purchased a shock device then on the market known as sibis—Self-Injurious Behavior Inhibiting System—that had been invented by the parents of an autistic girl and delivered a mild shock that lasted .2 second. Between 1988 and 1990, Israel used sibis on 29 students, including one of his most challenging, Brandon, then 12, who would bite off chunks of his tongue, regurgitate entire meals, and pound himself on the head. At times Brandon was required to keep his hands on a paddle; if he removed them, he would get automatic shocks, one per second. One infamous day, Brandon received more than 5,000 shocks. "You have to realize," Israel says. "I thought his life was in the balance. I couldn't find any medical solution. He was vomiting, losing weight. He was down to 52 pounds. I knew it was risky to use the shock in large numbers, but if I persevered that day, I thought maybe it would eventually work. There was nothing else I could think of to do...but by the time it went into the 3,000 or 4,000 range, it became clear it wasn't working."
This day was a turning point in the history of Israel's operation—that's when he decided to ratchet up the pain. The problem, he decided, was that the shock sibis emitted was not strong enough. He says he asked sibis's manufacturer, Human Technologies, to create a more powerful device, but it refused. "So we had to redesign the device ourselves," he says. He envisioned a device that would start with a low current but that could increase the voltage if needed—hence its name, Graduated Electronic Decelerator or ged—but he abandoned this idea early on. "As it turns out, that's really not a wise approach," he says. "It's sort of like operating a car and wearing out the brakes because you never really apply them strongly enough. Instead, we set it at a certain level that was more or less going to be effective for most of our students."
Thirty years earlier, O. Ivar Lovaas, a psychology professor at ucla, had pioneered the use of slaps and screams and electric jolts to try to normalize the behavior of autistic kids. Life magazine featured his work in a nine-page photo essay in 1965 with the headline, "A surprising, shocking treatment helps far-gone mental cripples." Lovaas eventually abandoned these methods, telling cbs in 1993 that shock was "only a temporary suppression" because patients become inured to the pain. "These people are so used to pain that they can adapt to almost any kind of aversive you give them," he said.
Israel encountered this same sort of adaptation in his students, but his solution was markedly different: He decided to increase the pain once again. Today, there are two shock devices in use at the Rotenberg Center: the ged and the ged-4. The devices look similar and both administer a two-second shock, but the ged-4 is nearly three times more powerful—and the pain it inflicts is that much more severe.
The Mickey Mouse Club
Ten years ago, Israel hung up a Mickey Mouse poster in the main hall, and he noticed that it made people smile—so he bought every Mickey Mouse poster he could find. He hung them in the corridors and even papered the walls of what became known as the Mickey Mouse Conference Room. Entering the Rotenberg Center is a bit like stepping into a carnival fun house, I discovered during a two-day visit last autumn. Two brushed-aluminum dogs, each nearly 5 feet tall and sporting a purple neon collar, stand guard outside. Giant silver stars dangle from the lobby ceiling; the walls and chairs in the front offices are turquoise, lime green, and lavender.
Israel, 74, still holds the title of executive director, for which he pays himself nearly $400,000 in salary and benefits. He appears utterly unimposing: short and slender with soft hands, rounded shoulders, curly white hair, paisley tie. Then he sits down beside me and, unprompted, starts talking about shocking children. "The treatment is so powerful it's hard not to use if you have seen how effective it is," he says quietly. "It's brief. It's painful. But there are no side effects. It's two seconds of discomfort." His tone is neither defensive nor apologetic; rather, it's perfectly calm, almost soothing. It's the sort of demeanor a mother might find comforting if she were about to hand over her child.
Before we set off on our tour of the facility, there's something Israel wants me to see: Before & After, a homemade movie featuring six of his most severe cases. Israel has been using some of the same grainy footage for more than two decades, showing it to parents of prospective students as well as visiting reporters. They've already mailed me a copy, but Israel wants to make sure I watch it. An assistant slips the tape into the vcr, Israel presses the remote, and we all stare at the screen:
1977: An 11-year-old girl named Caroline arrives at the school strapped down onto a stretcher, her head encased in a helmet. In the next shot, free from restraints, she crouches down and tries to smash her helmeted head against the floor.
1981: Janine, also 11 years old, shrieks and slams her head against the ground, a table, the door. Bald spots testify to the severity of her troubles; she's yanked out so much hair it's half gone.
Both girls exhibit autistic behaviors, and compared with these scenes, the "After" footage looks almost unbelievable: Janine splashes in a plastic pool, while Caroline grins as she sits in a chair at a beauty salon. "Most people haven't seen these pictures," Israel says, setting down the remote. "They haven't seen children like this, so they cannot imagine. These are children for whom positive-only procedures did not work, drugs did not work. And if it wasn't for this treatment, some of these people would not be alive." The video is extremely persuasive: The girls' self-abuse is so violent and so frightening that it almost makes me want to grab a ged remote and push the button myself. Of course, this is precisely the point.
Considering how compelling the "After" footage is, I am surprised to learn that five of the six children featured in it are still here. "This is Caroline," one of my escorts says an hour or two later as we walk down a corridor. Without an introduction, I would not have known. Caroline, 39, slumps forward in a wheelchair, her fists balled up, head covered by a red helmet. "Blow me a kiss, Caroline," Israel says. She doesn't respond.
A few minutes later, I meet 36-year-old Janine, who appears in much better shape. She's not wearing a helmet and has a full head of black hair. She's also got a backpack on her shoulders and canvas straps hanging from her legs, the telltale sign that electrodes are attached to both calves. For 16 years—nearly half her life—Janine has been hooked up to Israel's shock device. A couple years ago, when the shocks began to lose their effect, the staff switched the devices inside her backpack to the much more painful ged-4.
In 1994, matthew israel had just 64 students. Today he has 234. This astonishing rate of growth is largely the result of a dramatic change in the types of students he takes in. Until recently, nearly all were "low functioning," autistic and mentally retarded people. But today slightly more than 50 percent are "high functioning," with diagnoses like add, adhd, and bipolar disorder. New York state supplies the majority of these students, many of whom grew up in the poorest parts of New York City. Yet despite this change in his population, Israel's methods have remained essentially the same.
Israel has long faced criticism that he has not published research about his use of electric shocks in peer-reviewed journals, where experts could scrutinize it. To defend his methods, he points to a bibliography of 110 research articles that he's posted on the Rotenberg Center website. This catalog seems impressive at first. Studied more closely, however, it is not nearly so convincing. Three-quarters of the articles were published more than 20 years ago. Eight were written or cowritten by Lovaas, the ucla-affiliated behaviorist. One of America's leading autism experts, Lovaas long ago stopped endorsing painful aversives. And Lovaas' old studies focus primarily on children with autism who engage in extreme self-injury—not on troubled teens who have been diagnosed with adhd or add.
But then, it would be hard for Israel to find contemporary research supporting his program, because the practice of treating self-abusive kids with pain has been largely abandoned. According to Dr. Saul Axelrod, a professor at Temple University and an expert on behavior modification, "the field has moved away from painful stimuli because of public outcry and because we've devised better techniques," including determining the cause of an individual's self-abuse.
Another expert Israel cites several times is Dr. Brian A. Iwata, a consultant on the development of sibis, the device Israel modified to create his ged. Now a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Florida, he's a nationally recognized authority on treating severe self-abuse among children with developmental disabilities. Iwata has visited the Rotenberg Center and describes its approach as dangerously simplistic: "There appears to be a mission of that program to use shock for problem behaviors. It doesn't matter what that behavior is." Iwata has consulted for 25 states and says there is little relationship between what goes on at Israel's program and what goes on at other facilities. "He may have gotten his Ph.D. at Harvard, but he didn't learn what he's doing at Harvard. Whatever he's doing, he decided to do on his own."
Paul Touchette, who also studied with B.F. Skinner, has known Israel since the 1960s when they were both in Cambridge. Like Israel, Touchette went on to treat children with autism who exhibit extreme self-abuse, but he isn't a fan of Israel's approach either. "Punishment doesn't get at the cause," says Touchette, who is on the faculty of the University of California-Irvine School of Medicine. "It just scares the hell out of patients."
Over the decades, Touchette has followed Israel's career and bumped into him at professional conferences. "He's a very smart man, but he's an embarrassment to his profession," Touchette says. "I've never been able to figure out if Matt is a little off-kilter and actually believes all this stuff, or whether he's just a clever businessman."
Big Reward Store
At the rotenberg center, an elaborate system of rewards and punishments governs all interactions. Well-behaved kids can watch TV, go for pizza, play basketball. Students who've earned points for good behavior visit a store stocked with dvd players, cds, cologne, PlayStation 2, Essence magazine, knockoff Prada purses—anything the staff thinks students might want. But even more prized is a visit to the "Big Reward Store," an arcade full of pinball machines, video games, a pool table, and the most popular feature, a row of 42-inch flat-screen TVs hooked up to Xbox 360s.
Students like the "brs" for another reason—it's the only place many can socialize freely. At the Rotenberg Center, students have to earn the right to talk to each other. "We had to wait until we were in brs to communicate with others," says Isabel Cedeño, a 16-year-old who ran away from Rotenberg in 2006 after her boyfriend, a former student, came and got her. "That was the only time you really laughed, had fun, hung around with your friends. Because usually, you can't talk to them. It was basically like we had to have enemies. They didn't want us to be friendly with nobody."
Students live grouped together in homes and apartments scattered in nearby towns and are bused to the facility's headquarters every morning. They spend their days in classrooms, staring at a computer screen, their backs to the teacher. They are supposed to teach themselves, using self-instruction programs that include lessons in math, reading, and typing. Even with breaks for gym and lunch, the days can be incredibly dull. "On paper, it does look like they're being educated, because we have lesson plans," says former teacher Jessica Croteau, who oversaw a classroom of high-functioning teens for six months before leaving in 2006. But "to self-teach is not exciting. Why would the kids want to sit there and read a chapter on their own without any discussion?"
Croteau says teachers have to spend so much time monitoring misbehaviors there's often little time left for teaching. Whenever a student disobeys a rule, a staff member must point it out, using the student's name and just one or two rote phrases like, "Mark, there's no stopping work. Work on your task, please." Each time a student curses or yells, a staffer marks it on the student's recording sheet. Teachers and aides then use the sheet to calculate what level of punishment is required—when to just say "No!" and when to shock.
Employees carry students' shock activators inside plastic cases, which they hook onto their belt loops. These cases are known as "sleds," and each sled has a photo on it to ensure employees don't zap the wrong kid.
Behaviorism would seem to dictate that staff shock students immediately after they break the rules. But if employees learn about a misbehavior after it has occurred—by, say, reviewing surveillance footage—they may still administer punishment. Rob Santana recalls that Mondays were always the most stressful day of the week. He would sit at his desk all day, trying to remember if he had broken any rules over the weekend, waiting to see if he'd be shocked.
Employees are encouraged to use the element of surprise. "Attempt to be as discreet as possible and hold the transmitter out of view of the student," states the employee manual. This way, students cannot do anything to minimize the pain, like flipping over their electrodes or tensing their muscles. "We hear the sound of [a staffer] picking up a sled," says Isabel, the former student. "Then we turn around and see the person jump out of their seat."
Employees shock students for a wide range of behaviors, from violent actions to less serious offenses, like getting out of their seats without permission. In 2006, the New York State Education Department sent a team of investigators, including three psychologists, to the Rotenberg Center, then issued a scathing report. Among its many criticisms was that the staff shocked kids for "nagging, swearing, and failing to maintain a neat appearance." Israel only disputes the latter. As for nagging and swearing? "Sometimes a behavior looks innocuous," he says, "but if it's an antecedent for aggression, it may have to be treated with an aversive."
New York officials disagreed, and in January 2007 issued regulations that would prohibit shocking New York students for minor infractions. But a group of New York parents filed a federal lawsuit to stop the state from enforcing these regulations. They prevailed, winning a temporary restraining order against the state, one that permits the Rotenberg Center staffers to continue using shock. The parents' case is expected to go to trial in 2008.
When they talk about why they use the shock device, Israel and his employees like to use the word "treatment," but it might be more accurate to use words like "convenience" or "control." "The ged—it's two seconds and it's done," says Patricia Rivera, a psychologist who serves as assistant director of clinical services. "Then it's right back to work." By contrast, it can take 8 or 10 employees half an hour or longer to restrain a strong male student: to pin him to the floor, wait for him to stop struggling, then move his body onto a restraint board and tie down each limb. Restraining five or eight kids in a single day—or the same student again and again—can be incredibly time-consuming and sometimes dangerous.
When they talk about why they use the shock device, Israel and his employees like to use the word "treatment," but it might be more accurate to use words like "convenience" or "control." "The ged—it's two seconds and it's done," says Patricia Rivera, a psychologist who serves as assistant director of clinical services. "Then it's right back to work." By contrast, it can take 8 or 10 employees half an hour or longer to restrain a strong male student: to pin him to the floor, wait for him to stop struggling, then move his body onto a restraint board and tie down each limb. Restraining five or eight kids in a single day—or the same student again and again—can be incredibly time-consuming and sometimes dangerous.
"Our Students Have a Tendency to Lie"
Rotenberg staff place the more troubled (or troublesome) residents on 1:1 status, meaning that an aide monitors them everywhere they go. For extremely violent students, the ratio is 2:1. Soon after I arrived, right before I set off on my tour, a small crowd gathered—it seemed that almost the entire hierarchy of the Rotenberg Center was going to follow me around. That's when I realized I'd been put on 5:1. As I began to roam around the school with my escorts, my every move monitored by surveillance cameras, I realized it would be impossible to have a private conversation with any student. The best I could hope for would be a few unscripted moments.
Ten years ago, a reporter visiting Israel's center would have been unable to talk to most students; back then few of them could speak. These days, there are more than 100 high-functioning kids fully capable of voicing their views, and Israel has enlisted a few in his campaign to promote the ged. "If we had only [severely] autistic students, they couldn't talk to you and say, 'Gee, this is really helping me,'" Israel says. "Now for the first time we have students like Katie who can tell you it helped them."
In the world of the Rotenberg Center, Katie Spartichino is a star. She left the facility in the spring of 2006 and now attends community college in Boston. Around noon, a staff member brings her back to the facility to talk to me. We sit at an outdoor picnic table away from the surveillance cameras but there's no privacy: Israel and Karen LaChance, the assistant to the executive director for admissions, sit with us.
Katie, 19, tells me she overdosed on pills at 9, spent her early adolescence in and out of psych wards, was hooked up to the ged at 16, and stayed on the device for two years. "This is a great place," she says. "It took me off all my medicine. I was close to 200 pounds and I'm 160 now." She admits her outlook was less rosy when she first had to wear the electrodes. "I cried," she says. "I kind of felt like I was walking on eggshells; I had to watch everything I said. Sometimes a curse word would just come out of my mouth automatically. So being on the geds and knowing that swearing was a targeted behavior where I would receive a [GED] application, it really got me to think twice before I said something disrespectful or something just plain-out rude."
As Katie speaks, LaChance runs her fingers through Katie's hair again and again. The gesture is so deliberate it draws my attention. I wonder if it's just an expression of affection—or something more, like a reward.
"Do you swear anymore?" I ask.
"Oh, God, all the time," Katie says. She pauses. "Well, I have learned to control it, but I'm not going to lie. When I'm on the phone, curse words come out."
The hair stroking stops. LaChance turns to Katie. "I hope you're not going to tell me you're aggressive."
"Oh, no, that's gone," Katie says. "No, no, no. The worst thing I do sometimes is me and my mom get into little arguments."
For Israel, of course, one drawback of having so many high-functioning students is that he cannot control everything they say. One afternoon, when I walk into a classroom of teenagers, a 15-year-old girl catches my eye, smiles, and holds up a sheet of paper with a message written in pink marker: HELP US. She puts it back down and shuffles it into her stack of papers before anyone else sees. When I move closer, she tells me her name is Raquel, she is from the Bronx, and she wants to go home.
My escorts allow me to interview Raquel while two of them sit nearby. Raquel is not hooked up to the ged, but she has many complaints, including that she has just witnessed one of her housemates get shocked. "She was screaming," Raquel says. "They told her to step up to be searched; she didn't want to step up to be searched, so they gave her one." After 20 minutes, my escorts cut us off. "Raquel, you did a great job—thank you for taking the time," says Patricia Rivera, the psychologist.
Once Raquel is out of earshot, Rivera adds, "Some of the things she said are not true, some of them are. Our students obviously have a tendency to lie about things." She explains that a staff member searches Raquel's housemate every hour because she's the one who recently stabbed an employee with a pencil.
The Rotenberg Center does not have a rule about how old a child must be before he or she can be hooked up to the ged. One of the program's youngest students is a nine-year-old named Rodrigo. When I see him, he is seated outside at a picnic table with his aide. Rodrigo's backpack looks enormous on his tiny frame; canvas straps dangle from both legs.
"He was horrible when he first came in," Rivera says. "It would take five staff to restrain him because he's so wiry." What was he like? "A lot of aggression. A lot of disruptive behavior. Whenever he was asked to do a task that he didn't feel like doing, he would scream, yell, swear. The stuff that would come out of his mouth you wouldn't believe—very sexually inappropriate."
"Rodrigo, come here," one of my escorts says.
Rodrigo walks over, his straps slapping the ground. He wears a white dress shirt and tie—the standard uniform for male students—but because he is so small, maybe 4 feet tall, his tie nearly reaches his thighs. "What's that?" he asks.
"That's a tape recorder," I say. "Do you want to say something?"
"That's a tape recorder," I say. "Do you want to say something?"
The Employee-Modification System
To understand how the Rotenberg Center works, it helps to know that it runs not just one behavior-modification program, but two—one for the residents, and one for the staff. Employees have no autonomy. If a staffer believes it's okay to shock a kid who is smashing his head against a wall, but it's not okay to shock someone for getting out of his chair without permission, that could spell trouble. "There's pressure on you to do it," a former teacher told me. "They punish you if you don't."
I met this former teacher at a restaurant, and our meeting stretched on for six hours. At times it felt less like an interview than a confession. "The first time you give someone a ged is the worst one," the teacher said. "You don't want to hurt somebody; you want to help. You're thinking, 'This has got to be okay. This has got to be legal, or they wouldn't be doing this.'" At the Rotenberg Center, it's virtually impossible to discuss such concerns with coworkers because there are cameras everywhere, even in the staff break room. Staff members who want to talk to each other without being overheard may meet up in the parking lot or scribble notes to each other. But it's hard to know whom to trust, since Israel encourages employees to file anonymous reports about their coworkers' lapses.
In addition, staff members are prohibited from having casual conversations with each other. They cannot, for example, say to a coworker, "Hey, did you see the Red Sox game last night?" "We don't want them discussing their social life or the ball games in front of the students or while they're on duty," Israel says. "So we'll sometimes actually have one staffer deliberately start a social conversation with another and we'll see whether the other—as he or she should—will say, 'I don't want to discuss that now.'" Monitors watch these setups on the surveillance cameras and punish staffers who take the bait.
Former employees describe a workplace permeated with fear—fear of being attacked by students and fear of losing their job. There are so many rules—and so many cameras—it's not easy to stay out of trouble. Employees quit or are fired so often that two-thirds of the direct-care employees remain on the job for less than a year.
New employees must sign a confidentiality agreement promising not to talk about the Rotenberg Center—even after they no longer work there. Of the eight ex-employees I interviewed, most did not want to be identified by name for fear of Israel suing them; all were critical of how the ged is used. Maybe, says one, the use of shocks was justified in a few extreme self-injurious cases, but that's all. "Say you had a hospital that was the only hospital in the nation that had chemotherapy, and they were treating people who had the common cold with it," she says. "I think the extreme to which they abuse their power has outweighed what good they do."
The Hard Lessons of Connie Chung
Matthew Israel has been fielding questions from journalists since the 1970s, but few have examined his operation as thoroughly—and critically—as the producers at Eye to Eye with Connie Chung did. In 1993, they spent six months investigating the facility. They even found an employee willing to go inside with a hidden camera. But Israel ended up getting the last laugh. As he recounts the story for me, he can barely contain his glee. "We refused to meet with her unless the parents could be in the same room," he says, grinning. "She talked to the parents, and they really gave it to her." This is no exaggeration: When Chung tried to ask him tough questions, his parent-supporters shouted her down.
Throughout this raucous meeting, Israel had his own camera rolling, too, which turned out to be a brilliant move. Before cbs got its 40-minute story on the air, Israel launched a national campaign to discredit both Chung and her report. He accused her of being "biased" and "hostile," and to prove it, he distributed edited videotapes of her interview to media critics and cbs affiliates. It worked. A New York Times television critic savaged cbs, accusing it of using "shabby tricks of the trade." Suddenly the story was not about whether the school had abused students—but whether cbs had abused the school.
"I don't think it was a positive thing for her career," says Israel, still smiling. It's late in the day, right near the end of my visit, and I'm starting to wonder why he's brought up this topic.
By now I've spent 22 hours with Israel and his staff—wandering around the facility, meeting parents they've brought in for me to interview. But before I depart, there's one more place I want to see, the room where they repair the geds. Israel and Glenda Crookes, an assistant executive director, agree to take me there. It is just past 7 p.m. and drizzling as we climb into Israel's Lexus for a short drive to the maintenance building.
There, Crookes and Israel lead me down a hall, past storerooms filled with red helmets, ged sleds, batteries and their chargers. The room at the end of the hall looks like it could be a repair shop for any sort of electronics equipment: scissors, screwdrivers, industrial-grade glue, a Black & Decker Pivot Driver. On one desk, I spot a form called a ged Trouble Report. The report explains that someone dropped off Duane's shock device because it was "making rattling noises." Crookes explains, "Anytime a screw is loose or anything is wrong with the device, it's automatically sent back here."
A Trouble Report on another desk suggests a more serious problem: "Jamie Z was getting his battery changed, Luigi received a shock." "What does this mean?" I ask. Crookes picks up the paper, reads it, then hands it to Israel and walks away. Her gesture seems to say, I cannot believe we just spent two days with this reporter and now this is the last thing she sees.
Israel stares at the report, then reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pair of reading glasses. Nobody says anything. Outside, one car after another races by, the tail end of the evening commute.
After a minute or two, Israel says, "Well, I don't understand the whole of it." He is still staring at the paper in his hand. "But there was apparently a spontaneous activation." The ged, in other words, delivered a shock without anyone pressing its remote.
This moment reminds me of something Israel told me earlier about the premise of Skinner's Walden Two, that by changing people's behaviors you can help them have a better life. But, Israel was careful to add, "The notion was that you needed to have the whole environment under control. With a school like this, we have an awful lot. Not the whole environment, but an awful lot."
He was right; he controls nearly every aspect of his facility. But all of his surveillance cameras and microphones and paperwork and protocols had failed to protect Luigi, a mentally retarded resident who had done nothing wrong.
PLAINFIELD SCHOOL ACCUSED OF DENYING FOOD TO STUDENTS AND USING A 'JAIL CELL'.
Parents, ex-staffer say program mistreated special education students.
by Emily Groves
By EMILY GROVES
Posted Mar 06, 2010 @ 11:18 PM
Plainfield, Conn. — Withholding food, a “jail cell” time-out room and unnecessary restraint of special education students are among the allegations being made against Shepard Hill Elementary School’s Clinical Day Treatment Program by paraprofessionals, parents and a Board of Education member.
“It’s an ugly mess,” Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Angela Klonoski said. “It’s just been a nightmare.”
The Shepard Hill program is one of five in the district for children with emotional or intellectual disabilities, Plainfield Superintendent of Schools Mary Conway said.
Philip LaFemina, coordinator for the programs, said the Shepard Hill program includes eight students who spend most of their day with the program. It also provides support services for another five to six students who spend most of their day in regular classrooms. He said eight full and part-time paraprofessionals work in the program, though other paraprofessionals assist when students are immersed into classrooms.
The Shepard Hill program, for first- through third-grade students, has been gaining a lot of attention in recent months from parents, school and state officials.
Klonoski said the state Department of Children and Families and the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities are conducting investigations into the program. State officials said they cannot confirm whether investigations are occurring because their investigations deal with children and are protected by shield laws.
It all started with Diane Smith-Sanders, a former paraprofessional at the program.
Smith-Sanders said she was hired in early December and within a few weeks, began to notice some troubling practices.
Among them was the withholding of food. Smith-Sanders said she witnessed four occasions where students were not given lunch because an assignment wasn’t completed.
“I was told that food was a privilege, and they had a choice; if they finished their assignments, then they could eat their lunch,” she said.
Smith-Sanders said she voiced her concerns about the practice and within three days was told that because of the rearranging of staff, her position had been eliminated. She was offered a position with another school in the district but declined.
“I know without a doubt that my position was eliminated because I said something,”
Smith-Sanders said. “I didn’t like what was going on, and that caused them trouble.”
Smith-Sanders has been substitute teaching in the district since then and is applying for a position in another school.
Conway said when Smith-Sanders raised concerns, the district immediately started an investigation. Conway said a teacher had told students they must demonstrate they are in control to have food.
“It was stopped immediately,” Conway said. “That has not occurred again and will not occur again.”
LaFemina said he expects to receive the report at the end of the month from the DCF investigation into food withholding.
“I’m confident that charge will not be substantiated,” LaFemina said.
But Smith-Sanders’ list of concerns also included a time-out room the size of a refrigerator, complete with a door, bolt and a window covered with paper.
Smith-Sanders described it as “like a jail cell” and said she believed children were being locked inside too often. It was used not just for children acting up but for those who had not completed assignments.
Conway said there was a door on the time-out room, but it has since been removed, another move prompted by Smith-Sanders’ concerns.
LaFemina said the legal term is a seclusion room, and the Shepard Hill program had used one until about six weeks ago.
“The main reason we had a seclusion room was to prevent physical holding,” LaFemina said.
But Smith-Sanders and others also have concerns about the way physical holding, or restraint, is done at the program. Smith-Sanders said she witnessed children being restrained by as many as five adults, and she questioned whether any restraint at the school was legal because she was not sure the paraprofessionals were trained.
LaFemina said every paraprofessional is trained in restraint yearly, under the Physical/Psychological Management Training model.
Lisa Wickham pulled her son, Anthony, 6, out of the program in December after he came home with a bruise on his wrist and a note in his daily book that said he had been restrained by five adults that day. Wickham said Anthony weighs 48 pounds.
LaFemina said typically two to three adults are involved in a physical hold. On rare occasions, four adults hold the child while one person observes to ensure the child’s breathing does not become distressed.
For Wickham, the bruised wrist was the final straw in what had been a series of disturbing reports from her son. Wickham said there were many days when Anthony returned home without eating his snack and had made comments about having snack time when he was “a good boy” and not when he was “a bad boy.” Anthony also told his mother he didn’t like when the teachers sat on him.
“It was stuff like that that came out afterward that made me say, ‘he’s not stepping back into that school,’” she said.
In her efforts to get her son transferred to Moosup Elementary School, Wickham connected with Klonoski.
Klonoski, a disability policy specialist for the Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities, said five adults to one child should never be necessary and restraint should be used only as a last resort.
“And that was never the case with this child, not in any of the files I’ve read,” Klonoski said.
Pam Corey, a paraprofessional at Shepard Hill for 12 years, said though she did not work in the Clinical Day Treatment Program, she had frequent dealings with its staff because some of its students spend part of the day in regular classrooms.
Corey said she witnessed children being locked into the time-out room and restrained by several adults, but something she observed in the lunch room, when she approached a crying child with a teacher standing over him, most disturbed her.
“He had a sandwich from the day before that they were making him eat before he could eat his hot lunch,” Corey said. “That was so unacceptable. It made me sick.”
Corey moved from Shepard Hill in October 2009 to Plainfield High School, where she works now.
LaFemina said there have not been any disciplinary issues with staff in the last year. He said the program and the staff members work very hard to meet state standards and to provide the best educational opportunities for these students who would struggle and likely fail in a traditional educational program.
“We have helped more than 150 families with the program,” LaFemina said. “The goal is to help these children better control their behavior and be mainstreamed as soon as possible.”
THE ONLY BEHAVIORAL SUPPORT THE WESTCHESTER AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT PROVIDED FOR 10 YEAR OLD ARIZONA WAS A SEAT IN THE RIFTON CHAIR USING THE TABLE TOP AS A RESTRAINT
"When the Parents advocated for their son, Arizona, the West Chester Area School District had the dad thrown in prison for 10 days with the help of a local judge."
Arizona was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 years old. He was denied admission to the Delaware Autism Program at age 3. From 4-7 years old, Arizona was enrolled with the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. The CCIU refused to provide behavioral interventions and an aide for Arizona claiming that it cost too much money. Unknown to the parents, Arizona's teachers were restraining him in a Rifton chair. When Arizona attended East Bradford Elementary School in West Chester, Pennsylvania, his teacher, Padgett Kissler Smith, continued to restrain Arizona in a Rifton Chair for 2-3 hours each day without the parents' knowledge or consent. Arizona's parents found out that Arizona was being restrained when Smith mistakenly sent home pictures of Arizona in the chair and Arizona repeatedly said, "broken, broken." Smith stated, "We put him in the chair and he broke our chair, what are you going to do about it?"
The special education director, Marcia Conti D'Antonio, claimed that the Rifton chair was used to introduce tabletop activities, to assist with feeding, and to assist with positioning. To the contrary, Arizona did not have difficulty with feeding or positioning; evaluations substantiated no difficulty. The tabletop when attached to the Rifton chair, was used as a restraint to keep Arizona seated. Arizona's teacher was not familiar with children that were diagnosed with autism and became frustrated. Sen. James Buckheit placed Arizona's story on his website during August, 2007. When Arizona's mom and dad removed him from his inappropriate program, the West Chester Area School District filed truancy charges. On November 27, 2007, Judge William D. Kraut, a close friend of Principal Ellen Gacomis, imprisoned Arizona's dad for 10 days in the Chester County Prison based on an $84.00 traffic ticket, from 2004, that was previously paid. On December 6, 2007, Mr. Jacobowitz was released from prison, only after signing an authorization to release information for the West Chester Area School District. The West Chester Area School District wanted Arizona's parents to place him in a program that was inappropriate, because they refused to pay for a program that was appropriate due to cost.
Arizona's story originally appeared on Senator James Buckheit's website on August, 2007.
This Abuse Must Stop!"
Parents pull son from school over restraint issue
By Donna C. Gregory NEWS EDITOR
Priscilla and Chip Greene share some family time with their three sons (from left), Travis, 6, Coleman, 9, and Parker, 11.
December 19, 2007 - A Clover Hill Elementary second-grader is getting a longer than normal holiday break after his parents withdrew him from school amid claims of physical abuse.
Chip and Priscilla Greene have removed their son, Coleman, from Clover Hill following a series of incidents where he was allegedly physically restrained by a special education aide. The situation escalated on Nov. 30 when the Greenes received a call from school, asking them to come pick up Coleman, who suffers from Down's Syndrome and ADHD. When Chip Greene arrived at school, a staff member who the family chose not to identify, advised him to check Coleman for bruises. A physician later confirmed bruising on Coleman's back, shoulder and chest and a scratch on his neck. Coleman has not been back to school since.
This is not the first time Coleman has been injured due to the use of physical restraint, says Priscilla Greene. While attending Hopkins Elementary School as a kindergartener, Coleman was physically restrained by a teacher in front of his mother after he walked out of a classroom without permission. "She had him on the ground with his arms crossed, and her legs were wrapped around his legs," recalls Coleman's mother. "I was told it was done only in extreme circumstances." Priscilla Greene, however, doesn't believe walking out of a classroom qualifies as an "extreme circumstance."
Three weeks later, Coleman allegedly came home from school with a sprained arm. He was ultimately moved to a different special education classroom, and there were no more incidents the rest of the year. After Coleman was injured at Hopkins, the Greenes asked the school system to adopt a general restraint policy. Now, more than two years later, the Greenes say their request has been ignored.
Chip Coleman spoke before school board members last week, asking them yet again to enact a restraint policy. "The policy would consist of guidelines and procedures that school staff must follow in order to protect our children," Chip Coleman told board members. "I stand before you tonight with a heavy heart because the school system has allowed my son to be physically restrained again and injured…This abuse must stop! Physical restraint cannot be used unless a guideline or procedure is put into place that will protect the child."
Chip Coleman held up a notebook for board members to see, saying, "This is Coleman's homework journal. It is a log of what goes on in Coleman's day. Beginning Sept. 17 and for the next 11 weeks, Coleman was physically restrained 10 times, placed in time-out with restraint 14 times, regrouped with restraint 11 times, and placed in secluded time-out in the special education classroom or conference room 22 times. And this only reflects the times the school staff wrote in this journal."
The Greenes were unaware of what was happening to Coleman until they specifically asked if restraint was being used. Coleman's aide had begun to complain that he was biting, kicking and head-butting during the school day. The Greenes believe Coleman's bad behavior was a result of being physically restrained by his aide. When Coleman would fail to complete his class work, Priscilla Greene says his aide would forcibly remove him from his general education classroom and take him to a special education classroom or conference room to "regroup."
Two other parents related similar stories to school board members, before again asking for a physical restraint policy. "William has been restrained," said Cheryl Curbeam, referring to her five-year-old son who has developmental delays. "This was without my knowledge. Why was I never informed that teachers were allowed to restrain my son? We will not remain silent on this issue."
Donna Hobbs related an incident at Ecoff Elementary where her son, Cody, was allegedly locked inside a closet for 30 minutes. "I did not get so much as a note home," complained Hobbs. "The school has done nothing to resolve this issue. The teacher has received no consequence for her actions."
Priscilla Greene shares Hobbs' frustration. "Just because [Coleman] has a disability, that does not give them any more right to put their hands on him," she says, adding that the use of restraint has traumatized her son. "Now, he says school is a big scary monster." On many school days, Coleman would complain of stomach aches. Priscilla Greene now believes that was his way of trying to avoid going to school.
The Greenes are currently juggling work schedules in order to care for Coleman during the day when he'd normally be at school. "We are going to try to get through the holidays, and then we are going to try again to place him [in a private school] in January. It is not safe for him to go back to school in Chesterfield County."
The family has also hired an attorney to explore their legal options.
School officials created a room in the basement of the Block Island School as a last resort for a student with mental health and behavioral problems who needed a place to calm down.
Lawmakers Seek Halt To Abuses Of Disabled Kids In School
December 10th, 2009
Seven-year-old Angellika Arndt died in 2006 when she suffocated while being restrained by two adult staff at the Rice Lake Day Treatment Center in Wisconsin. (Courtesy of the Coalition Against Institutionalized Child Abuse)
By Joseph Shapiro | NPR
Two investigatory reports earlier this year told disturbing stories of the harsh, and on occasion fatal, methods sometimes used to discipline disabled children in school. Now members of Congress are trying to stop the practice of relying on what’s known as restraint and seclusion.
Reps. George Miller, D-CA, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-WA, announced the legislation, flanked by parents of kids who’ve been subjected to such discipline.
Nicole Holden of Muskegon, Michigan, spoke of how she found out by accident, when she showed up at her 3-year-old son’s preschool one day, that teachers were routinely tying the autistic boy to a chair for at least three hours a day.
When the chair tipped over and he got bruises, she said staff told her he’d fallen on the playground. “Ethan has autism,” she said, holding back tears and noting her son, now four and at a new school, was sitting in the audience. “Ethan has a speech and language delay. So strapping him in a chair was literally torture to my son. He could not speak. He could not tell us as parents what was happening.”
The Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act would set federal standards that say physical restraints and seclusion can be used only as a last resort when a child’s behavior puts the child or others in immediate danger.
Rep. McMorris Rodgers, who is also the mother of a son with Down Syndrome, noted that this is already the federal standard for hospitals. Although some disability rights groups have called for a total ban on restraints and seclusion, groups that represent educators say they are sometimes needed for safety reasons. That’s why the proposed law would also require that staff be trained in how to use restraints and seclusion in a safe way. The law would outlaw some current practices, such as strapping kids to chairs or the use of restraints that restrict breathing.
Also, today, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-CT, introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
Last January, the National Disability Rights Network, a network of public attorneys who take on civil rights cases for the disabled, released a report that catalogued scores of cases where children had been injured, and sometimes even killed, by these methods of discipline.
Congressman Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, then asked the Government Accountability Office to do its own investigation. And the congressional investigatory arm released a report in May that found abuses to be widespread across the country.
The GAO report found that few records are kept at the state level. The proposed law would require states to collect data and report each year to the U.S. Secretary of Education. Secretary Arne Duncan said last spring that he wants to hear from states about possible alternatives to using restraints and seclusion.
But two states–Texas and California–do require schools to report when restraint and seclusion are used. In one school year in those two states alone, the GAO reported, there were more than 33,000 cases.
Miller’s committee also heard testimony about children who had died, including Toni Price’s 14-year-old foster son Cedric Napoleon. Price testified Cedric died when the teacher at his Killeen, Texas, middle school restrained him by sitting on top of him.
Cedric, who’d been denied food by abusive parents, was kept from lunch as a punishment and, at 2:30 and hungry, he tried to leave the classroom without permission. “The findings were eye-opening and horrifying,” Miller said today recalling the GAO report and the hearing as he introduced the bill. Over his shoulder was a blow up photo of a smiling Cedric.
Bullied out of class: Parents pull autistic son from school due to taunts, hazing
October 25th, 2009
Bridget and Bruce Fuglei would like a letter read to the students at Hellgate Middle School about the abuse they inflicted on their son, Pat. Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian
By MICHAEL MOORE | Missoulian
He listens intently to the visitor asking questions.
“Do you like movies?” the visitor asks.
“I like movies,” Pat Fuglei says. “I really like movies. Yep, like movies.”
“Do you like ‘The Shawshank Redemption?’ “
“Yep, Shawshank Redemption,” Pat replies. “Good movie. Really good movie. Shawshank Redemption.”
This line of question and mimicked response could go on for hours. Occasionally Pat adds additional information, but much of what he says has just been said to him.
Pat has autism. He is considered high-functioning, but the term is relative.
He is athletic, handsome, a good son. He wants so badly to be “normal” that he often denies his own condition.
With his family, his conversation becomes easier, less repetitious, more kidlike.
He is bright, but easily misled. He uses words well, but sometimes doesn’t understand their consequences. For autistic kids, that’s all the more true in social situations.
If a boy whose friendship Pat craves tells him to tell a pretty girl that she has a beautiful body and he’d like to see her naked, he’ll do it in an instant.
His brain won’t adequately process the consequences.
Recently, boys in Pat’s eighth-grade class have done exactly that, only worse.
They do it for age-old reasons. Because they are 13 and 14. Because kids are sometimes mean.
But this is the worst reason – because they mostly get away with it.
Pat always just took it. He wanted friends badly enough to overlook the cruelest of cuts. Finally, though, he reached wit’s end.
“Recently, he asked me in sort of an abstract way, ‘Would your dad let you hang out with someone who called you a retard?’ ” his mother, Bridget Fuglei, said in an interview at the family home last week.
Pat hung out with those kids all year.
“He would do almost anything to have kids be his friends,” his father Bruce said. “And some of these kids, they know that about Pat.”
And they have taken merciless advantage of him, leaving the family nowhere to turn except the door.
Pat left school two weeks ago.
About the time Pat Fuglei started to toddle, his mom and dad realized something was different about their little boy.
He didn’t understand consequences.
“You know, they reach that age where they do something wrong and you put them in a timeout,” Bridget Fuglei said. “He’d get frustrated and hit me. I’d put him in his room for a little bit, then when I opened the door, he’d hit me again. He didn’t know what he was doing was wrong.”
Autism typically reveals itself by the time a child turns 3.
Bruce and Bridget had Pat evaluated several times. The diagnosis was autism spectrum disorder.
Bruce and Bridget did an at-home therapy program designed to help Pat establish some social skills before he went to kindergarten.
His elementary school years for the most part went well. Pat didn’t learn at the speed of his peers, and often trailed them in achievement, but he had his share of success.
Middle school, which can be tough even on kids without problems, has been more difficult for Pat.
Pat has a resource teacher who works with him more intensely, but he is mostly “mainstreamed,” meaning he’s usually in his regular classes.
“That’s worked pretty well for him, but this year the problem has been the social side of things,” Bruce said.
This year the problem has been other children.
“This is the age where some measure of kids just get mean,” Bruce said. “And Pat has been a perfect target for that meanness.”
He’s been the target of violence. He’s been tricked. He’s been taunted. And he’s been humiliated.
All for laughs.
The school has responded in cases where teachers could establish what happened, but because of federal privacy laws, school officials can’t tell Bruce and Bridget what action, if any, was taken.
“So when a parent asks how another student was disciplined, the school cannot release that information unless the student’s parents consent,” said attorney Elizabeth Kaleva, who represents the Hellgate School District.
A short time ago, a kid called Pat on the phone and acted like he was high on marijuana. The next day at school, Pat did the same thing, acting high.
“He’ll do anything kids tell him because he just wants to fit in,” Bruce says.
Recently, other students taught Pat some coarse sexual language and suggested he repeat it to girls. Of course, he did it.
“He has no filters for social interaction,” Bridget says. “He doesn’t know how something will affect someone else.”
The final act came a few weeks ago, when Pat’s resource room teacher called to say that he had exposed himself at school.
That humiliating incident occurred after other kids repeatedly taunted him, teasing: “Pat has a vagina. Pat has a vagina.”
That upset Pat badly, and he insisted the boys were lying. But the boys persisted. Prove it, they said.
So he did.
“Patrick was so upset, but like he often does, he put the blame on himself,” Bridget said. “When we asked him what should happen, he said the principal should kick him out of school and make him go somewhere where there are other kids like him.”
On the heels of that incident, Bruce and Bridget pulled Pat out of Hellgate Middle School.
Bridget wrote a letter to the students and asked that it be read to Pat’s classmates.
The letter is hard-nosed and blunt, but it also thanks those kids who were friendly to Pat.
“For those of you who have been cruel to Patrick – and you know who you are – those who mimicked him, mocked or made fun of him, who told him to ‘go away,’ who intentionally excluded him from games, or who called him names like ‘retard.’ How do you live with yourselves? How do you look at yourself in the mirror or sleep at night? You should be ashamed.”
Bridget and Bruce knew the letter was toughly worded, but they felt the sentiment was called for.
But the letter went unread. Kaleva said the school can’t allow classrooms to become a forum for the pronouncements of parents.
Even so, the Fugleis were disappointed. They wanted the tough kids to know the pain they’d caused.
“They told us they couldn’t do it, but they would try to find some way to address the fact that he left,” Bruce said.
This coming week, a counselor at Hellgate Middle School will be making his way around the school talking to kids about bullying and respect.
Because of privacy laws, Hellgate Superintendent Doug Reisig can’t say that the action is being taken in response to Pat Fuglei’s problems.
But it is.
“The counselor will go out there and talk with all the kids about respect,” Reisig said. “He will be meeting with all of them, because this issue of a child’s physical and psychological safety is critical to what we do as a school. That really has to be our first job, to make sure this is a safe environment for kids to be in.”
The Hellgate School District has a fully developed policy regarding bullying, hazing and physical violence. And violating the policy has consequences that could range from a simple meeting to expulsion.
“We try to discipline kids in a way that it’s an educational experience, but we are very serious about this,” Reisig said. “If we know something’s going on, we are going to do something about it.”
The problem is in the knowing. A middle-school playground can be something of an urban jungle. Yes, there are teachers watching kids as they play, but they don’t hear everything that gets said.
“Things have to be brought to our attention,” said Reisig. “Although we’d like to pick up on everything that’s happening in school, it’s not possible.”
Even so, Bruce Fuglei thinks kids can be watched more closely.
“I know it’s hard, but I think they have an obligation to make sure that kids aren’t being harmed out there,” Bruce said. “But I also understand the difficulty.”
For the most part, the Fugleis are very appreciative of Hellgate. Their older daughter, now attending school at Tufts University in Boston, had a good experience there.
And Pat’s time at Hellgate has been primarily positive.
“I can’t really say enough good things about Pat’s teachers at Hellgate,” Bridget said. “They’ve really been good to him and they’ve been very good with us, as well.”
The Fugleis also understand the complex dynamic that led to much of the unkindness directed at their son remaining undetected.
“Part of this is Pat and his need for friendship, we understand that,” Bruce said. “This isn’t a simple situation. Still, when you send your kids to school, you expect them not to be mistreated. The school has to protect them.”
Without commenting specifically on Pat’s case, Reisig is clearly moved by what happened.
“It hurts us when something bad happens,” he said. “We deal with people and people make mistakes. If we know, we will move quickly to correct that mistake. It’s our job to know, of course, but sometimes it’s very difficult if people don’t tell us what’s happening.”
Last Thursday, the Fugleis packed their Toyota Sequoia full to the roof.
Later in the day, Pat and his mother, accompanied by one of Bridget’s sisters, headed for Scottsdale, Ariz.
There Pat will attend Gateway Academy, a small private school for kids with autism.
“I’m ready to go there,” Pat says. “I’m ready. I have a lot of cousins in Phoenix. Six cousins. Yep. Six cousins.”
They’ll live with Bridget’s mom and have the company of lots of family. Pat starts school at Gateway this week.
For the coming months, Pat’s parents will live in separate states so that he can attend a school where he won’t be bullied and mocked.
The Fugleis will pay extra for a private school while paying taxes for a school their son can no longer attend.
Because kids can be mean, Bruce will miss his boy coming home from school each day, and Pat will miss that same time with his dad.
“Who knows,” Fuglei said. “Maybe this will work out for the best. Maybe this new school is the place Pat should have been all along. We hope that he’ll get back to Missoula for high school, but we’re just going to have to wait and see.”
Ex-aides charged for abuse of autistic boy
October 20th, 2009
Tifonie and Bryan Schilling read to their son, Garrett, 14, a former special-needs student at North Middle School, who was allegedly abuse by two teacher aides. One was arrested and posted bond; an arrest warrant has been issued for the other. (TRIBUNE PHOTOS/LARRY BECKNER)
By ERIC NEWHOUSE | Great Falls Tribune
Two former special education aides at North Middle School have been charged with felony assault following a police investigation into charges they took an autistic 14-year-old student to a classroom sink and held his head under water after he dozed off in class.
Julie Ann Parish appeared in court Monday on a felony charge of assault on a minor and a misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of children. Bond was set at $5,000. A warrant has been issued for the arrest of another aide, Kristina Marie Kallies, on the same charges.
The felony count carries a maximum five years in prison and a $50,000 fine if convicted, while maximum penalty for the misdemeanor is six months in jail and a $500 fine.
“Their horrific acts did tremendous damage to this child,” charged Dr. Suzanne Dixon, the physician who has been treating the 14-year-old, Garrett Schilling.
Interviewed by the police department, Parish and Kallies said they splashed water in Garrett’s face or poured it over his head, but denied they held his head under the water.
Garrett’s parents, Tifonie and Bryan Schilling, wrote school Superintendent Cheryl Crawley two weeks ago to demand changes in the special education department to make sure no more students are abused.
Crawley said she had heard about the incident from parents and staff last spring and requested an immediate investigation.
“Our investigation is complete, and none of those people work for us anymore,” Crawley said a week ago. “It’s a police matter at the moment.”
Tifoni Schilling is furious about what happened to her son, but is careful not to blame all special education personnel.
“Those people who did terrible things to my son are horrible, but there are many good people who really care about these kids,” she said. “We’re afraid of tarring good people, but we just want to make sure this problem is reformed.”
Garrett Schilling and his younger brother, Brandon, both have a form of autism that’s known as the “fragile X syndrome,” which is one of the most common forms of inherited mental retardation in males.
According to the National Fragile X Foundation, “this impairment can range from learning disabilities to more severe cognitive or intellectual disabilities,” including delays in speech and language development.
Garrett was diagnosed with the disorder at the age of 3. Now 14, he can make his needs known by pointing, fetching or asking, but can’t carry on a responsive conversation, according to his mother.
Still, she noticed that something was wrong about a month after he started the special education program at North Middle School last fall.
“Garrett started behaviors that were not typical for him,” said Tifonie Schilling.
“He was having accidents in his pants, he was throwing up in school, he had a look of total fear on his face when I took him to school, and I physically had to force him to go into his classroom,” she said.
The Schillings said they met with his teachers and the principal to determine the cause, but were told the problems were with Garrett.
Then the Schillings said they got a quiet call from a former special ed teacher who had heard other teachers and aides talking about Garrett.
“She told me Garrett was in danger and said I should keep him out of school,” Tifonie Schilling recounted.
“We immediately pulled him out of school,” said Bryan Schilling.
“She told me that if Garrett was going to sleep or not doing his work, one of the aides would put her hand on Garrett’s back and push his head underwater at the kitchen sink in the classroom, as he was kicking and screaming for his mother,” Tifonie Schilling said.
“She told me that if Garrett threw up at school, they would make him lick it up or force him to eat some of it,” said Garrett’s mom. “And if he had an accident in his pants, they would make him sit in it all day while they taunted him by yelling at him that he stinks like a baby.”
On April 29, the Schillings wrote Crawley and Sharon Lindstrom, head of the special education program, explaining why they had kept their son home.
“Garrett was subjected to physical and mental abuse in the classroom,” they wrote. “We felt keeping him out of school was the only way we could protect him.”
On May 5, the Schillings had a full meeting at the school administration building. They said they were told that a four-day investigation had confirmed the water incident, but no other abuse.
Crawley later wrote them: “The district found evidence to suggest that the first accusation (water on the head) was true, but there was not sufficient credible evidence to support the second and third allegations,” that of forcing Garrett to eat his own vomit and spend the day sitting in messy pants.
“The paraprofessionals continue to deny the allegations, and each provided written statements to that effect,” she added. Crawley declined to provide copies of their statements to the Tribune.
A student’s testimony
But one of Garrett’s former schoolmates, T.J. Sergent, remembers all three clearly.
“Three months into school, T.J. came home and said you aren’t going to believe it but there’s a boy there who gets sick when he gets excited and they make him eat it,” said his mom, Diane Sergent. “I said, ‘no,’ but he said, ‘yes they do.’”
T.J., who suffers from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and intermittent explosive disorder, told the Tribune last week that he’d personally seen it.
“He had to eat it,” he insisted. “The teachers made him. He had to swallow it.”
Diane Sergent said her son had told the same story over and over again without changing it. “I stick with my story because it’s true,” D.J. said.
D.J. also said he had seen Garrett sit in his own feces all day long.
“When he got excited, he pooped in his pants, along with throwing up, but they left him in the clothes that he’d pooped in and peed in all day,” said D.J.
He also said he had seen teacher’s aides dunk Garrett’s head underwater in the sink “pretty much every day. Then he (Garrett) would start to cry because he wanted his mom and he wanted to go home.”
That statement was supported by the statement that another paraprofessional, Gretchen Watkins, gave to investigators who have been building their abuse case for the Schillings. She said she witnessed a water incident when she stopped by the special ed classroom to talk with the teacher, Heidi Budeau.
“As I was talking to Heidi, I noticed to my left Kristi (Kallies) had grabbed Garrett Schilling from his desk and pulled him roughly over to the sink,” Watkins wrote. “”She then to my recollection turned on the cold water and pushed Garrett’s head under the water.
“I believe she made statements such as ‘we don’t sleep’ and ‘wake up’ while holding his head under the water and putting water on his face,” Watkins wrote. “Garrett tried to get away and kept saying no. She continued this for I think one or two minutes.
“At this time, Julie Parish made the comment that they had to do that because he was lazy and would rather sleep than work,” Watkins concluded. “I felt uncomfortable and left the room.”
Crawley said she believed that the teacher and the two paraprofessionals have moved out of state without leaving forwarding addresses with the school district.
D.J. said he was punished, too. He said he was made to do his schoolwork in a closet for three weeks — including the day all his other classmates held their Christmas party in the classroom, just on the other side of his closet door.
“I don’t know what I did wrong to make me miss the Christmas party,” he said last week. “It made me feel like I wanted to punch myself in the face, I was so angry.”
Protecting vulnerable kids
After talking with school administrators, one of the Schillings’ biggest concerns was protecting other disabled children.
“We didn’t want those people anywhere near kids and we asked that they be removed from their jobs,” said Tifonie Schilling. “They told us that the teacher had been allowed to remain and two of the aides were transferred to other schools where they were being watched like hawks.”
Then in June, Tifonie Schilling went to pick up her youngest son Brandon from summer school.
“I ran into one of the aides who had done the water-boarding, standing right outside his classroom door,” she said.
She blew up and fired off an immediate rocket to Crawley.
“Both accused paraprofessionals resigned their paraprofessional positions with the district during the investigation (one on May 27 and one on June 1),” Crawley responded in a letter July 29. “Their resignations eliminated need for the district to terminate their employment.”
However, one of the paraprofessionals also served as a summer inventory clerk, Crawley wrote, adding that the district had directed her not to have any contact with students as she did her clerical work.
“I understand that by chance you saw one of the accused persons in the hallway at Loy Elementary School,” Crawley wrote. “Although we regret this inadvertent encounter, it was completely unforeseeable that this person would be in the hallway conducting inventory tasks at precisely the same time as you.
“I also understand the employee was installing inventory tags on doorways and was not entering classrooms,” the superintendent added. “The employee was not involved with, nor working with, any students.”
Seeking a protective order
But the Schillings sought a temporary order of protection against the aide, Parish.
At a Justice Court hearing on June 17, another paraprofessional, Jennifer Wasilewski, testified that she had witnessed one of the incidents in November or December of 2008. She cited Budeau, Kallies and Parish by name.
“She (Parish) brought Garrett over to the sink, turned the water on, had him lean over and put his head underneath the water for a brief period of time, and then took him back out,” Wasilewski testified.
She said Garrett resisted being dunked: “I believe he was saying something about being a good boy, you know, I’m a good boy, I’m a good boy.”
Wasilewski was asked whether she knew anything about Garrett being forced to eat his own vomit or sit in his own feces. She said she had heard that it happened, but had not seen it personally.
That same day, Justice of the Peace Kathleen Jensen granted the order of protection, saying, “The court finds from the petition that petitioners Garrett Schilling and Brandon Schilling are in danger of harm.”
Parish was ordered not to harm either child, communicate with either, or to get closer than 1,500 feet from them, their home or their schools.
Although Parish was invited to make a statement to the court, she invoked her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, said Lee Scott, a former Secret Service agent who has been investigating the case for the Schillings.
The protective order is to remain in effect through July 1, 2010.
Parish did speak with police Det. Mike Stimac and told him that she would occasionally splash water in Garrett’s face or use a wet washcloth to wake him up. “Kallies was interviewed and admitted she did pour water over the back of G.S. head in the sink using her cupped hands as a cup, but said she never held his head under the faucet,” according to court papers.
Budeau, who was not charged, told police she never saw the aides put Garrett’s head under water. “Budeau said she did make G.S. clean up his own vomit and it was possible he ate some of it if it were on his lunch tray, but he was never forced to eat it by staff.”
However, another special ed aide, Jeff Brainard, told officers that he saw Garrett sit in his own feces for half a day. And a substitute teacher told police that he saw one of the aides put a tall kid resembling Garrett under the faucet and splash water on him.
Garrett’s physician is outraged that no one stepped in to help the boy for a year.
“I can’t understand how the whole system colluded to cover up this whole abuse and allow it to continue,” Dixon said. “I’m appalled at the number of people who watched this torture occur and did nothing — that has to change!”
Man arrested for abusing autistic stepson
August 20th, 2009
By Courtney Orton | KSL
RIVERTON — A Utah man is accused of abusing his autistic stepson. The 12-year-old boy is confined to a wheelchair and also suffers from muscular dystrophy.
According to jail documents, 42-year-old Steven Kimball admitted to putting duct tape over his stepson’s mouth because he wouldn’t stop chattering during his stay at his biological mother and stepfather’s house in Riverton. When Kimball pulled the duct tape off, skin from the boy’s face and neck came with it.
“He had some obvious wounds on his face which appeared to be some sort of pulling off of the skin, and some wounds to the back of his neck,” said Salt Lake County sheriff’s Lt. Don Hutson.
The boy’s biological father noticed the injuries when he picked him up. He alerted authorities, who arrested Kimball.
According to the probable cause statement, Kimball admitted “he wanted it to hurt” when he pulled the duct tape off. When he noticed tape residue on the boy’s face he “used a rag to briskly rub at the residue to remove it,” stating “he wanted the rub to be uncomfortable.”
Deputies aren’t aware of any prior child abuse and think this was an isolated incident. But the investigation is not over. Deputies think the biological mother and other family members might have been involved as well.
Video Courtesy of KSL.com
‘Spy’ mum tells of abuse
June 27th, 2009
By Stephen Drill | Herald
A MOTHER of an autistic man has revealed how she went undercover as a Department of Human Services carer to lift the lid on neglect and abuse within community-based homes.
Heather Tregale became a carer to spy on staff who look after people like her son, Paul.
She says that during her years with the department as a direct care worker, she witnessed physical and psychological torture of patients.
The worst cases were:
STAFF tipping a patient out of a wheelchair because he had rolled over to watch them cooking a barbecue for themselves.
CARERS who had admitted to “belting” clients were simply moved on rather than sacked.
AN AUTISTIC man made to sit in the corner for hours over two days as punishment for annoying a carer.
A DISABLED man slapped across the face by a staff member for wetting his pants.
STAFF making her stand watch for the supervisor while they played eight-ball on the clients’ billiard table.
Mrs Tregale took on the challenge of caring for people like her son in an official capacity after a DHS bureaucrat told her she did not know what she was talking about. Mrs Tregale, now 68, worked for the DHS as a carer for almost four years between 1995 and 2000.
She said patients’ behaviour became increasingly worse because carers would fail to interact with them.
“They were more like wardens than carers,” she said.
“Instead of talking to the residents, the staff would just drink coffee and wait until the end of her shift.”
Mrs Tregale who, with her husband Tony, runs a lobby group for people with autism, has called on the DHS to have an overhaul of training.
Mr Tregale said parents needed more say over how children like his son were cared for.
“The department doesn’t care how much you badmouth them – they get paid no matter what they do,” he said.
Health and Community Services Union Victorian branch secretary Lloyd Williams dismissed claims that his union told carers not to report complaints.
“We encourage people who have done the wrong thing to get out of the industry,” he said.
DHS spokesman Brendan Ryan said staff took their duty of care to clients “very seriously”.
Abuse in Schools Widespread, Report Finds
May 19th, 2009
By CBS NEWS
A new federal study, released exclusively to CBS News, reveals hundreds of cases of abuse of students at the hands of school officials — and even deaths.
The report, done by the Government Accountability Office, finds incidents of abuse of restraints and seclusion, among other forms of mistreatment, in public and private schools alike, all across the country, says CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes.
A congressional panel has scheduled a hearing about the findings for Tuesday, and child advocates are calling for better laws to protect students.
Students such as Cedric Napoleon and Paige Gaydos.
Paige’s mother, Ann Gaydos, is slated to testify Tuesday at the hearing to be held by the House Education and Labor Committee about the abuse Paige allegedly suffered on multiple occasions in school in Cupertino, Calif. when Paige, who has Asperger Syndrome, was seven. She’s now 15 and the family has moved to Monument, Colo.
Cedric’s foster mother had no idea the Killeen, Texas eighth grader’s teacher was physically restraining him when he acted up. Until, Cordes says, the day it led to Cedric’s death.
“She took him down and sat on him,” a tearful Toni Price told Cordes, “and straddled him. And uh… the autopsy report said that they had never seen anything like that except in a car crash, because she crushed his chest.”
The GAO probe finds hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and death in schools over the past 20 years, Cordes says — everything from carpet burns from being dragged to a seclusion room, to bruises from being pinned to the ground. Many of the victims were, like Cedric, children with disabilities.
“Seclusion and restraint should only be used in an emergency situation,” says Deborah Ziegler of the Council for Exceptional Children.
And the tactics are used more often than parents might think, Cordes points out. In the 2007-2008 school year alone, the Texas public school system reported 18,741 cases of children being restrained.
Laws vary from state-to-state, Cordes, says, and about half the states have no laws at all.
Ann Gaydos, with Paige sitting at her side, told Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen about the restraint and other physical abuse she says her daughter suffered culminating, Gaydos said, with a teacher taking Paige into an empty classroom, lifting her by her wrists and an ankle and slamming Paige headfirst into the ground. Paige was, Gaydos said, “quite seriously hurt” with very bad bruises on her shoulder and head, and with skin forced off a shoulder.
Gaydos says she’ll tell Congress Tuesday she wants “far better oversight of school districts, perhaps some third-party oversight. The districts can’t police themselves. I hope for stricter laws regarding these restraints, and better whistleblower protections. The whistleblower (in Paige’s case) was driven out of the district.”
Mother Records Autistic Child’s Alleged Abuse
May 18th, 2009
ATLANTA — Stefan is an 11-year-old boy with Autism. A judge ruled he was physically and verbally abused at school.
He is an Atlanta Public School student but because of his special needs, he goes to schools run by a state agency called Metro North.
* CLICK HERE to read the judge’s ruling.
They line the outside of each leg — bruises from knee to hip. A judge has ruled a school employee caused these injuries to 11-year-old Stefan Ferrari the day before pictures were taken.
Stefan cannot speak. He has Autism, and is non-verbal.
He could not tell his parents — couldn’t tell anyone — what happened to him. But he had a mother who believed, before this happened, that something was terribly wrong at his school.
Stefan went to Margaret Mitchell Elementary School in Buckhead, where he was doing well, but he was transferred to the Marshall School in DeKalb County in August 2008, due to renovations.
That’s when the Ferraris say things started to fall apart.
“I knew something was really wrong for the first time on September 8th,” said Stefan’s mother, Carolyn Ferrari.
That’s when she said Stefan came home with bloody scratches, bruises and ripped shorts. His behavior over the next month deteriorated.
“It was getting worse and worse,” Carolyn said.
“It’s about the size of a quarter,” Carolyn said about a microphone she sewed into Stefan’s shirt. She sent him to school with it on October 21.
It would be his last day at Marshall.
“As soon as he took his boxers off to get in the shower, I noticed it,” said Stefan’s father, Marcelo Ferrari. “And I was like, ‘oh my God’.”
Marcelo was shocked by the severe bruising covering his son’s legs. He and his wife went straight to the tape.
“Sit down stupid,” was one of the things they heard on the tape.
“It was horrifying,” Carolyn said. “I was visibly sick. I felt like I was going to vomit.”
Carolyn and Marcelo stayed up all night listening to hour after hour of what they say was the neglect, ridicule and abuse of their son.
“The man I’m dating is intelligent. But he has a small penis. You can’t throw a pebble into the ocean. Does it matter? Does size matter? Yes it does.”
The adults talked about drinking.
“Russian vodka with olive juice. That’s a dirty martini?”
At one point in the day, Stefan ate some pizza out of the trash can. The adults joked about it.
“I mean he was chill. Finger lickin’ good. He was chillin’ with that.”
But what the Ferraris heard that horrified them was this:
“You want a be-quiet hit?” (followed by the sound of a thump) “There you go. Get it now, go on.”
And two minutes later, listen as an adult tells others to leave.
“Please make him be quiet. Go away. Go. Take a minute. Go. Go on.”
And 15 seconds later, there were 18 seconds of thumps and the sounds of Stefan making noises.
“It was numbing, and yet at the same time, you can’t stop listening to it, because you’re thinking, ‘oh my God, if my child went through this, I need to hear what happened to my child’,” Carolyn said.
The Ferraris called DFACS and Atlanta police. Both investigations went nowhere. They sued the Atlanta Public Schools — which recommended the program to the family. What was done to Stefan Ferrari and who did it would be decided in a small state administrative courtroom.
“At no time after interviewing my teachers, talking to them do I feel he was abused at my program,” Healy said.
Attorneys for Atlanta Public Schools said maybe Stefan cause the injuries to himself, but the Ferraris said Stefan was never self-injurious — and the judge agreed.
Stefan’s pediatrician, Dr. Alison Koenig testified.
“It seems to me something like that, he could not have done to himself but somebody had done it to him,” she said.
The school’s attorneys suggested maybe Stefan’s father did it.
In his ruling, Judge John Gatto found, “Stefan was not injured at home…(He) was injured at school…His injuries were caused by multiple infliction of trauma. They were caused by his being struck by a hand or an object by an adult.”
“I can’t recall if I said it or not,” Jones said.
If she was the one talking about drinking.
“I may have,” she said.
If she was one of the people joking about Stefan eating out of the trash.
“I don’t recall saying that,” Jones said.
But after Sherri Jones is made again and again to listen to the audio, her answers changed.
“And that was your voice?” Zimring asked.
“Yes, it was,” Jones answered.
“So you did say that?” Zimring asked.
“It came out of my mouth, yes,” Jones replied.
“You said that did you not?” Zimring asked.
“Most likely, yeah,” said Jones.
“It was you wasn’t it?” Zimring asked.
“Umm, that could have been what I said, yeah,” Jones admitted.
Jones denies ever hitting or threatening to hit Stefan — and the judge did not find that she did. His decision stated only that Stefan was injured at school by an adult.
“That is your voice is it not?” Zimring asked when the voice on the tape referred to striking Stefan.
“No, it’s not,” Jones said.
“Whose was it?” Zimring pressed on.
“I don’t know,” Jones said.
“You are under testimony to his honor!” Zimring said.
“I do not know whose voice is on that tape,” Jones said. “It is not me.”
“So you felt empowered to take advantage of these children with disabilities?” Zimring asked.
“No,” Jones replied.
Atlanta school attorneys gave Sherri Jones a chance to explain herself.
“I understand how it may come across,” Jones said. “But I love what I do, and this will not stop me from continuing to do what I do for the rest of my life.”
“He’s a different child,” Carolyn Ferrari said.
Seven months after he was injured, Stefan Ferrari has made tremendous strides, and is excelling at his new private school. Failed by those who were supposed to support and protect her son, a determined mother did something no one thought could be done — she gave him a voice.
Police probing alleged abuse at Rishon Letzion special needs school
May 17th, 2009
Police are investigating allegations that autistic students at the Shkamim school for children with special needs in Rishon Letzion have been abused and neglected by the school’s staff. The complaints, made by several parents, allege that children are pulled by the hair, pushed and verbally abused.
Some 70 children, with varying degrees of autism, attend the school, which has a staff of about 35 employees, including teachers and aides. Most of the complaints relate to the aides, whom some parents allege are not properly supervised.
Last year one of the children suffered burns after an aide bathed him in hot water. Two weeks later, the child’s parents were reportedly notified by a school supervisor that the aide had not told the school administration about the incident and then lied about it. She expressed great regret about the matter. Following a hearing, the aide was suspended from her position.
The parents of other children attending the school reportedly have either seen or heard about staff members pulling children’s hair and forcefully pushing them. One parent indicated that children had even been slapped. Other parents spoke of hearing the staff swearing at the children. One of the aides reportedly called the children “devils” and overweight students were allegedly humiliated. When children were removed from the classroom for disturbing the class, they were allegedly left unsupervised for extended periods of time.
A source who until recently worked at the school confirmed some of the allegations. “There were times when I told myself that I was imagining things. This couldn’t be happening,” he said. He confirmed seeing an aide pulling the children by their hair and using force against them. In attempting to subdue a child, the aide reportedly said: “Don’t move. Do you want to be hit?”
On the date of the burn incident, the boy involved, aged six and a half at the time, was picked up after school by his mother. She reportedly saw that he had red marks on his head and neck and was crying. She was initially told that the child had hurt himself, but said her suspicions were aroused when she received conflicting accounts as to the circumstances, and at home she said she saw three finger marks on her son. A subsequent medical exam reportedly revealed that the child had suffered second-degree burns.
On the other hand, yesterday a source at the school said, “The parents’ statements stem from great personal pain that is not necessarily related to the school or how it is run.” With regard to the incident in which the student was burned, the source said it had been an exceptional, one-time occurrence in which a child was burned by accident. When the principal learned about what had happened, she immediately dealt with it, the source said, and added that the other allegations were baseless rumor and slander.
The chairwoman of the parents’ committee at the school, Aliza Zamir, said: “As far as I know, there is nothing improper or incorrect at the school. The parent who complained tried to get other parents to join in, without success. All of the complaints were thoroughly investigated.”
A WEBSITE TO COURT CASES OF INTEREST: