Monday, May 2, 2011

Florida Families against Restraint and Seclusion: Testimonials

                                   April 25, 2011
Florida Families against Restraint and Seclusion
 (reposted with permission)
Presents the following testimonials received from parents in Florida about children harmed by school use of
abusive restraint and seclusion

Many Florida parents are afraid to speak up because they fear retaliation from their school districts. Many parents do not even know that their children are being restrained and put in seclusion. Below are testimonials from a few of parents able to speak up about what has happened to their children and a few who have shared anonymously.

Restraint and seclusion should no longer be viewed as treatment options but rather as treatment failures because they risk lives, escalate behaviors and inflict emotional and physical trauma.


Brevard County
I saw that you requested families to respond who have difficulties with restraint and safety issues regarding their child in ESE. I have a 13-year-old son with Down syndrome who is staffed into a TMH class with one teacher and one assistant. The program was very inappropriate for him (or for TMH students in general) and he became a behavior problem in the fall. In addition, there were safety issues for him (elopement) and for the students and teachers (he threw classroom items). Now the school wants me to sign a release to allow CPI (Crisis Prevention Intervention), which, I understand is physical restraint. I have many concerns about this, and how it will be used.
I am in Brevard County, Florida.


Broward County

My name is Lavanda Sxxxxxx and I live in Broward County.  On March 17 2010, my son Decarlo age 13 was physically restrained at Sawgrass Middle school, by the security guard (Mr. Cxx).

DeCarlo was put in a chock hold position, pushed face down on the floor and kneed in his back. I was not notified by the school until the end of the day at around 4:12 pm. This incident happened about 12:30pm. As a parent I should have been contacted sooner. The Principal of the school 
Mrs.Dxxxxxx called and said that Decarlo had to be physically restrained and basically said that it was Decarlo's fault.

My son said that he couldn't breathe properly and that Mr.Wxxxx, the In house suspension teacher also made the comment that this action was not called for. I called the Coral Springs police department and an officer was sent to my house to take a statement. I also took my son to the doctor who stated that his bruises were quite visible. My son is now complaining of mid back pain.  I have never experienced anything like this before and I don't have any problems at home with my son.  If these problems are only occurring at school, I would like to know the reason?  
I don't think this should have happened! My son was put at risk. Decarlo said he asked Mr. Cxxx "what did I do?", But didn't get an answer.  Mr.Wxxx, the school's guidance counselor came over and asked Decarlo if he was ok and patted him on the back. MR. Wxxxx also assured DeCarlo that he will get to the bottom of the matter.

Decarlo also said that Mrs.Dxxxxxx called him in her offices and told him that this was his fault. There has to be some kind of law that will protect our children from anything like this ever happening again.
March 18, 2010 9:15 am 
Today I dropped Decarlo off at school and he was told by Mrs. Dxxxxxx the Principal that she would have him arrested for trespassing on school campus if he didn't leave.  Because of all the stress from the incident that happened the day before I was suppose to take Decarlo to Alternative External Suspension programs but I was very upset and forgot.  This was my mistake not Decarlo's.   I think that the school could have called me but instead the principal told my son this. I feel like my son has no rights at this school.

Broward County
Recently, I attended a meeting at my son's school with one of the Behavior Specialists from Broward County Schools. She was trying to convince me to put PCM on my son’s behavior plan. She told me that PCM is a treatment that benefits children with Autism. She told me that she has always used prone restraint with children and how it was so effective in "changing autistic behavior"
The school is "pushing" me to add PCM on his behavior plan I have refused to put PCM on his behavior plan. PCM is not a treatment; it should only be used in a crisis situation not on a daily basis to calm my son down. My son with Autism is already affected as it is from their lack of training.  I have no options for his schooling because the school down the street is also having issues such as these. Schools are not training their teachers to work with our children. They are teaching them to be "master trainers" and tackle children until the children fear going to school. 
Florida Lawmakers listen to us and pass HB81 we need to protect our children.  
Florida Mother
Broward County
2009 – Public High School

I am a mother of a 16 years old boy with Prader Willi Syndrome. During his first year in a public high school in Broward my son was victim of abuse when his aide tried to physically restrain my son to avoid him to get a snack from a snack machine. The first time we realized it was when my son came home with scratches around his neck, we immediately reported it to the ESE specialist and she informed us that this aide will be retrained since he had a good performance at school. Then five months later, there was an incident at the school with the same aide who tried to physical restrain my son in the middle of the Science class by pushing him against a desk and squeezing my son’s mouth to make him not to complaint about it. We submitted a formal complaint to the school administration and they opened an investigation. The school administration removed this aide from working with my son immediately and a week later this aide was transfer to another school. Three weeks after, the school Administration concluded and informed us that there was nobody who could say that the aide put his hands on my son to hurt him intentionally. We collected a written statement from a student that was present in the Science class when the aide was physically abusing and embarrassing my son in front of the class and his teacher. We presented this student’s statement to the school investigator but he says that the case was close already and there was nothing we could do about it. My son had a spine fusion surgery to correct 80% scoliosis that was done in 2008. He has a double rack along his spine. A written note from the orthopedic doctor was included in my son’s IEP and PBIP at beginning of the school year explaining that he could not be physically restrained due to this surgery, but the school staff never followed that instruction.

Finally, at the same school, on June 2009, my son was taking a test and he got frustrated since the ESE specialist did not accommodate his test as it was agreed. The ESE specialist denied the accommodation and my son got frustrated and started crying and complaining about it. The ESE staff called security and the resource police officer. Our private Behavior specialist was present at that time and tried to explain them that my son just needed a waiting time, that he was not a threaten for himself or others since he was just on crying the floor. The resource officer did not give my son a waiting time and ordered a Backer Act on my son since he already had the instructions to conduct this procedure.  Finally, my son was taken to a hospital and was released two hours later since according to the doctor’s report there was not criteria to Baker Act on my son. This was a very traumatic experience for him and us.

Broward County, 2008 – Public Middle School

In March 2008, my Prader Willi Syndrome son had a spine fusion surgery to correct 80% scoliosis. He has a double rack along his spine. Twenty five days after his surgery was done he returned to the school. The same week my son returned to the school there was an incident since the school had hired a new staff that had not been trained about my son’s needs. The aide was supposed to put away my son’s lunch bag, but instead the aide gave it to my son. Being my son a Prader Willi Syndrome kid (eating disorder), he should not be in food possession. The school Principal personally decided to remove the lunch bag from my son. Thus, my son started to follow the Principal asking to get back his lunch bag. However, the Principal never followed the instructions documented in the IEP and PBIP for food possession, instead the Principal pushed my son against the wall to get him out of his way. This Principal made bruises in my son’s chest and caused severe pain in his back, which was only few days apart from surgery. The Principal never attended any IEP meetings and did not have the proper training about my son’s especial needs. That year we experienced a lot of incidents due to the Principal’s power struggle issues.

A written note from the orthopedic doctor was included in my son’s IEP and PBIP explaining that he could not be physically restrained due to this surgery, but the school staff, including the Principal of the school never followed the medical instructions.



Broward County
The following paragraphs review the challenges experienced by my son in the Broward County School System. My son is impacted upon by Autism Spectrum Disorder. In a classroom setting supposedly designed for children experiencing emotional, mental and behavioral challenges the last thing I expected as a parent was to encounter a home room teacher displaying physically and physiologically abusive behavior. My son who is just five years old was subjected shouting and insultive verbal statements by his home room teacher. A highly trained and credible Child/Parent advocate source was able to validate several episodes of this conduct from the teacher. Unfortunately the abusive conduct went even further. It included restraining my child who is at risk for seizures due to a neurological condition for more than 20 minutes in a chair with straps.

If not for the diligent and compassionate work of a parent/child advocate the objective documentation of my son's victimization would not be investigated on a serious level. The intensity and duration of these traumatic activities by the home room teacher, have had serious emotional trauma on my dear son. He displayed more oppositional conduct in the home environment. These behaviors included spitting at adults without provocation, throwing heavy objects in an arbitrary fashion, scratching and biting. The school's special needs team actually had the audacity to state that my child enjoyed being seated in the restraint chair.

Father of 5 year old child with Autism   Broward County, FL


Broward County
To whom it may concern: This morning Wednesday March 3, 2009, I dropped of my 5 year old son at school with an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. My son has Autism and has very limited language and due to his limited language, he has behavioral issues. I feel uneasy because the other day after speaking to the Autism Coach, I found out that one of the strategies used to "control" my son when he is "out of control" is to put him in a seclusion room. YES! A room where he is by himself until he calms down. I was in shock because I was not aware of this and had no idea that a room was being used. This treatment is not appropriate for ANY child. This only worsens their behavior and makes them not want to go to school. Please, help all the families that have children with Autism or Other Health Impairments who are being put in Seclusion Rooms or Restraint. This needs to stop. School should not be a place that hurts our children. HELP US PLEASE. I am a mother of three children on the spectrum.
Ana   Broward County


Broward County
My youngest son is a 7 year old moderately autistic non-verbal boy.  He has severe rage/ aggression issues.  It has been a huge problem for us at home and at school.  The I.E.P. includes using restraints, when my son becomes uncontrollable.  I understand why they have to resort to this method, since he has/ and will hurt others.  The problem I have with it, is how it's implemented.  Last year, Aaron's kindergarten teacher was ill-prepared to handle Aaron's behaviors.  She was a social worker, turned teacher, who didn't have any experience with autistic children.  There were 12 students (in the mild-VE self contained room), the teacher and one aide.  One day, the aide didn't show up to work, so the teacher was on her own.  Aaron went into a rage, and the teacher put him into a restraint hold for 30 minutes.  I don't know how she could have managed this, as there were 11 other students wandering around the room.  Anyway, the principal happened to walk into the classroom, and told her to release my son.   We had an emergency I.E.P. meeting, and I told the teacher, I would not allow her or anyone else to hold my child in such a hold for more than a couple minutes...least 30 minutes. Fearing a lawsuit, she was fired at the end of the day.  It is true about schools not properly training their staff in restraint procedures.  I was so scared that she could have prevented him from getting enough oxygen, etc.  This year, the teacher has regularly used the restraint method (aprox once a week) on Aaron.  I feel that the behavior specialist hasn't done her job in doing a adequate FBA, to prevent this behavior from happening.  She's had two years (of working with Aaron) with no success.  It seems like the schools in general, don't understand the needs, problems associated with autism.  I have another autistic boy who is 8, and is in a multi-VE classroom (at the same school).  Since he is not a behavioral problem, they just want to keep him happy...period.  There is nothing expected from him.  It is worse than being in a pre-k program.  He comes home with the same dotted letter M (for Mark) that he 'traces' with assistance.  I am so discouraged with the whole situation.

Anonymous   Broward County, Florida


Broward County
I am the mother of a child with autism. Some time ago, I had donated Items to my son’s class and was invited to stay for coffee. While there, I was shocked to see a child, who looked to be about eleven, being wrestled to the ground. He came to the room with an aide to collect something from her purse. She stopped to chat for a minute and then told the child to leave. He had wandered over to an activity and did not respond. When he did not attempt to leave, the aide began dragging him from the room. The boy began flapping and screeching when another staff member came over and pulled him into an open space. He started kicking at the staff person who was holding him at arm’s length. Both women tackled him to the floor and one of them pulled his arms behind his back and sat on him. She had to have weighed 160 lbs. the child screamed out in pain and started to cry. When his cries turned to sobs, the woman got up and pulled him up from behind by the arms causing the boy to cry out again. With his arms pulled up and back in what I could only imagine was a very painful position, the boy was removed from the room. The situation was completely avoidable and even after the child ignored the request to leave the room, did not warrant the actions of the staff.

Kathy   Broward County, FL


Charlotte County
I live in Charlotte County but also help parents in neighboring counties. This is a systemic problem. I am not saying that all teachers are abusing these kids (I have the utmost respect for teachers and personnel for whom our kids are their passion), what I am saying is that the ones that do are not removed. I personally witnessed an aide hurting a child on one occasion, as did another mom on a separate occasion (a different child). All of the parents in the room demanded an investigation, which the district did. The aide was removed but to this day works in another classroom, as the case was disputed by the aide and so was dropped. Another teacher in Charlotte moved on while being investigated and went to DeSoto schools, was let go from there and went on to abuse two children in Lee County Schools and is under investigation to this day. These people move on and our kids continue to be victims. There is a teacher in Sarasota County under investigation right now for abusing the severely disabled children in her class. When are we going to take a stand? The Districts cannot be responsible for policing themselves! Our kids deserve better.  ALL kids deserve better!



Citrus County
Investigation findings have led public school officials to make a recommendation to the Citrus County School Board to fire a CREST teacher.  On Feb. 24, board members will decide whether or not to terminate Heather Ivanyi’s employment. Until then, Ivanyi is suspended without pay.  Ivanyi, 39, worked at the Citrus Resources for Exceptional Students in Transition school — a Citrus County School District Lecanto-based educational facility for children with disabilities — since 2005. “This recommendation is based upon your forging of a parent’s signature on a form to put a child in the isolation area (BTR room), which constitutes misconduct in office and gross insubordination …   and provides just cause for suspension without pay and a recommendation for termination,” Superintendent Sandra “Sam” Himmel wrote in a February letter of reprimand to Ivanyi.  The letter of reprimand recently became public record after school officials found probable cause for the forging occurrence during an investigation into a Jan. 23 incident.

On Jan. 28, school officials placed Ivanyi on administrative leave with pay while they launched the investigation into the incident. The investigation is ongoing, according to Citrus County School District Policy Compliance Officer Teresa Royal; no information is known about the incident because the investigative file is not yet public record. Before her time with the Citrus County School District, Ivanyi taught for seven years for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. She was named teacher of the year in 2003 at Oliver Hoover Elementary School in Miami, according to her personnel file. In 2002, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Miami-Dade County (District 18), congratulated and recognized Ivanyi in front of the U.S. House of Representatives for her advocacy on behalf of and dedication to special-needs children. Efforts to reach Ivanyi for comment were unsuccessful.

Citrus County, FL


Hernando County
My son entered the public school system at the age of 3 years, 3 months and stated special education as a child with Developmental Delays and Speech/Language Impairment. He entered kindergarten and shortly thereafter, he was initially diagnosed with ADHD and ODD. He displayed many traits on the spectrum; however, he was not diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome until March 2008. The overuse of manual restraints and CSI was very apparent in the first grade. The use of any restraining methods on an already aggressive child only increases the aggression. He was also sent to ISS on several occasions. At the time, my son was not very verbal and was not able to express himself. He still remembers the teacher and aide who restrained him. It was not until a few years later that he was able to tell us what he went through and the pain he endured. Our son was accepted at a magnet school for second grade. I met with the principal to discuss our son and if this would be a good fit. I also told his teachers and aide that his last school consistently used manual restraining methods, which escalated his behaviors. They never used any types of restraining methods on my son and he had a very good year. Unfortunately, this year has been more consistent with what he endured in first grade. My child has been manually restrained multiple times (without my knowledge) and put in ISS for his behaviors related to his disorder. As parents, we need to advocate for our children and help educate the schools to find more suitable ways of dealing with aggressive behaviors. Manual restraints, CSI, time out rooms, etc. are not appropriate consequences for our children. More and more children are being diagnosed with disorders that incorporate "not so typical" behaviors. Instead of punishing these children, the schools should be trained in how to deal with our children and provide them with a safe learning environment. You cannot control aggression with aggression. Children who experience these types of interventions are scarred. They do not forget the pain they endured. My son would flinch when someone approached him from behind for a very long time. This is abuse and it needs to stop.



Hillsborough County 
I reported the Restraint to DCF, secondary to bruises on my son's calves. It appears from speaking with the Investigator's, that the system is turning this around on me, their focus
has become more on the bruise, than the restraint in the chair, and told me the bruises are old. This is why I was very hesitant to make a report, and did so months later due to
the way the system operates and the manner in which the report seems to have been generated or passed on to law enforcement. The Investigator told me that she didn't know why DCF would accept the report if it was based on the restraint in the Rifton, as children are being restrained in their cars all the time, and there is no harm in using the same protocol in school.  My son has lost his muscle mass on legs and calves and went down 2 pants sizes, 
I believe as a direct result of constantly being in that chair.

Tampa, FL


Hillsborough County
I am an advocate for children with special needs trying to educate people about the over use of restraint and seclusion in the public school system. I recently had to go to (Simmons Career Center) in Plant City, Hillsborough County to check on one of my cases when I saw the staff restraining 2 of the children. What I saw was very disturbing. To me it looked like the staff was provoking these children into doing something wrong and then restraining them repeatedly. I was told, "these 2 children are restrained almost daily and put in time out." I was told that the time out room was a concrete room. The staff actually looked like it was a power thing for them. Some of these children have no families and no one to advocate for them and what is being done to them is called child abuse. I brought it up to another staff member’s attention and I was told, "It's not your concern. We will take care of it." I do not know what to do because I am afraid of retaliation.  These children need help!


Lake County
Vinnie cried himself to sleep the night before his 8th birthday and that was over Christmas break. He had been physically removed from class.



Lee County
Well, today at 3:15pm I got the call I had been dreading since the last IEP1 meeting. See, at the last IEP, the principal basically threatened to have my son arrested. A note was even placed in his cumulative folder after I complained of restraint stating that there was zero tolerance toward him and suspension, police, etc were to be used. For 1 an IEP meeting is where the parents and the school develop the child’s individual education program or plan.  The last few weeks I have refused to be any distance away from the school and have mostly been at home and have had my cell phone at all times, even in the bathroom, knowing the call would come. Today it did. I got the call to come pick my son up at school as he was out of control. I grabbed his service dog and got in the car and we raced over. When I got there, the police were waiting. My 10-year-old child with autism was handcuffed in the back of the patrol car. I could not go see him and could not talk to the school staff. I was only able to talk to the police officers. I was handed a letter stating he was suspended for 4 days. The police told me they were taking him to the assessment center and they would call me in a few hours. This evening I was able to pick him up after a few hours in the juvenile assessment center. Thankfully, the officers were made aware of his disability and they placed him in a cell alone. He was fascinated when they took his fingerprints and smiled for his booking photo (you know cause you smile for all photos like mom says) and really does not understand what went on. The detention staff said he was good for them and would recommend that charges be dropped. At this time he is charged with two 3rd degree counts of battery on a school official. He came home tired and hungry because he had not eaten. He told me his side of the story. He told me he was sitting at his desk cutting his shirt with scissors because it was too hot and he thought it would be cooler. The teacher asked him to stop, but he was too focused on what he was doing. The teacher insisted and he got mad, threw down the scissors and ran out of the room. He ran to the principal’s office. This office has been his only safe place in the school as the school has refused to provide a sensory [comfort] room or safe place to deescalate. He has been told he can always see the principal, but unfortunately, the principal was away. The staff had chased him to the principal’s office. He wanted to be alone to calm down and tried to lock the door to the office. Since it would not lock, he put chairs in front of it to try to block the door and hid under the table to be alone. They then came him and pulled him out of from under the table [his safe place]. He got mad and lost his temper. When he got home from the juvenile assessment center tonight he begged me to never send him back to the school that does not understand him and where there is no safe place for him to go.

Lee County, FL


Lee County
Dear Dr. Rxxxxx, On Thursday October 18, 2007, Angelina came home from school with several bruises on her arms (between her elbows and wrists). I asked her what had happened and she said, "Mrs. XXX held her down, and it hurt." I pulled out her point sheet and nothing was written on it about any kind of restraint or problem, but points from 11:00am - 12:14 were circled indicating that she, at those times, was having some kind of difficulty. I called Mrs. XXX to see what had happened; she said that she had Angelina in a hold for 30-45 minutes. She said she was trained to restrain students in a new manner not using bear and basket holds anymore. She told me that she INTENTIONALLY used pressure points under Angelina's armpits to cause discomfort in hopes that this would deter her from exhibiting future bad behaviors. I then looked at Angelina's armpits and there was bruising and a broken blood vessel under her left armpit. (I took pictures). Angelina did not want to show me this, she was very upset crying and saying she is never going to school again. She is very distraught! Again, my daughter is being physically and emotionally abused at school. I am hoping that you will agree with me that this type of hold being used as punishment and is not acceptable in any way, shape, or form. Holds in school are supposed to be used in a therapeutic way so the student does not endanger herself or someone else and only as a last resort, and never used as a form of punishment. Mrs. XXX even told you that she had Angelina in a hold for 3 hours a couple days prior. This needs to STOP!     Tuesday


Lee County
Some of you may have seen the WINK news reports about mentally handicapped children who were placed by their teachers in brick walled "time out" rooms" when they "misbehaved." My daughter Caitlin was prone restrained and placed in such a room on a frequent basis. I think it is important that members of our legislature understand how disabled children are routinely treated by the Lee County School District. Caitlin is now 8 years old. Her diagnoses include autism and schizoaffective disorder. That means she is a very disabled child with both a developmental and a serious mental disability. It is common knowledge that autistic and mentally ill children engage in self-injurious behavior, so putting them in brick walled rooms the size of jail cells is a recipe for disaster in addition to being cruel and inhuman. It is astounding that in the 21st Century, in 2008, we still have programs that are using aversive conditioning, with anyone let alone children with disabilities. The emotional and physical pain this failure treatment has caused our daughter is overwhelming.

Shawn and Kellie
Lee County, Florida


Lee County
My eleven-year-old son has a brain the size of a nine-month-old baby. Thanks to the work of Dr. Marjie Morales and the Early Intervention Program my son's world began to change for the better. However, upon transitioning from Early Intervention into the Public School system, our real nightmare began. Life changing services were cut over our objections and those of grandparents and other professionals. Parent and teacher input, was ignored - "duly noted", but quashed by administrators more interested in finances and school reputations. As a result, my son's needs were ignored with the hopes he would be transferred to another school for more disabled children. As a six and seven year old, instead of receiving the classroom help he needed, he learned to crawl under desks and lock himself in the bathroom to avoid further humiliation in front of his peer group. His teachers routinely violated his gluten and casein free diet, and then punished him for the behavioral reactions he had to the foods he could not eat. They psychologically scarred him by punishing him when his learning disability prevented him from completing an assignment and they frequently served his classmates cookies, Twinkies and other treats they knew he could not eat. One day my son came home from school with three large thumb print bruises on his arm and leg and he said he got the marks from his teacher who was "holding him down". We had to call the police twice to even get a police report. The case was quickly closed without any action even though our pediatrician had referred us to our local Child Protection Team who assessed our son and said he gave a strong disclosure and that his injuries were indicative of child maltreatment and abuse, the result of inappropriate restraint and seclusion techniques. The Florida Department of Education ignored our complaints and referred them back to the local Superintendent who declared our allegations as being "without merit", despite doctors' letters. The school refused to change our son's IEP to address his behavioral issues and they ignored the Child Protection Team's directive that he should have no contact with the perpetrator. Out of fear for our son's safety we refused to send him back to school until these changes were made. The result: the district ignored our waiver requests for a transfer to a new school as supported by our son's doctor, unenrolled him from the school district and declared we, the parents, were violating the law by refusing to require our son to attend school. Our options were to go through the school lottery choice system and have him placed at some unnamed school, in a regular education classroom with his non-disabled, same age peers, WITHOUT an IEP or face criminal charges. Our son, and family continue to struggle with the emotional scars of his abusive restraint and seclusion school experience and we have no confidence in our public education system to adequately protect children with disabilities from being inappropriately restrained and secluded. Unfortunately, these types of incidents are common throughout Florida, and the United States. Our current system excludes parents and protects abusers.

Julie and Mike
Lee County, Florida


Lee County
Ian is in 2nd grade. We are in Lee County. He is in a school for SED students. Per his IEP, he is to have a safe place to go to calm down. They use a normal timeout room for this even though his therapist said this was not appropriate. If Ian becomes aggressive because of failure to intervene, he is placed in a quiet room. It is the size of a closet with only a window for light. Ian is scared to death of the dark and being alone. At previous schools, the staff was not properly trained in restraint and therefore when they restrained him, they caused bruises.



Lee County
My child was injured in school a few years ago. My son, would not stop talking in class and was sent to "timeout" where he continued to protest that it was not him that was talking, but the child next to him. Rather than ignore him or LISTEN to him, they put him in a chokehold and lifted him off the ground with that chokehold and then they let go. My child fell to the floor, where he hit his face, received a black eye and cut lip. I called the school when I found out what happened and they told me that my son was THAT bad. So rather than call the police or call ME, they proceeded to cause him injury. Knowing my son and the trouble he tended to cause, I left it there, BUT I kept him home and allowed him to finish school with an Option 2 diploma. I know now that I should have held the school accountable, called the police and filed assault charges. I did not and for the rest of my life, I will be trying to rectify my actions with my son. This in unacceptable for ANY child, I did tell them that my son responded quite well to PBS, but no one was willing to do the work to institute it in the school. It is easier to intimidate these kids. Regards, Jacqui


Martin County
Last Friday morning, I received a call from Challenger School, informing me that paramedics had been called to school to help Justin and they were taking him to the hospital. It seems Justin had been hitting his head against the wall in frustration, due to having to use the restroom and not being permitted. Instead, when he got up and attempted to leave the room, four of the teachers and staff pulled out a mat and put Justin on it, and held him down. Justin [who is 7-8 years old and has multiple disabilities] became so upset, he began to hyper-ventilate, and at least three on staff saw his eyes roll back and say he suffered a seizure that lasted approximately two minutes. It was at that point the paramedics were summoned and I was contacted. This situation where Justin has been unable to breathe properly, has happened before, usually due to being put in a face down, prone position with his arms twisted into an abnormal position, behind his back, and a knee pressed into his back, just above the waist, which interferes with his breathing. I personally witnessed this abuse by the Martin County Sheriff Deputy (School Resource Officer) who is at this school on a daily basis. The new principal at Challenger was quick to tell me that the school staff restrains a child differently from law enforcement. What does it matter, that someone can abuse a child who is in a supposedly safe space, such as a public school? I have repeatedly pleaded with these school employees, to stop using brute force tactics on Justin, and begin communicating with him instead. Talk to him first, and find out why he is so upset. I am deeply concerned that they simply do not intend to show him the respect he deserves, as a human child, with multiple disabilities. Previously this year, Justin became frustrated at school and banged his head on the wall. According to eyewitnesses, three full sized adults piled on top of him, held him down to the point that Justin was unable to move or breathe. When finally they moved off him, Justin was unable to catch his breath, and began to hyperventilate, and became so confused and upset that he panicked and became violent with the staff. He was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to Martin County Jail, an adult jail. That was followed by continuing restraint and seclusion from the school staff, more arrests, and the additional stress of monthly court appearances all took its toll. There is also the constant threat of Justin being adjudicated as a "Juvenile Delinquent".

Parent Advocate


Orange County
Here is the info on Waterford elementary.  It started with the school not giving Brad the age appropriate curriculum. So I made a complaint after not getting anywhere with his teacher. They changed his curriculum after several meetings. Then they changed his I.E.P from developmental delayed and severe linage delay to severely autistic. Their only purpose for the several autistic labels was to remove him from Waterford legally without my consent. My parents and I were told that in the meeting we all attend. The teacher and her aid from U.C.F were allowing my son to be physically and verbally abused. I tried several times to file a complaint and was denied. His teacher also makes false accusations against my son so he can get in trouble for the things she accuses him of. The school has not developed an appropriate I.E.P.His teacher has throw away his medical excuses  that I had turned in to her  allowing the school to harass me every day about his so called unexcused absences. I have been called a liar from his teacher. I was also told by the Principal and the E.S.E Director that I was not telling the truth about his medical problems and his teacher throwing away my son's medical excuses. As of two days ago I am no longer allowed to walk my son to his class with the other parents. I was told this by the E.S.E Director without any explanation why.                                                                                       
Nicole  Orlando, FL


Orange County
My 9 year old, 50 pound autistic child, who many think is 5 years old, was restrained at school. The restraint lasted over 3 hours by six different people who took turns laying on him on a concrete floor. While the staff made sure to put padding under their own legs, arms and elbows, none was placed under my son. My son was bruised and battered over 80% of his body. Fortunately, for my son, the entire incident was caught on surveillance cameras. Later, it was discovered that the teacher who was supposed to be my son's did not even have his accreditation, certification or any education in special education. All a school board thinks about is their budget, not the care of our children. You would think that the money comes directly from their own wallets!

Anonymous mom Orlando

Orange County
I did not know my son was being beaten and restrained until it was almost too late. My son Christopher is now 16 years old and he has been through more in his 2 years then any teenager should experience. My son Christopher attended a Charter School for that specialized in the Autism Spectrum and incorporated regular students. My son started to have behavioral issues at school January of 2008. He was misbehaving in class and was put on a behavioral plan by the school. At the end of January and into February of 2008, my son became aggressive and violent at home. The last couple of days of January he destroyed the walls, furniture and picked up an 80 pound glass table and threw as if he was lifting a toy. My husband did not know what to do when this occurred, he did not know whether to hold him, stop him or call the police. He called me at work and I came rushing home, and found my son crying and confused, not understanding why he had done what he done. My son is verbal but his cognitive ability is limited and he can only express himself in simple sentences. We asked him what was wrong, we asked him to draw his concerns but he could not.  I immediately took time off work and contacted about six psychiatrists and none would see him for 2-3 months. One psychiatrist that specialized with Autistic children refused to see him and recommend we wait 2 months on their waiting list instead. I found a psychiatrist that did not specialize in Autism but could give me hope of helping my son through medicine. I did not understand what was happening to Christopher, I thought he was going mad or loosing himself further into Autism. I reassured the school that I would find help for Christopher through medicine and a psychiatrist. I also reapplied to Agency with Disability for the DD Medwaiver program. My son’s behavior became more stable and he finished school towards the end of May of 2008. I signed him up for two camps, one he enjoyed extremely that was Camp Shriver. His PE teacher had gotten together with Special Olympics to provide a wonderful program that offered sports, arts and crafts and swimming. Christopher has never been happier than during these days. Well, school started again and he progressively became more aggressive and disruptive in class. In October 2008, I had no choice but to temporarily pull my son from school because he returned home with contusions on his forehead, scrapes on the bridge of the nose and a swollen nose. The documented explanation of the injuries did not add up. I arrived home late that night and took pictures of my son the next day as well as to the emergency room of Arnold Palmer Hospital. They took an examination of my son as well as a CAT scan to rule out brain injury. I kept him out for a week but my son became extremely violent and I ended up taking him to a Behavioral Hospital that specializes in Autism Spectrum. Well they only specialized in the Aspergers. My son was overly medicated and neglected at this hospital until I withdrew him. I am having the state through ACHA investigate for over medication and violation of parent consent. The doctor is also being investigated for mal practice. I found out about the root cause of my sons suffering was violence performed on him by school staff putting him in prone restraints as a form of behavioral modification. All this was brought to my attention by the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disability, Inc. They performed a thorough investigation on three fronts, the school, the hospital and Agency for Persons with Disabilities. They were able to secure the video showing my son being violently handled by two men that work for the school. In one video, you almost see them bend my son’s neck in the most awkward of positions that could have caused him death.  My son was able to get his DD Medwaiver and my boy named Christopher no longer lives with us. He is with a group home in Orlando. I have suffered through many ups in downs in life such as anyone else, but the pain of knowing Christopher suffered such as he did and I as a parent should have never let it happen is something that haunts me every day. To know I had to be stripped of my angel is something that leads me to tears every day.    Rose - distraught mother

Orange County
My 12-year-old son (adopted with a long history of abuse) was restrained because he freaked out when the school staff yanked the school phone out of his hands when he tried to call me to ask for help when a teacher tried to blame him for kicking a girl who walked behind him when he threw his lunch tray away. He was not allowed to tell his version. Then they dragged him to a seclusion room, causing his skin to rip open on the carpet, and threw him in this room with instructions to do 30 minutes of schoolwork before they would let him out. Is this discipline? This is child abuse.

Yolanda   Orlando, FL


Palm Beach County
January 2010

I write this letter to you with a truly heavy heart and a hope for direction. 
My daughter Sydney has had behavior issues since 4.  I do not know how they started and when.  I actually never had a problem at home.  It was always at school.  Sydney was kicked out of 5 preschools.  In many of them she was placed in time out for hours.  It was a so sad for her she could never hold it together.  I brought her to doctors and ran tests.  I went to parenting classes, organization classes and everything else and nothing changed.  It continued to get worse.  When she started kindergarten I made sure she started school, Equestrian Trails, with a psycho-education evaluation.  The school did not follow the psychologist recommendations at all.   By the time first grade rolled around Sydney was out of control.  Her first teacher for first grade Ms. Migliara decided to submit her right and not have Sydney in her class.  To make matters worse, Ms. Miglara's kids were in second grade and she refused to have Sydney in their class.  Finally, she had a new teacher.  They suggested she entered the EBD program.  Sydney has been abused since entering this program.  She has been restrained.  At first she went to Wellington Elementary school where they would restrain here over and over again, day after day.  Sometimes these people were not trained.  This scarred my daughter.  With Ms. Aversano (west area ESE coordinator) we decided to move her to HL Johnson.  Sydney has an amazing teacher.  However, I was promised that a behavior list would be in the class room most to the time to avoid the restraint.  My daughter has informed me they are barely there.  Sydney has been restrained and hurt two times by a Ms. Phillips a behaviorist without a call home or documentation according to the principal. Last IEP meeting I said BE SURE I am made aware anytime she is restraint or walked.   One happened today.  Sydney has broken blood vessels under her arms.  She and another adult lifted Sydney from a sitting position to a standing position.  How do I make sure she is safe in school?  How do I know they are using restraint when needed and not overly?  Are there any rules for restraints and what can be done and when?



Palm Beach County
My son is still on hospital home bound because if he runs he will be restrained or the police will be called and they will tazer if they need too. How come I don't have to do this at home? They have taken this from him ..... Because they are not trained well enough and  just don't care!!!   A fast fix ...... he's at 2nd grade level in 5th grade and they want him to go to middle school CRAZZZZY!!!

Mom advocate


Palm Beach County
My son is 6-years-old, in first grade with medical diagnoses of AD/HD and Asperger’s Syndrome. He also has asthma that becomes worse with stress or anxiety. He is in a mainstreamed classroom without a behavioral aid. I recognize that his disability related behaviors are a challenge for the teacher, students, and staff. This 53 lb child has been prone restrained (face down on a mat) 7 times in a 5 week period. One day he was prone restrained 3 times within a timeframe of approximately 3 hours. I contacted the school requesting that prone restraint not be used and suggested possible alternatives for de-escalation techniques. In response, an administrator accused me of not knowing what the word "prone" meant, not having enough education to make suggestions in relation to the use of restraint or alternatives, and calling my son a "bully" and pressuring me to concur. I contacted district personnel to resolve the issue. Although I received a reply that the school would be contacted by the district, my son has been prone restrained since.

Palm Beach County
My now 7 year old daughter, who was reassigned from Timber Trace Elementary in Palm Beach Gardens to an EH program at Limestone Creek Elementary in Jupiter when she was in Kindergarten, has been restrained numerous times. She has also had incidents when she was not restrained but removed from the classroom to spend alone time in a room with her one on one. We have had ongoing problems, including her teacher (a 20+ veteran in Special Ed) walking her out one afternoon at dismissal time and stating to me in a very loud voice (in front of other parents also waiting for their kids) that she was thinking of filing charges against my daughter because she kicked or hit her (I was under the impression that because she was in an EH program that was not unexpected). The last incident was in December 2007 when I was called by the school and, upon arrival, found her in a room with the Assistant Principal, teacher, a supposed crisis intervention counselor and a police officer (it looked like an interrogation room). Upon my arrival, she was Baker Acted and taken to Columbia Hospital. Despite the fact that I told the school that I felt restraining my daughter on the mat (with someone holding her down) exacerbated the situation, the school continued to restrain her in that manner. My daughter has not been back to that school since.  I admitted her to Sandy Pines Residential Treatment and expect that she will be attending Indian Ridge when discharged. However, there is a chance she will be returning to Limestone Creek. I was never given any of the reports of restraint. Once I requested her file, I found she was restrained many more times than I was aware of.

Palm Beach Gardens, FL


Palm Beach County
Our son Christian was restrained 89 times in 14 months. At the time, we did not know he was being restrained or put in seclusion. We pulled our son out of Lantana Middle school in Palm Beach County in October of 2005 because we thought he was having a nervous breakdown. He started out with small behavior problems, but by the time the school staff at Lantana Middle school was done with him his behaviors had escalated at school and we started having behavior problems at home where there was none before. He became very depressed, easily upset; he started having sleep problems and would cry continuously in the morning not wanting to go to school. Christian was so distraught when we pulled him out of school that we had to seek psychiatric help for him and he was put on medication. At the time, we did not know anything about children being restrained and had no idea what PCM was and did not even know schools were allowed to restrain children with disabilities or any children. A year after we pulled him out of school we were instructed to request copies of the PCM restraint logs. Four weeks later, we received the documents and were shocked to find out how many times he had been restrained over a 14-month period. We never knew this was happening to him. We believe that the actual PCM restraint numbers are higher because the 6th grade PCM restraint logs are missing from the school files and we cannot get the school district or the FLDOE to do anything to help us locate them. It is a horrible feeling to know we were not able to keep our son safe. If you file a complaint with the Florida Department of Education, you are filing a complaint with them about them and nothing happens. It is a broken process that many families have tried to get help from, only to find that there is no help.
Gianni and Phyllis


Suncoast Region
I very much agree that schools and school systems in the Suncoast region make very inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion in the special ed classrooms. These interventions are not used to benefit the student, but instead benefit teachers and administrators. I reviewed the Technical Assistance Paper from the Florida Department of Education on the use of Timeout with Special Education Students. I was appalled by what I found. Not only is this Technical Assistance Paper very out-of-date in terms of best practices, but it recommends behavioral interventions for problem behaviors that are very likely to aggravate the problem instead of solving it. This very serious problem needs to be addressed ASAP. The TAP also describes a number of procedures that need to be followed whenever a student is removed from the classroom (level 3 timeout, seclusion). I am sure that schools and school districts have not followed the procedures at all which will put them in a very awkward position should anyone asked any questions. I want to work with you and your organization to find the underlying cause of this issue, as I have been much disturbed by what I have seen in many schools in this area.

Frans XXX Ph.D., BCBA Florida


Pasco County
September 2008
Please help me. I need to talk to somebody in my local area who may have some experience with something I am dealing with. I am the mother of an 8-year-old autistic boy. This school year has been a nightmare. The teachers are restraining my son and then when he fights them back he is punished more. The problem is that when I ask the principal why, her answer is “his behavior escalated” but she cannot give me a specific description. She always says, “it escalated, that is all I can say because I wasn't there”. Then when I ask for the people who were there to call me, I do not get any explanation. I get a referral home that states “Brendan kicked a teacher and bit her” but they never write that it occurred while the teacher was holding him down. From what I can gather, he is not kicking them or hitting them until they hold him down. So the real question is - WHY is he being restrained? I have been lied to about situations and been told different stories by different teachers. My son Brendan (who by the way does not lie - he seems to be missing that self-preservation chip) tells me a different story than his teachers tell. Today he went to school and I specifically called his teacher and told him to PLEASE not allow any situation to “escalate” and to please call his grandmother immediately if there is a hint of a problem and she will pick him up. I told his teacher that Brendan woke up upset about going to school because no matter what he does he gets into trouble. His grandmother took him to school (I am a nurse and was at work at the hospital) and she had a conversation with both the principal AND the vice principal telling them if there were any problems at all to call her right away before it escalated. They agreed. This afternoon his grandmother received a phone call to pick him up and was told that for 45 minutes two adults had talked to Brendan about 'choices' and such and he was now sitting on the steps and would not go to class. They did this instead of doing what his mother and grandmother requested. By this time, Brendan was a mess. He would not walk; so they dragged him to his grandmother’s vehicle. Then, instead of putting him in the car and leaving it, they climbed in. His grandmother asked them what they were doing and they told her they were riding with her and would have somebody pick them up. They went off school property with Brendan and grandmother restraining him while he tried to get away from them in the vehicle (a large conversion van). He bit one and hit another with a toy. Then when they got to Grandma's house, Brendan got out of the van and walked away down the block. His grandmother told the staff to leave him alone, he was fine, and he just needed his space. This is the neighborhood that he grew up in, he regularly walks in, and he was now well off school property and with a caretaker who had told them to leave him alone.
However, these staff members ran down the road chasing him and caused him to run away - where moments before he had been fine walking. A car could have hit him. They chased him through yards and called a police officer (again against the wishes of the family) to chase the child. They threatened to press charges against him for the bite and toy hitting (after they entered a personal vehicle, restrained him off school property, and chased him down the road all against the wishes of the caretaker) then encouraged the police to Baker Act him. Only when my ex- husband arrived and argued with them about the harm Baker Acting would cause did they stop. This is only one instance of how they have abused my son. I was told that he “chose” to move his desk off by himself away from everybody else, but the day I was in class the teacher told him if he wanted to sit with the class, he had to earn it. He has been ostracized, I have been lied to. I have been to this school more times this year than I can count and they talk a good talk to my face but never follow through. They put him in a pod classroom open to three other classes. The principal TOLD me three weeks ago she wants him out of the school... I have tried talking, being extra nice, positively reinforcing them when they do a nice thing for Brendan, but I am at my wits end. I cannot send him back there! He was so upset he was shaking at the school before he left. Not screaming, not hitting, and not kicking. I do not know what to do. The principal told me they do not have the resources for Brendan. However, nobody is trying to accommodate him; they are punishing him for not adjusting to their classroom (open, noisy, not like last year). I cannot send my son back there to adults who bait him. I need somebody to tell me how I can get him into an autism program or legally keep him home from this school. I know as soon as I send him back they will call the police the first time they decide he is “escalating” and Baker Act him. He is already depressed, rocking (has not done this in years) and sucking his fingers (never did this before). If you bring up school to him, he starts getting the eyes rolling up, etc. I have to protect my child and do not want to cause any problems for him by doing so. Please refer me to anybody who could tell me about any resource, a person in the school board who could help. We are in the Pasco County School District in Florida. By the way - the upset was because Brendan was told if he had a good morning he could earn 'Lego Time' with the behavior specialist and when it came time for him to go there his teacher told him he had forgotten to call her and Brendan could not have his Lego Time. So here he had worked so hard and was so excited (really loves Lego’s) and the instructor just 'forgets'. But of course, how dare Brendan be upset. Mind you not upset 'hitting' or anything. Just not wanting to go into his class. Thank you so much!

Shallun, RN
Pasco County, FL


Pasco County
We are very much AGAINST the physical restraint and seclusion practices used with our son Mark and any other disabled child. We recently got a back dated FBA with goals and information that we disapproved. Mark's IEP was changed so that the behavior specialists could continue to physically restrain him and remove him from class based on the "safety of other students and his teachers and staff." We told them that Mark was being improperly handled and they had created their own monster by not understanding the manifestations of Autism and a child who has Sensory Integration Dysfunction, a Sensory Auditory Disorder, and organic brain damage. This also was ignored.

Pasco County Florida


Polk County
My daughter, who is 3 years old, has come home from school numerous times in the last 5 months (most occurring since the school year began) with bruises. After numerous phone calls and emails questioning the bruises, we had a meeting with her teachers on Tuesday. Teachers claim to not know where most of the bruises came from. Two instances were documented by the teacher stating that they had to "grab" my daughter to prevent her from injuring herself. On Tuesday, we discussed alternate ways to deal with her behavior, and I am hopeful that this will no longer be an issue. I had no idea prior to this meeting that my daughter was being restrained. Why would anyone have to grab a 3 yr old, 34 lb toddler's arms with such force that bruises result is beyond me.



St. Lucie County

My son has suffered four restraints in a month & a half period. The last one was so severe they caused a cervical strain, busted lip, bleeding under the skin on his arms torso, face, neck/shoulder area and almost suffocated him. The force was so excessive that they imprinted his polo shirt into his body. I have filed three police reports and made three reports to DCF. My son was seven and weighed 52lbs when the restraining started. If my son was not visibly injured, I may never have known the school had no intention of contacting me on a few of the restraining incidents. The county I live in is working from a 12 year old behavior policy that involves barbaric aversive conditioning on disabled children. I did a public records search on the Behavior Analyst that injured my son on 4/07 and it turns out he has at least 3 DUI charges in his background one as recent as 7/07. How ironic a Behavior Analyst who cannot control his own behavior? There are no regulations on these matters and it is hard to hold anyone accountable. It almost seems as though no one cares. Anna Port St Lucie, Florida


Why would the Public School System be allowed to use even padded seclusion rooms and time out rooms and have OUR children come home with bruises and cuts. DCF would have us as parents in the child court system threatening to remove our children from our home and force us to attend anger management, parenting and whatever classes, if we did what schools do. This has to stop! Accountability is a MUST. Training is needed for all school staff!

Anonymous Parent


There needs to be a major overhaul in the way that St. Lucie County (SLC) deals with children on the spectrum. The teachers must be better educated about handling these kids because of the enormous number of children currently being diagnosed. My son has sensory integration dysfunction. I went out of my way last year to speak with his teacher about his condition and she assured me that everything would be okay. It was a constant struggle through the year to get this teacher to understand my son. He was never a discipline problem and was always respectful. However, he did speak out of turn (wanted to answer all of the questions and help everyone), and he needed help in staying on task especially in his team. He came home in tears often because the teacher and other aids often embarrassed him in front of the class by harshly reprimanding him in front of the other children. FINALLY, two weeks before school ended, we had an ESE meeting (I am trying to get him reclassified) and his teacher agreed that he was not a disciplinary problem and would not embarrass him in front of the other students and deal with him in a different way. It seemed to work fine and those two weeks were a pleasure for everyone. It really is not the teacher's fault but rather they are not trained. Restraining is happening all too often in the SLC school system. I personally witnessed a little boy (tiny and in ESE 1st grade class) being restrained by three BIG adults in the auditorium at Westgate during one of my lunch visits with my son. I was horrified; my son told me that this happens all of the time during lunch. Another friend of mine works as a lunch aide and told me that in her school restraining is a common occurrence in the lunch room and heard that they have a special room that these children are put in when they act out. LET ME ASK EVERYONE A QUESTION... DO YOU REMEMBER KIDS BEING RESTRAINED WHEN YOU WENT TO SCHOOL OR KIDS BEING THROWN INTO A ROOM? I certainly do not and I think it is disgusting that it is happening in our "modern" and "compassionate" society.


In the past, I have seen a severely emotional disturbed student actually set up. The staff had his take down planned. He did not have to do one thing. This was a terrible incident to see. First, the staff members involved are all supposed to be professional and know better than to just take a student down. This was very traumatic for the student and me as an observer. He was thrown against the wall in the time-out room. His belt, shoes, socks, and jewelry removed and, after being thrown up against the wall, he was than isolated for four hours. The student reported this to his uncle, who had guardianship, and the uncle expressed that no one was to touch his nephew ever again. Yet, I know the uncle was never really was told the whole story. The student did nothing to deserve that type of physical intervention. Because of possible retaliation, I must remain anonymous.


My son has been in school for less than three full weeks, and so far has been restrained twice. I know the school does not use CPI restraint as a "last resort." The teacher said, "He was getting closer to where the other children were, so rather than empty the room, we decided to use our CPI training and restrain him." Joni


Unknown County
It was during this meeting that she let it slip that my son was restrained in a "hot dog roll." I had to ask what that was...I could imagine, but I wanted to hear it. They rolled him up in blankets, like a hot dog...thus, the name. I could not imagine my son liking that AT ALL because he never liked to be swaddled even as a baby. I said this and they claimed they did it in fun and he liked it. I do not think so...that is when we started noticing the odd reactions to blankets and towels. However, since it was not in writing, only said verbally -- the school would deny or ignore it when I brought it up. I sent a letter detailing the meeting and the points on which we could not come to an agreement. Two months later, I got a response. Basically, it said that although our objection to the "calm room" was noted, because they did not feel it was being used in a punitive manner, they would continue to use it whenever they felt it necessary despite our written insistence not to do that.


Unknown County
My son came home from school, lay on the floor, crossed his arms and asked me to grab his ankles on the floor. He told me - "tell them to stop doing this to me at school". Thank goodness, Benjamin can talk descriptively enough to say that when his schoolwork is too hard; he wants to "breathe outside". When he tries to leave the room, the teachers lock the door and "yell" at him and Ben tries to push his way out. That escalates into more fear and Ben shoves or strikes at them. Ben is then dragged to the ground and put into a "physical restraint" position - for at least 2 days in a row now. He says that the visiting Area ESE Specialist from his old school told the teachers (in front of him) to restrain him. Ben also tells me he has trouble breathing in overstressed school situations, such as these. Unfortunately, I have had to research in a short time "physical restraints" and nothing about what HCSD is doing is right. Ben has had escalated autism related issues all year, and no one should be surprised that he needs intensive, specialized direct behavioral supports - not physical restraints as a therapeutic intervention. Not only have I never given the school permission for physical restraint and was not notified (thank God Ben can talk - or I may have never been told at all), but the issue nationwide has caused fatalities. This is yet another attempt for the school to avoid providing appropriate Behavioral Therapy services at any costs. Suzette Mother of Benjamin (10-year-old student with High Functioning Autism)

We have 'no alternative,' assistant principal says

 Elementary employee arrested on child abuse charges | FLORIDA TODAY |

School system considers cameras in some classrooms |

Southwest Florida schools reuse banned substitute teachers |


Police:  Assistant 'Caged' Student In Chair

Florida DCF Officials Investigate Incident At Cocoa School

POSTED: Wednesday, April 20, 2011
COCOA, Fla. -- An instructional assistant at a Brevard County elementary school was arrested Tuesday on allegations of slamming a special-needs child into a chair and pinning her there.
Robert E. Burns, 56, an instructional assistant at Endeavour Elementary Magnet School in Cocoa, was arrested on charges of aggravated child abuse and child abuse neglect.
According to a Cocoa police report, Burns slammed the girl into a chair after she refused to get off the floor. He forcefully pushed the chair into a desk, pinning the girl, who was unable to move her hands or arms, the police report stated.
Burns then sat in another chair behind the child and pulled it against the child's chair, preventing her from pushing away, police said.
Cocoa police said the act was done to "cage" the child.
The girl, who can only verbalize a few simple words, weighs 90 pounds. Burns weighs 275 pounds, police said.
Police said a staff member intervened and removed the girl from the desk. The girl had red marks near her rib cage and suffered abrasions during the incident, the police report stated.
Burns was asked to go to another room, and witnesses were interviewed, police said.
Cocoa police arrested Burns, and the DCF is investigating the incident.
Burns has been placed on unpaid leave pending the outcome of the investigation, according to school officials. Watch Local 6 News for more on this story.

Orange schools restrain more kids than any county in Florida -- by far

April 9, 2011Leslie Postal
Please click on the link to watch the video.  The school Assistant Principal demonstrates how they use the wrap mat when restraining a child who has continuous aggression and self injury.,0,4775052.story?page=2
The issue gained national attention in 2009 when a federal report found hundreds of cases of alleged abuse — and some deaths — resulting from restraint and seclusion. It found restraints that impede breathing, often when students are held prone on the ground, can be the most dangerous.

Patricia Ortaliz and her husband, Joe, filed a complaint with the Education Department in October, arguing that UCP had restrained their son for what they viewed as "noncompliance," which is not an emergency.

The school said Alex was kicking and hitting furniture and walls, ran from his teachers and was climbing a stairway railing. He kicked at staffer who tried to get near him, and eventually the staff restrained him for nine minutes.

But the school's incident report suggests he was restrained after he left the stair railing, seemingly after any danger had passed.

In December, the department found in the parents' favor, criticizing the school for how it handled Alex. The state noted that the school had not reported the incident — as well as a second restraint of Alex in September lasting 45 minutes — to the state as required by law. The school, which did not respond to requests for comment from the Sentinel, filed the needed reports in January.

Alex's family pulled him from the UCP school after the second restraint and have him enrolled in a traditional public school near their east Orange home. Now nearly 6, Alex is bright, curious and loving and doing well in his new school.

He has not been restrained since those incidents at UCP, but his parents said the events at the start of the year deeply troubled him.

He was frightened to go to school for a while, and his behavior regressed, as he wouldn't get himself dressed. The district, based on the department's finding, is now providing him therapy.

Sylvia Smith, director of legislative and public affairs for Disability Rights Florida, thinks schools are using restraint too often on Alex and other children. And though 8,222 incidents may seem a lot, she thinks schools are underreporting.

"We don't think it's all being captured," Smith said.

But Smith said her agency, which gets frequent calls from parents upset that their kids were restrained, is thrilled the state is finally tracking the information and happy the Education Department has urged districts to limit both practices.

"It is a huge improvement and huge step forward," she said.

Orange officials concerned

Anna Diaz, who oversees disabled-student education in Orange, said the district is concerned about its restraint numbers and dispatches behavior analysts to figure out what isn't working when a child is repeatedly restrained.

"There are kids who do respond to the restraint," Diaz said, "but it should only be used as a last resort. We take that seriously."

Bambi Lockman, bureau chief of the Education Department's exceptional-student division, said the system is so new that she couldn't yet say whether districts were underreporting incidents or explain the wide differences in cases among school districts.

Miami-Dade, the state's largest school district, reported 115 restraint cases, while Hillsborough documented 841 cases, the second-highest number next to Orange.

"We are looking very closely at what is being reported, and we're continuing to have conversations with districts," Lockman said. The data, she added, are "opening some eyes."

In a document sent to districts in September, the department made its views clear: "It is important that such interventions be used only in emergency situations when an imminent risk of serious injury or death to the student or others exists."

Orange educators say restraint allows them to control students who are a danger to themselves or other students.

They point to Hannah Briegel, 14, a seventh-grader at Meadow Woods Middle restrained 35 times this school year. She's a success, they say, because she is being restrained much less now and is doing well in school.

Stricken with meningitis as a toddler, Hannah sometimes lashes out physically when she can't express herself, said her mother, Liza. Hannah has thrown books, overturned desks and once injured a beloved teacher.
Restraint "was a necessary tool, not a punishment," Briegel said. "It's a way to remove her safely to isolate her in another classroom, so she couldn't hurt anyone else."
Palm Beach County school leaders want input on use of disputed restraint technique
April 6, 2011 By Jason Schultz  Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
BOYNTON BEACH, Florida — Palm Beach County School board members will hold a workshop on the fate of a controversial technique used to restrain unruly special-needs students.
The board voted unanimously today, at the urging of board member Karen Brill, to hold the workshop on prone restraint, a technique where school employees essentially pin a special needs student who has gotten out of control face down on the ground and hold the student's arms and legs.
"I have some areas where I am conflicted about prone restraints," Brill said.
The Palm Beach Post, in a special series in October, documented hundreds of instances in which district staff held special needs children in the face down restraint that many national experts consider dangerous. It has caused bruises and minor injuries in Florida students. A federal study has attributed some fatalities around the nation to the use of prone restraint.
School board members last week unanimously approved an emergency update to district policy on the use of restraint.
It outlaws the use of seclusion, where a student is locked in a room alone until they calm down. And the updated policy only allows the use of prone restraint if the student poses imminent danger of injury to him or herself or others. The old policy allowed prone restraint if a student was causing a high degree of disruption to a class.
Parents of special needs children who have been restrained in the past complained that the new district policy does not go far enough and that prone restraint is too dangerous and should be outlawed completely in schools.
The policy updates were passed last week as an emergency ordinance because the district missed a Jan. 31 deadline for updating its restraint policy to mirror state law passed last year, said Laura Pincus, the district's exceptional student education director.
That state law specifies training and reporting requirements for the use of restraint but does not outlaw seclusion or prone restraint. The district must still pass a permanent policy change to take the place of the emergency change within the next three months. Pincus said prone restraint is only used as a last resort, but sometimes it is needed.
Brill said she expected the permanent change to come to the board for first reading sometime in May. She wanted the workshop before that first reading so that proponents and opponents of the use of prone restraint could argue both sides. No date was set for the workshop.
Brill said Pincus should reach out to the parents who oppose prone restraint to find somebody to speak on behalf of the opponents.

Florida School bus episode costs Sarasota deputy his job

VIDEO EVIDENCE: Clash with special-needs student quickly escalated

January 13, 2011  By Anthony Cormier  & Christopher O'Donnell
Click on the link below to view the video from the school bus.

SARASOTA COUNTY, Florida - A Sarasota Sheriff's deputy was fired after he aggressively threw a special-needs student onto a school bus seat and threatened to shock her with a Taser during a videotaped confrontation on the bus.
The deputy, Mark Perrin, was fired Wednesday after an internal investigation spurred by a videotape that shows him snatching a 17-year-old girl from her seat and flinging her across an aisle while others on the bus looked on in shock. Perrin also used profanity during the episode, authorities said.
The situation began when an aide on the bus called 911 to say that the student threw a plastic bottle, punched her in the stomach and kicked her wrist.
The bus, from Sarasota High School, pulled over at Cattlemen Road and Cattleridge Boulevard about 3 p.m. on Dec. 15.
Authorities say that Sarasota County firefighters were the first to arrive, and that the aide and driver remained on the bus as the girl refused to get out of her seat.
When Perrin shows up, he sees the teenager in her seat a few rows back. He asks, "What's your problem, girl?"
The teenager, who has not been named in reports, is told to stand up, but refuses.
"I'll snatch your ass out of that seat," the deputy says.
He then grabs the teenager by her sweatshirt and violently throws her across the aisle and face down into another seat. The deputy climbs on top of the teenager's back and struggles to restrain her.
"Put both hands behind your back before I Tase you," he says.
The girl can be heard screaming while others on the bus back away. She later told internal affairs investigators that she could hear her sweat shirt ripping and that she was surprised the deputy grabbed her out of the seat.
"I wasn't ready for that," she said. The girl was then restrained with her arms behind her back.
Once Perrin and the girl were off the bus, the deputy's supervisor arrived and learned that the girl failed to take her prescription medication to curb violent outbursts.
Perrin told the bus driver that the student was going to jail, but his supervisor took her instead to a mental health facility under the state's Baker Act -- which allows people to be held for 72 hours for evaluation if they are a risk to themselves or others.
Soon, the agency heard from those on the bus that Perrin acted too harshly. Sheriff Tom Knight saw the video that afternoon and immediately suspended the deputy.
"He was off the road within an hour," Knight said. "He didn't finish his shift. His actions were totally uncalled for and are disappointing to this agency."
Perrin was hired in June 2001 and was paid about $59,000 a year. His personnel file was not immediately available.
Schools spokesman Scott Ferguson said the district was made aware of the deputy's firing on Wednesday. He said the district determined the aide acted appropriately and felt the student was too unruly to deal with by herself.
"She did the right thing by calling law enforcement, then it's up to them -- they have to take it from there," he said.
I wasn't ready for that," she said. The girl was then restrained with her arms behind her back.
Once Perrin and the girl were off the bus, the deputy's supervisor arrived and learned that the girl failed to take her prescription medication to curb violent outbursts.
Perrin told the bus driver that the student was going to jail, but his supervisor took her instead to a mental health facility under the state's Baker Act -- which allows people to be held for 72 hours for evaluation if they are a risk to themselves or others.
Soon, the agency heard from those on the bus that Perrin acted too harshly. Sheriff Tom Knight saw the video that afternoon and immediately suspended the deputy.
"He was off the road within an hour," Knight said. "He didn't finish his shift. His actions were totally uncalled for and are disappointing to this agency."
UPDATE: Fired deputy had prior reprimand
January 13, 2011   By Anthony Cormier 
The deputy fired this week for violently tossing a special needs student on a school bus in December was reprimanded by the sheriff's office in the past for a temper outburst in his private life.
Deputy Mark Perrin was fired Wednesday after a videotape showed him cursing at a 17-year-old girl on a school bus, then roughly snatching her out of her seat and throwing her across the aisle.
Internal affairs records show that Perrin, 43, was reprimanded by Sarasota Sheriff's administrators following a confrontation in which he called his estranged wife's employer and demanded to talk to his wife, eventually threatening to drive over in his patrol car to see her.
In September 2007, with Perrin and his wife in the midst of divorce, the deputy called Doctors Hospital and demanded to speak with his wife, an employee.
He became “enraged and verbally abusive” to a nursing supervisor.
Sheriff's officials were notified and decided the tirade was “conduct unbecoming” of an officer, and Perrin was reprimanded.
Perrin, a deputy since 2001, had no other notations in his personnel file.
January 13th, 2011

Firefighters should have stopped deputy’s arrest on bus? Bad idea.

by Tom Lyons
Sometimes a thoughtful reader writes to me and praises my column, but says something I adamantly disagree with. An example, somewhat edited, of such an exchange:
Hello, Tom,
As a former resident of Sarasota, I read the headlines most every day.
The video of the county deputy manhandling and beating the special needs kid is bad enough but there were three fire department officials on the scene, in the bus, as well and they did nothing!
Deputy Perrin deserved to lose his job over that but the three firemen should be disciplined for not intervening and making Perrin stop his assault on the kid…..
My response: Thanks for writing . I have to disagree about the firefighters. They were calm and patient before the deputy arrived, and they were one reason things had calmed down. That’s part of what made the deputy’s tone and actions so unexpected.
 And when he started his forceful arrest actions, I’d say the firefighters DID do something, the best thing they could have done: They refrained from breaking the law by interfering with a lawful arrest. Yes, a needlessly rough arrest showing extreme impatience and over-the-top angry judgment by the deputy.… but lawful. And I don’t think “beating” is  accurate, by the way, even though it was a premature overuse of use of overwhelming force to gain control.
    Anything the firefighters might have done (during the very few seconds of shocked reaction) to interrupt or even object verbally would have made the deputy angrier and almost forced to be more extreme to cope with the interference and distraction.
As is, a witness on the bus ( possibly one or more of the firefighters, but I don’t know) talked to the deputy’s superior soon afterward, which led to an internal  investigation.   And, when contacted, firefighters spoke to the IA investigator frankly about what they saw and their reaction. They didn’t want to judge whether it was excessive force in the legalistic sense, but said they were taken aback by the sudden and rough arrest with almost no verbal efforts to seek cooperation. And, one did say he was tempted to intervene.
Had he done so, I imagine we would have a fired firefighter now, and an arrested one. And things might even have gone worse for the arrested girl, too. At best, we’d have a much more tangled controversy. 
(We had a longer, friendly chat, and agreed to disagree. He still imagined that if  firefighters grabbed the deputy in mid-arrest, they would have prevented improper violence,  and clamed things down. I still imagained  a melee in which things got worse for all concerned.  Maybe much worse.
Perrin was hired in June 2001 and was paid about $59,000 a year. His personnel file was not immediately available.
Schools spokesman Scott Ferguson said the district was made aware of the deputy's firing on Wednesday. He said the district determined the aide acted appropriately and felt the student was too unruly to deal with by herself.
"She did the right thing by calling law enforcement, then it's up to them -- they have to take it from there," he said.

Ocala, Florida - School district: Teacher, aide verbally abused disabled student

Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 10:20 a.m.

Ocala, Florida - Superintendent of Schools Jim Yancey has recommended that a teacher and a teacher's aide be fired for reportedly insulting and verbally abusing a Maplewood Elementary School first-grader who is autistic and cannot speak.
The case was brought to the attention of School District administrators when the child's mother brought in a digital audio recording of the abuse.
The recording, made without the teacher and aide's knowledge, revealed that the women had called the female student “a hippo,” “a beached whale sleeping” and a “hippo in a ballerina suit,” according to School District documents.
The women, teacher Rhoda S. Richardson and aide Deborah J. Adams, were also heard chastising and verbally berating the incontinent child for wetting herself. And they forced the child to wear soiled clothes and clean her own urine.
Yancey said he's embarrassed by this behavior, as well as the disparaging remarks the women could be heard also making about the child's mother. He said he was shocked that “this was going on in our School District.”
“I just want to give my most sincere apologies” to the family, said Yancey.
Yancey said the mother is so upset that she would not speak to him directly when he tried to apologize. Her name and her daughter's are withheld because of the child's age.

A mother's intuition
The girl is 7 but has the mental capacity of a 2-year-old. She is nonverbal and “will only sometimes repeat what she has heard,” according to a Marion County Sheriff's Office report.
That agency investigated but is taking no action.
The mother, 26, told the Star-Banner on Tuesday that she had long suspected something was not right with her daughter. It all came to a head on Oct. 6, when her daughter was unusually upset and didn't want to go to school.
She took her daughter out for breakfast. While eating, she decided it was time to follow her mother's intuition. She drove to Walmart, picked out a digital recorder “turned it on, put it my daughter's backpack and took her back to school.”
When the girl came home, the mother listened to the recording and learned about the statements, and actions, of Richardson and Adams, according to School District documents.
Adams told the Star-Banner she did not have any comment about the case, saying only that “I do not want my name used in the story.”
In the Sheriff's Office report, a deputy stated that he interviewed Adams, who “took responsibility for her actions.” The report says Adams was very apologetic and remorseful.
Richardson could not be reached for comment. The Sheriff's Office report states that she was considered by her peers as one of the best teachers and a very caring woman. Richardson would not speak to deputies without her attorney, Robert Bradshaw.
The mother said she had been calling and visiting the school for weeks because she knew something was wrong. She said nothing was ever done. After she took matters in her own hands, she has seen great progress from the School District. The mother said she went directly to the district because she felt she couldn't trust Maplewood administrators. The mother said the district-level administrative team has been great.
The child has since been moved from Maplewood to another school that cares for the severely disabled. She has not decided whether she will file a lawsuit against the teachers and/or the district.
“I just don't know right now,” she said.

A seven-week investigation

Yancey said the employees were immediately placed on paid leave on Oct. 11, when the district learned of the allegations.
The School District has been investigating for seven weeks, mainly because School District officials had to verify whose voices were on the recording. Hence the delay in announcing the findings.
Yancey said once staff determined who was speaking on the tape, then the district could take administrative action.
The child's mother declined to give the Star-Banner a copy of the tape. So did the Sheriff's Office, citing a Florida law that prohibits distributing the contents of any illegally recorded conversations.
As for the School District: Officials said the tape will not be made public because the employees still have the right to request a hearing; therefore, the cases are not officially closed.
School District officials immediately called the Marion County Sheriff's Office, which investigated. The State Attorney's Office reviewed the case and determined the teacher and aide would not be prosecuted for any crime.
The School District also contacted the Department of Children and Families, which continues to investigate.
Yancey said the mother did not report the incident directly to Maplewood Elementary administrators, who were therefore unaware of the verbal abuse allegations until the district launched its investigation.
Yancey has recommended that both employees be placed on unpaid leave and their employment terminated. The School Board will decide on Tuesday whether it will support Yancey's decision.
If the School Board chooses to place the women on unpaid leave, the employees would have the right to request a hearing before the board, which can then change its decision or finalize the termination.

The accusations

According to the investigation, which included determining who said what on the tape, the school system says that teacher aide Adams:
Repeatedly berated the child.
Referred to the child, in the child’s presence, as a “manatee,” a “hippo,” a “big fat hippo in a ballerina suit,” and other demeaning terms.
Said of the child, in the child’s presence, “Do we beat her now or beat her later? I am tired of her being a butt head.”
Said to the incontinent child: “I hope you are proud of yourself, you wet all over the floor.”
Said: “Just put her in the washing machine … she needs washing.”
Repeatedly shouted at the child in response to the child’s actions in the classroom.
Told the child that she would have to remain in her wet clothing after she wet herself.
Knew the child was ill but said she was not going to inform the parent.
Made disparaging remarks about the child’s parent, stating the mother was “full of B.S.”
Consistently behaved toward the child in a hostile, sarcastic, demeaning and negative manner.
The School District also stated that Richardson, the teacher, who was around when Adams made some of her remarks, also:
Referred to the child, in the child’s presence, as a “beached whale sleeping.”
Used threats of “spanking” and “beating” in attempts to influence the child’s behavior.
Required the incontinent child to clean her own urine off the floor.
Made disparaging remarks about the parent, knew the child was ill but did not tell the parent, made the child remain in wet clothing, and berated the child in the classroom.
Contact Joe Callahan at
Florida - Aide charged with abusing autistic boy  
Florida - A 72-year-old school bus attendant was arrested Friday on charges she grabbed at an autistic boy's limbs, slapped him and threatened to break his wrists if he didn't behave on the bus, police said.
Marilyn Talford Onie was charged with child abuse after Edgewater police watched the incident on school-bus video, according to her arrest report.
Onie -- who was sitting in a seat at the front of the bus, across the aisle from a 14-year-old student with autism -- began yelling at him during a Nov. 8 bus ride home from New Smyrna Beach High School, police said.
Investigators said the boy does not speak and only understands some of what is said to him.
When he began to bite at his arm and reached out to touch Onie with his finger, police said, she grabbed his wrists and squeezed them, then pointed her finger in the boy's face. When he reached out again, she grabbed his fingers and squeezed those, too, according to the report.
When the boy tried to touch another child leaving the bus, Onie yelled, "You're gonna get it, buddy," police said. She grabbed his wrists again, bent them downward and asked, "Want me to break them on ya?" according to the report.
"You like that?" she asked later as she pressed on his wrists, "causing the child to lunge his body forward toward Onie's face," police said.
The boy's mother later told investigators her son likely was agitated because a new driver was taking the bus on an unfamiliar route.
Onie also grabbed the boy by the back of the neck, slapped him on the shoulder and pushed his head against the bus window as he tried to touch her with his finger.
"We are not bringing you to school anymore. You're a bad boy," police quoted her as saying.
Onie could not be reached for comment Friday, but in a Wednesday interview with police, she said she "had been having problems with (the boy) for several months but never reported any incidents to anyone."
After watching and listening to the school-bus video, she said her comment about breaking the boy's hands was "said out of frustration."
"Mrs. Onie stated that she has seen the video tape and has no other explanation for her actions other than she is 'only human,' " police wrote.
A fellow student who uses a wheelchair opened the investigation by telling her mother about what she saw. She told investigators she felt Onie was "very mean" and "showed no mercy or sympathy" for the boy, according to the report.
Onie was not fired or suspended, but she was reassigned to duties away from children -- cleaning the buses, for example -- after the Nov. 8 incident, school district spokeswoman Nancy Wait said.
The district won't investigate and will wait for Onie's case to be resolved before taking any further action in her employment, Wait said.
Onie works 6.5 hours per day -- considered full-time by the district -- at $11.73 per hour.
She posted $1,000 bail and was released from the Volusia County Branch Jail on Friday.

Student with bloody eyes will likely change schools

TAMPA, Florida A 14 year-old boy who claims a school aide put him in a restraining hold that led to his eyes bleeding will likely wind up at a new school. The white part of Abdullah Fisher's eyes were still blood red today, a week after the incident at Dorothy Thomas School.
"When Abdullah was getting choked - he told him that he couldn't breathe," said Deborah Williams, his mother. "I don't want Abdullah going back to that school."
Fisher said it started last Thursday when he "smacked" paper out of his teacher's hands. Staff called in the school's resource officer, formally called an exceptional student education aide, and a scuffle escalated, according to Fisher. That aide tried to put Fisher in a time-out room, but he fought back.
"He took me up and he slammed me," Fisher said. "He had me ... in the Full Nelson move. I kept telling him I couldn't breathe."Fisher is 14, but because of a disability is on a third grade level, according to his mother. By the time he got off the bus Thursday afternoon, blood was dripping from his left eye, according to family witnesses at home.
"I had blood on my shirt," Fisher said. "The bus driver [saw] it … and asked me what happened."
Hospital paperwork shows he suffered a subconjunctival hemorrhage, which causes blood to leak from a broken vessel in the eyes. He also sustained an acute cervical strain.
By Wednesday afternoon, school administrators called Williams to set up a meeting today. A special education instructor will evaluate Fisher and his mother to see what school will fit him best. Williams said school leaders could have Fisher placed in a new school by Monday.
"Just have special ed. kids alone in the classroom; not special ed kids mixed with regular kids," Williams said. "They tease him a lot and he gets angry and fights back."The state attorney's office will investigate whether the aide should face charges. The Hillsborough County school district reassigned him away from children until the investigation is over.
"This is an aide who is trained in legal measures for restraining out of control students and that appears to be what the situation was," said Linda Cobbe, Spokeswoman for Hillsborough County Public Schools. "When the student left the school there were no visible injuries but we reported it to child protective investigations and there's an investigation ongoing."But Fisher said his eyes started bothering him while he was sitting in the time-out room.
"When they put in the room my eyes started getting puffy," he said. "When [the officer] came back and saw my eyes, he shut the door back and locked it."That doesn't sit well with his mother.
"He's just a child; he's going to want to fight back, but there's a way to restrain people," Williams said. "You don't have to choke him and shorten his breath [or] cut off his circulation."

Abdullah Fisher, 14, still has red eyes from injuries he said he sustained after a school resource officer put him in a hold at Dorothy Thurman Alternative School last Thursday.

Autistic student bitten by substitute teacher

Boy bitten in the arm

11/03/2010   By: Liz Nunez
West Palm Beach, Fla. - A 6 year-old boy, diagnosed with severe autism, was bitten in his own classroom at Belvedere Elementary in West Palm Beach.
"This is upsetting to us, this is the first time this particular substitute has worked in this school, and I believe in this district," said Nat Harrington, Public Information Officer with Palm Beach County Schools.
According to the school's principal, it happened in front of two other teachers, who quickly reported the incident.
It is unclear what happened to provoke the attack, but the school said the teacher bit the 6 year-old in the arm.
"We do have enough evidence to indicate that there was inappropriate behavior on the part of a substitute teacher," said Harrington.
The man, whom school district officials refused to identify, was filling in for a speech teacher in a special needs classroom.
"There is a police investigation, and there's also an employee investigation, those have just been launched," said Harrington.
After learning what happened, the principal escorted the man out of the classroom and told him he would never step foot in the school again.
The principal says he replied saying: "You don't need to pay me for today, you'll never see me again."
"We are dismissing this person and he won’t have any future employment with the school district," said Harrington.
School police are currently questioning their suspect.
"I can't believe that school is the best school, I think this is the first time this has happened," said one parent picking up her children Wednesday.
According to the child's mother and grandmother, he is very scared and even though he cannot say how he feels, he will not let anyone touch his hand.
The boy's mother said he will not be returning to school.
October 10, 2010

Technique leaves second-grader with bruises, sprain, busted lip

Bruises and a tip from another parent lead to mom's discovery

Coming Sunday: When your child is restrained

Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Fighting a teacher's return
Video clip on channel 8 website
Website for O'Neill abuse

Manatee teacher on path to being fired

EDUCATION: She is accused of grabbing and dragging an elementary student

Published: Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.
MANATEE COUNTY, Florida - At a rehearsal for a Memorial Day program at Tillman Elementary School, students sang and waved flags.
But when one student in the front row of the school auditorium did not join in, first-grade teacher Karyn Cena "forcefully" grabbed the boy by the arm, dragged him to the back of the auditorium and shoved him onto a seat, district officials say.
Now, officials plan to fire the 40-year-old teacher.
Cena's handling of the student on May 11 led to her being investigated for child abuse by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. After reviewing the case, the State Attorney's Office declined to bring charges.
Cena, who makes about $42,000 a year, was placed on paid leave on May 13 while the district conducted its own investigation. The decision to recommend her termination was made by Superintendent Tim McGonegal.
Teachers aides who witnessed Cena discipline the boy said Cena yanked the student, pulled him with force and described her actions as "extremely unnecessary," "abusive" and "embarrassing," according to the report.
Cena declined to comment. She has worked for the district since 2000, including spells at Blackburn and Bayshore elementary schools.
School Board members will vote Monday whether to suspend her without pay and grant her an administrative hearing, the next step toward a firing.

Legislature passes bill limiting restraints on disabled kids, but Boynton Beach mom calls measure too weak

April 2010
TALLAHASSEE, FL — Phyllis Musumeci isn't a happy parent.
As the mother of a 17-year-old autistic son, the Boynton Beach woman and her husband earlier this year filed a federal lawsuit alleging that her son had been restrained at least 89 times and locked in a closet by Palm Beach County school employees.
But the Florida House today unanimously passed a bill that is supposed to give disabled students more protection from harmful and abusive restraints. The bill, which the Senate had passed unanimously on Thursday, still needs to be signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist.
Musumeci, however, said the bill didn't go far enough.
"All of the protective language was taken out," Musumeci said. "The original bill explained the types of restraints which were deadly to disabled children. I'm disappointed. While it's good the bill passed, it still needed more substance."
The legislation (HB 1073), sponsored by Rep. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, prohibits school employees from using a mechanical or manual physical restraint that restricts a student's breathing. It also forbids school employees from locking a disabled student in a room that fails to meet state fire marshal rules.
"This bill is one of the most significant ones we will do," said Senate sponsor Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. "We've had stories and testimony about children with disabilities who were restrained or put in seclusion and the parents never knew."
The legislation requires schools to write a report within 24 hours of any incident of restraint or seclusion with details including what type of restraint was used and the name of person using or assisting in the restraint.
Parents or guardians are also required to be notified by the end of the day on which the seclusion or restraint occurred.
"We had one father who said he found out his son had been restrained only when the boy came home with a broken finger," Gardiner said.
Florida has been among 19 states with no laws or regulations on the use of restraint or seclusion.
Christina Santacroce Howley, a Royal Palm Beach mother, said the legislation shouldn't even be necessary.
"We shouldn't be using mechanical or manual restraints on any children that restricts their breathing," she said. "What am I missing?"
But Nadine Fisher-Kirby, a Lake Worth mother, said she hopes the new law will protect children in the future.
"I think people that do not know what they are doing could hurt some of these kids," Fisher-Kirby said. "It's a tough situation as a parent, teacher or even security at the individual school."
Some lawmakers were concerned that teachers would not have enough ability under the proposal to control disruptive students.
"I want to make sure, if I'm a teacher and I have a very violent child, would I be able to restrain them as long as I notified parents?" asked Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach. Gardiner answered that the bill prohibits only restraints that restrict breathing.
Nat Harrington, spokesman for the Palm Beach County school district, said the district "will implement the new law in our training and in our classrooms."
Musumeci said she has a problem with "aggressive" restraining methods that she says schools have used in the past. Because autistic kids have difficulty expressing themselves verbally, they often get frustrated if they are being restrained.
"They don't understand and they're trying to communicate," she said. "Once a staff person puts their hands on a child, it becomes fight or flight."
Musumeci said parents' voices are not being heard.
"The politicians are listening to the Department of Education, the school district and the Florida Association for Behavior Analysis," she said. "We're trying to tell them that our children are being injured physically and mentally and we're not getting the support we need."
The bill also requires employees of child-care facilities to be trained to work with and identify children with developmental disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder and Down syndrome.
This bill combines H1073 and H81.   Link to entire bill:
A Seminole County,Florida special education teacher is expected to be fired soon for screaming at a disabled student (Video)

March 16, 2010


Teacher Accused Of Giving Student Concussion
March 2, 2010
FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. -- A special needs teacher in Flagler County was arrested, accused of abusing a disabled student. Eyewitnesses said the abuse happened in February in the cafeteria of Bunnell Elementary School and the student had to be taken to a hospital.
Parents like Barbara Hall told WFTV they were very angry.
"If I was the mother, something needs to be done about her and the system, if they allow a criminal like that to be around kids, could have killed the kid," she said.
Police arrested 37-year-old Jennifer Phillips. She is accused of getting so rough with a 3-year-old special needs student that the child suffered a concussion.
Witnesses said, when the young girl became visibly upset in the school cafeteria, Phillips aggressively forced her to the floor, causing the girl to strike her head on a glass door. Several witnesses told police they heard a loud thump when the child's head hit the door.
"I don't think you can tell the cause of something just by the result. People get hurt all the time. Students get hurt. That doesn't tell you much about how it occurred," Assistant Superintendent Mike Judd said.
The incident happened on February 11. The teacher was suspended with pay on February 26.
"What took so long?" WFTV reporter Berndt Petersen asked Judd.
"During the time we were investigating, it became apparent she was going to be arrested. So, the suspension was a result of the arrest," Judd replied.
Barbara Hall is glad the school system finally took some action.
"And thank God it was seen where somebody saw it. Right or wrong," she said.
Phillips told police the child was on her lap squirming when she fell off and hit her head. She is facing a felony charge of child abuse.
School officials would not comment on the extent of the child's disability.

Staff Writer Christopher O'Donnell contributed to this report.Florida Teacher accused of abusing special-needs student
BUNNELL, Florida -- A Flagler County teacher has been suspended with pay following her arrest on charges of felony child abuse when a special needs student in her care suffered a concussion, authorities said.
Jennifer Phillips, 37, a Palm Coast resident and teacher at Bunnell K-8 School, was arrested Friday by Bunnell police after the parents of a student complained their daughter was handled roughly last month.
Mike Judd, the Flagler school system's director of facilities, said the district is conducting its own investigation and is "sharing information" with police.
Phillips, who has taught in Flagler schools for five years, will remain out of the classroom "pending the outcome of the investigation," Judd said.
According to a charging affidavit, witnesses told police the student became visibly upset after Phillips denied her permission to sit with another teacher in the cafeteria.
Phillips picked up the student and carried her through the cafeteria, then placed the student "down on the floor in a very aggressive manner causing the child to strike her head on the metal door," the police affidavit states.
Witnesses told police that they heard "a loud thump" when the student's head hit the door, the report states.
Phillips then picked up the student and took her to the school nurse.
According to a Bunnell police incident report, the nurse called the student's parents and informed them that their daughter had hurt her head.
A doctor later diagnosed the student with a mild concussion. The parents contacted police on Feb. 11.
Witnesses told police that Phillips appeared to handle the student roughly "but that she did not push her or intend for (the student) to hit her head."
A phone number for Phillips was not available.
Phillips does not have any prior incidents with Flagler schools, Judd said. She was released from the Flagler County Inmate Facility after posting $2,500 bail.
St. Lucie County Florida Schools
6-year-old handcuffed at PSL school, sent to mental facility after temper tantrums
By Colleen Wixon
Updated Thursday, February 11, 2010
PORT ST. LUCIE — Kathy Franklin says she wants to get her daughters back in school. But after her 6-year-old was handcuffed and then sent to a mental health facility, she no longer feels her children are safe at Parkway Elementary.
“These people are going to the extreme,” Franklin said. “She is so tiny. They didn’t have to use force on her.”
St. Lucie County Sheriff reports say Franklin’s daughter, Haley, was being disruptive on several occasions at school, throwing objects, hitting administration personnel and screaming uncontrollably. Last week after Haley wouldn’t calm down, a deputy handcuffed the 40-pound girl to get her under control.
On Tuesday, after another disruption, the girl was put under a law enforcement involuntary Baker Act and taken to a mental health facility. Franklin says the latest events have traumatized her daughter. She is afraid of law enforcement and school, she said.
“There is absolutely no reason for what they did,” Franklin said.
But St. Lucie County sheriff’s reports disagree. They say Haley was being disruptive on Feb. 3. She walked out of class and kicked a wall and school officials. She screamed and wouldn’t calm down for more than an hour.
The sheriff’s deputy handcuffed her in an attempt to get Haley under control, so she wouldn’t hurt herself or others, the report said.
“Haley was crying and saying that the handcuffs hurt. When I looked at her hands, she had one hand pulled almost all the way out, therefore, the handcuff was around her thumb and hand instead of her wrist, causing discomfort,” the report said.
The girl eventually calmed down after the handcuffs were removed and she returned to class. Haley said she doesn’t like school. It’s boring and the children make fun of her.
“They tease me. They call me spitball because I spit when I talk,” she said. Haley said she walked out of the classroom because of the teasing.
She said she didn’t like it when school officials carried her to the office.
“They grabbed my arm, and they grabbed my feet. They carried me like luggage,” she said.
Deputies were called again Tuesday to the school, for another disturbance involving Haley, the report said. School Principal Ucola Baxter, who is eight months pregnant, told the deputy the girl kicked her in the stomach on the previous day.
This time, the deputy took the girl to New Horizons, an adult mental health facility.
Franklin called the action a retaliatory move because she filed a complaint last week against the school principal.
The report said Franklin had been contacted “several times” by the school and once by the deputy about Haley’s behavior problems. However, the parents have not showed up for meetings.
The parents also were criminally charged with failing to appear in court near the end of 2009 for a truancy hearing involving Haley not attending school, the report stated.
Franklin said she and her husband removed Haley and her 9-year-old sister from the school. She said they are trying to get an alternative placement for the girls, but were told it will take a few days to find one.

Charges dropped in 9-year-old girl’s school rampage in Fort Myers  (now it's a rampage??)
By Rachel Myers  November 7, 2008
Compared to the others waiting in court Thursday morning, the 9-year-old seemed somewhat out of place
Standing a foot shorter than those around her, the fourth-grader was quiet and fidgeted briefly while looking up to juvenile court Circuit Judge Bruce Kyle as he announced he would accept the state's decision not to pursue the two felony charges against her.
"Don't come back," Kyle ordered, raising his eyebrows. "I don't want to hear about something like this happening again."
"You won't," answered the girl's mother, Tarina Williams.
Last month, Fort Myers police arrested the girl at Royal Palm Exceptional School. Teachers said she was out of control: kicking, spitting and thrashing against their efforts to restrain her. It was just after she returned to school after completing suspension on similar offenses.
Williams, 32, said her daughter, whom The News-Press is not naming because of her age, has been diagnosed with multiple mental and behavioral illnesses, including schizophrenia.
"I'm satisfied that the charges were dropped," Williams said, "but I think it never should have gotten to this point. She shouldn't have been arrested in the first place."
State Attorney's Office spokeswoman Samantha Syoen said she could not discuss specifics of juvenile cases or why the state decided not to press forward with this one.
Fort Myers police Officer Keith Nicholson reported the girl's unruly actions at the school had included throwing chairs, threatening to stab a teacher, slapping a phone from a teacher's hand, kicking a teacher and slamming a door into a teacher. Her volatile behavior was the reason she was transferred to the special needs school in the first place. But Royal Palm officials said they had exhausted every other alternative with the girl.
Following the latest outburst Oct. 14, the girl was handcuffed, arrested on two felony charges of battery against an education employee and transported to the Juvenile Assessment Center before being sent home to her mother.
It's not clear what the exact consequence might have been had the state gone through with the case because there are no minimum mandatory sentences in juvenile court, according to Syoen. The focus in juvenile justice system overall is reform, not punishment.
Joe Donzelli, school district spokesman, said school officials made the choice to press charges as a last resort in order to get help for the girl.
"I don't think anyone would doubt that there are procedures in the system that could be overhauled," Donzelli said when asked whether arrest was the only way to accomplish that. "But when faced with a decision like that, it's not one that's made lightly. There comes a point when the school realizes additional help is necessary, and this is the only way to get it. And that's not unique to this district - that's something you'll find everywhere."
Williams ended the girl's medication routine when doctors at a clinic in LaBelle, where the family used to live, began to prescribe experimental drugs. When they moved to Lehigh Acres, she said she tried unsuccessfully to set an appointment for her daughter at the Ruth Cooper campus of Lee Mental Health.
Since the arrest, the Department of Children and Families has stepped in to help the family address the girl's mental health issues, according to spokeswoman Erin Gillespie, who couldn't go into further detail. Williams also said the girl is now back in school, though working with a different teacher.
"Things have been better so far," Williams said. "I just feel there needs to be more resources available before it gets to this."

Suit filed against Lee County Florida School District by youth’s parents; ‘Notice’ of second suit

By MCKENZIE CASSIDY,   Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Lee County School District is now facing two lawsuits from angry parents who claim that their special needs children were abused in the classroom.

Two weeks ago, Board Attorney Keith Martin announced that Cape Coral resident Terry Mattox sent a notice of claim to the district over his daughter, Jasmine. During Tuesday night’s meeting Chairman Jeanne Dozier said that a lawsuit had been filed by the parents of Caitlin Elders.

Until now an official lawsuit has not been filed by Mattox.

School board members and district officials could not comment about any pending lawsuits, but members of the Elders family discussed their issues with the school district during public comment.

They stated that the district has failed to address any potential problems relating to physical or emotional abuse.

“Every time one of the district’s failures is exposed, instead of correcting the problem, which would first require acknowledging it, you put on a horse and pony show intended to deny these problems exist,” said Kellie Elders.

A report filed by a teacher in 2006 stated that Caitlin, diagnosed with autism and bipolar disorder, had her head pushed to the floor after she began to experience a fit in the school’s timeout room.

The Elders said they had physical documentation to back up their allegation, but explained that the school district never addressed the issue. Now a similar incident has spawned a notice of claim from Mattox.

Recently, the Cape Coral Police Department were called to Gulf Elementary to investigate what happened with Jasmine, Mattox’s 5-year-old autistic daughter. Police later closed the case without filing criminal charges, and they documented that Jasmine had red marks on her chin, nose and behind both ears.

Mattox also claimed that he witnessed two teachers sitting on top of Jasmine, who was pinned to the floor. Furthermore, one of the teachers involved in the incident, Catherine Hile, previously had been accused of punching a student while working in Charlotte County.

There is no state requirement for school districts to report when a restraint occurs in a classroom.

The Lee County School District also could not provide the Cape Coral Daily Breeze with the amount of physical restraints that occurred in schools last year, or whether “prone restraints” were used or when a child could be held to the floor.

Shawn Elders said he has spent much of his time trying to get the school district to acknowledge that there is an issue with how students are restrained.

He said that board members have described his accusations as “half-truths” and “isolated incidents,” yet he pointed out Tuesday night that “now we have the case of one more child.”

The use of physical restraints in schools are important, especially in special education classrooms where they can be used to protect students who are about to hurt themselves or others. On the other hand, these restraints are only effective if teachers and staff are properly trained.

According to the Elders family, there is a “lack of training and adequate resources for staff.”
Complaint filed against PBC Schools  neglect, harsh discipline of special education students — lead to juvenile justice system
by K. Chandler Westside Gazette 10/8/2008
Nearly four years after the Advancement Project’s landmark study, Education on Lockdown: the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track, demonstrated how ‘zero tolerance’ policies within the Palm Beach County School District (PBCSD)— originally designed to address serious behavioral issues — morphed into a “take no prisoners” approach to school discipline, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), along with a consortium of civil rights organizations, have now filed formal complaints against the Hillsborough and PBCSD asserting that students with special needs are being subjected to neglect as well as unnecessarily harsh discipline that essentially put them on a track from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse.

The complaint, raised by the NAACP, Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, Fla. Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities and the Southern Legal Counsel was lodged with the Florida Department of Education, Oct. 1, 2008 on behalf of four special education students who’d faced frequent and harsh discipline. The complaint cites a woeful lack of psychological counseling, and other social services mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education and Improvement Act (IDEA), the end result being that the students were frequently removed from class to the detriment of their education.

“This is a systemic problem that really needs to be addressed at the highest levels of the school district,” said Barbara Burch Briggs, staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society.

Studies have consistently shown that by far Black males are the ones being disproportionately targeted and tracked into the juvenile justice system for relatively minor incidences that should have been dealt with by the school system. Between 2006 and 2007, Black males made up a third of the state’s 23,000 criminal justice referrals despite comprising slightly over 20 percent of Florida’s aggregate student population. Roughly 70 percent of all youth referred to the juvenile justice system have mental health issues, the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) estimates.

“These school districts are violating the civil rights of their most vulnerable students — those with disabilities,” stated David Utter, director of the SPLC’s Florida Initiatives. “Rather than providing these students with the educational services they need and are entitled to under federal law, they are pushing them out of school.”

Compounding the situation, many elementary students enrolled in the PBCSD with behavioral and emotional issues, despite having an average IQ, were found to lag far behind their academic grade level when they advanced to middle school. Making matters worse, only a third of students with disabilities attending Palm Beach County schools graduated compared to nearly two-thirds of students in general. Moreover, the dropout rate is 13 percent for emotionally disabled students compared to 4 percent overall, according to statistics compiled between 2005 & 2006.

The complaint filed by the consortium also comes on the heels of a national report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) released in September, entitled: A Violent Education: Corporal Punishment of Children in U.S. Public Schools that noted, among other things, that African Americans were punished 1.4 times more than white students even though their alleged transgressions were not disproportionately higher, and “special education students — students with mental or physical disabilities — also receive corporal punishment at disproportionate rates.”

The report coincides with a newly-proposed State Board of Education rule, that if enacted, would permit even greater use of force in schools by administrators and teachers – something many parents and child advocates reject out of hand as only making matters worse, particularly with respect to special needs students who are already bearing an unfair burden of harsh discipline and neglect.

“Over-inclusion and under-inclusion each have race implications, as do zero-tolerance practices that lead to racially disparate suspensions and expulsions – and involvement in the juvenile justice system for Black and Latino students with disabilities,” stated Florida State Conference NAACP President, Adora Nweze, who was formerly involved in special education. “Children of color were already being ground down by this flawed system in Palm Beach County schools. Now it appears the entire system has collapsed on top of them.”
Complaint Filed On Behalf Of Disabled Students
TAMPA - A class-action complaint with the Florida Department of Education was filed in Tallahassee on Wednesday by three civil rights groups on behalf of students with mental and emotional disabilities in Hillsborough County.
The complaint alleges that six students did not receive services such as counseling, social work or psychological help that they were entitled to under federal law.
Instead, students were subjected to repeated disciplinary measures including more than 10 days of in- and out-of-school suspensions, court referrals, and undocumented, illegal removals from school, it said.
Such students "are literally pushed out of school" and many end up in prison, Marlene Sallo, attorney for the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities, said Wednesday at a news conference in Tampa. The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Florida State Conference of the NAACP are the other groups bringing the action.
The action is on behalf of "all students of the Hillsborough County public school system with emotional/behavioral disabilities, or who manifest such behavioral issues, and who have been or are being, subjected to repeated disciplinary removals totaling more than 10 school days."
A similar class-action complaint was filed Wednesday on behalf of five students in Palm Beach County, said Brandi Davis, lawyer for the Southern Poverty Law Center. Similar successful complaints have been filed in Louisiana and Mississippi that brought changes for all students, she said.
State Required To Investigate
The state Department of Education must investigate the complaints and, if found to be true, order corrective action. The groups want the districts to agree to changes, including hiring experts to train teachers, other school staff and bus drivers to learn strategies to deal with discipline of students with disabilities.
"It's important to direct the Florida Department of Education's attention to theses issues," said Ronald K. Lospennato, director of the School-to-Prison Reform Project for the Southern Poverty Law Center in a phone interview. Two districts were chosen for the complaint, Lospennato said, but "it's definitely a statewide problem."
Statistics cited by the groups:
•Hillsborough led the state in the number of students referred to the juvenile justice system with 1,881 in 2006-07.
•Hillsborough's graduation rate for students with disabilities in 2005-06 was 39 percent, compared with 75 percent for all students.
Elia Surprised By Notice
Hillsborough Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said she did not get the complaint until Wednesday and would be analyzing it. She said she has not identified the students named and could not speak to specifics.
Elia said she was surprised when she got notice Monday of the upcoming news conference, but will work with the state and agencies involved to identify and address the issues.
The district has been working on discipline issues for a couple of years, Elia noted, and started programs including one that keeps some students out of the court system by offering them civil citations with community service.
"It's a concern," Elia said of the complaint. "We have to deal with the issues and still maintain a safe learning environment for all students."
Pat Spencer, a director of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, said the local NAACP chapter has a "very favorable" working relationship with the district that will continue, but the complaints are valid. She is also an officer in the local chapter.
"By failing to meet the needs of such students and by adopting harsh, zero-tolerance policies that push them out of school for minor misconduct, the Hillsborough school district is helping feed Florida's school-to-prison pipeline," Spencer said.
A Third Were Black Males
About 33 percent of the 23,000 school referrals statewide to the criminal justice system in 2006-07 were black males, Spencer said, even though they are only 23 percent of Florida students.
Many of the referrals are children with disabilities, Spencer said, citing statistics showing that 70 percent of youth in Florida's juvenile justice system have at least one mental health disorder.
Hillsborough and Palm Beach counties may be just the start, Spencer said: "I'm not sure this is where it will end. This is just the beginning."
The complaint does not name the Hillsborough students, but includes initials and details.
Five of the six are in foster care, said Sallo, who recently has been representing them individually either through her organization or as attorney ad litem. One is a 10th grade girl who is educable mentally handicapped with an emotional behavioral disability attending Simmons ESE Center. Eight years went by after she was identified as eligible for exceptional education services before she received any counseling, Sallo said.
Early intervention on behavior issues such as this could mean fewer disciplinary incidents and suspensions, Sallow said.
The other students are: a 12th grade trainable mentally handicapped boy; a boy with an emotional behavioral disability/severe emotional disturbance; a boy with an emotional behavior disability; a boy who is educable mentally handicapped; and a 12th grade boy with autism spectrum disorder and speech/language disorder.
Reporter Marilyn Brown can be reached at (813) 259-8069

Hillsborough schools shortchange disabled students, joint complaint says

By Richard Danielson Times staff writer
October 2, 2008

TAMPA, FL — Even in kindergarten, R.J. struggled in school, saying he often felt like a "bad boy" who was "dumb."
His problems included behavioral or emotional disabilities, frustration at not keeping up with classmates and a lack of coping skills.
Within two years, he was suspended regularly for being disruptive. But an advocacy group says Hillsborough schools failed to give him adequate counseling and support.
Now three civil rights groups say that kind of missed opportunity deprives R.J. and students like him of the chance to learn.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities and the NAACP filed a 20-page complaint Wednesday with the state Department of Education over Hillsborough's treatment of students with emotional and behavioral disabilities.
"These students are being tragically shortchanged by the school district," said Marlene Sallo, a Tampa-based attorney for the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities.
The complaint asks the state to force Hillsborough to transform a "culture of neglect and overly harsh discipline" that puts students with disabilities on a path to jail and prison.
Hillsborough schools referred 1,881 students to the juvenile justice system, mostly for minor offenses, in 2006-07.
That's the most in the state, though Hillsborough's percentage of school-related delinquency referrals tracked the state average, according to the complaint.
Punishing students with disabilities instead of providing them with services that promote positive behavior "appears to occur more frequently with students of color," according to the complaint.
"This breakdown in our schools has put children of color particularly at risk," said Pat Spencer, the NAACP's director for the area covered by chapters in Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
In response, school spokesman Stephen Hegarty said the district has worked with the NAACP and agrees that in the past it too often referred troublesome students to law enforcement.
Hillsborough's number of referrals to law enforcement for 2006-07 was down 20 percent from the previous year. That, Hegarty said, resulted from work school officials did to reduce referrals, especially for matters like trespassing, disorderly conduct and mischief.
Hegarty said the district is ready to consider the concerns raised by the civil rights groups.
"Now that we have (the complaint) we're going to take it and look at these cases on an individual basis," he said.
The groups also say the school district isolates students with disabilities through discipline. Disabled students in Hillsborough are 2 1/2 times as likely to lose as least 10 days of school to suspensions or expulsions as other students, they say.
But a veteran of two schools with exceptional student education programs says administrators often mainstream students with behavioral disabilities into regular settings.
"We really believe that every student begins in the least restrictive environment," said Joyce Wieland, a former principal and the district's director for exceptional student education.
It is through later assessment and discussion involving both school administrators and parents that placements change.
"Each student is seen as an individual, and we want all children to learn," Wieland said.
The civil rights groups want Hillsborough administrators to hire a nationally recognized expert to help develop a training program emphasizing positive ways to support students with disabilities.
Similar complaints have been filed against Palm Beach County, as well as in Louisiana and Mississippi.
"This problem is not limited to Palm Beach and Hillsborough," said Brandi Davis, a lawyer from the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. "This is a state and national problem."
Richard Danielson can be reached at or (813) 269-5311.
Expulsions and moves
Number of Hillsborough County students expelled or changed to a

different school or program over the past five years.




Source: Hillsborough County School District. These changes result from offenses including assault and battery, misbehavior and drug possession. About 15 percent of all students are in some special education program.

SPLC, Civil Rights Groups File Complaints to End Neglect of Florida Students with Learning Disabilities


The Southern Poverty Law Center and an alliance of civil rights groups have filed complaints against two of Florida's largest school districts, where students with disabilities endure a culture of neglect and harsh discipline that robs them of an education and pushes them along a path to incarceration.
The class action administrative complaints against the Hillsborough County and Palm Beach County school districts contend the school districts are failing to provide the counseling, social work and psychological services required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA). The complaints were filed with the Florida Department of Education on Oct. 1.
"These school districts are violating the civil rights of their most vulnerable students — those with disabilities," said David Utter, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Florida Initiatives. "Rather than providing these students with the educational services they need and are entitled to under federal law, they are pushing them out of school."
The goal of the complaints is to bring the districts into compliance with federal special education law and end practices that exclude or isolate children with disabilities. Palm Beach County is the fifth largest school district in Florida and the 11th largest in the United States. Hillsborough County is also among the 10 largest school districts in the nation.
The complaints are part of a campaign by the SPLC and allied organizations to protect the rights of children who are being neglected by Florida's public schools and to reform the disciplinary policies that are driving youths from school and into detention. The Florida Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities, the NAACP, the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County and the Southern Legal Counsel are part of this alliance.
By failing to meet the needs of such students, these school districts help feed Florida's "school-to-prison pipeline" — the term given to the plight of students pushed out of the classroom and into the juvenile justice system. Approximately 70 percent of youths in the state's juvenile justice system have at least one mental health disorder, according to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.
Across Florida, schools sent 23,000 students to the criminal justice system in 2006-2007. Black males are disproportionately represented, comprising 33 percent of all referrals even though they make up only 23 percent of Florida students.
Information provided as part of discovery in a 1997 lawsuit showed more than 80 percent of students with disabilities referred by Palm Beach County Schools to the juvenile justice system were black males.
"Over-inclusion and under-inclusion each have race implications, as do zero-tolerance practices that lead to racially disparate suspensions and expulsions — and involvement in the juvenile justice system — for black and Latino students with disabilities," said Florida State Conference NAACP President Adora Nweze, a retired special education administrator. "Children of color were already being ground down by this flawed system in Palm Beach County schools. Now it appears the entire system has collapsed on top of them."
Palm Beach Students Years Behind
The Palm Beach complaint describes a school system where a significant portion of elementary students with emotional and behavioral disabilities with average intelligence are typically performing years behind their grade level by the time they reach middle school.
The complaint was filed on behalf of four students, from the 7th to 9th grades, who require special education services because of their emotional disturbances and mental disorders. They have been subjected to repeated disciplinary measures that remove them from class.
Children with disabilities graduate from Palm Beach schools at a rate of just 33 percent — compared to 67 percent for all students, according to the latest data, from the 2005-06 school year.
One of the four Palm Beach students is a 7th-grader eligible for services for emotional and behavioral disorders. When the student transferred from his elementary school to his middle school — which did not have the services needed — the school simply changed his paperwork to show that he didn't need those services. Without services to address this student's disorders, his behavior caused him to be removed from his regular classes for 33 school days during the 2007-2008 school year.
Hillsborough Leads State in Referrals
The Hillsborough complaint was filed on behalf of six students, from the 6th to 12th grades, who require special education services because of their emotional disturbances and mental disorders. They too have been subjected to repeated disciplinary measures that remove them from class.
Children with disabilities graduate from Hillsborough schools at a rate of just 39 percent — compared to 75 percent for all students, according to the latest data, from the 2005-06 school year.
Hillsborough County also leads the state in the number of students referred to the juvenile justice system — 1,881 in 2006-2007, representing 16 percent of all such referrals in the state. Most of these are for minor offenses.
One of the six Hillsborough students in the complaint is a 10th-grader with disabilities and behavioral problems who functions at a 1st-grade grade level in math and reading. Although this student was determined to be eligible for special education services in 1998, it was eight years before the school district included any social work, psychological or counseling services as part of her education.
Once anger management counseling was provided to this student, the school never increased the counseling despite repeated suspensions, behavioral incidents and even an arrest during a span of more than two years.
The SPLC's School-to-Prison Reform Project has filed similar actions against school districts in Mississippi and Louisiana seeking reforms to stop the flow of students with disabilities into the juvenile justice system. Those complaints have resulted in significant reforms.

Disabled Palm Beach County students unfairly punished for behavior, group claims

By LAURA GREEN Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Palm Beach county students with documented behavioral or emotional disabilities are not getting the academic or emotional services they need and are instead being unfairly punished for behaviors that are due to their disabilities, according to a complaint submitted today to the State Department of Education.
The complaint was filed on behalf of four county students and the Florida State Conference of the NAACP by the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, the Southern Legal Counsel and the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights advocacy group.
The organizations are asking the state to hire a nationally-recognized expert to conduct a review of the Palm Beach County School District and develop a corrective plan.
The complaint and another filed today on behalf of Hillsborough County students are part of a national effort by the Southern Poverty Law Center's School-to-Prison Reform Project.
Superintendent Art Johnson responded by calling the complaint unnecessary. He said the district pumps millions more than that state allocates into the care of special education students, including those with emotional and behaviors disorders.
He predicted a successful resolution of the complaint.
"I think on an individual basis we will be very successful negotiating and working with the parents as we have been in many similar cases," Johnson said. "This is nothing new."
But the lawyers behind the complaint say this is not a problem isolated to the four students identified in the complaint.
"This is a systemic problem that really needs to be addressed at the highest levels of the school district," said Barbara Burch Briggs, staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society.
Based on similar allegations, the Southern Poverty Law Center has already has won settlements with four Louisiana school districts. It is now suing a Mississippi school district whose staff members initially agreed to a settlement and then backed away.
"We're very concerned about kids being pushed out of schools and into the criminal justice or juvenile justice systems," said Director Ronald Lospennato. "A lot of these incidents are sort of a teaching moment. You teach kids that they shouldn't be fighting on the playground or talking out in class or talking back or using inappropriate language. I don't think that kicking kids out of school is the way you address the behaviors."
In Palm Beach County, only 33 percent of special education students are earning a standard diploma compared with 67 percent among all students.
Laura Pincus, the district's special education director, noted the district's largest program for students with emotional and behavior disabilities, at Indian Ridge School, has been used as a model for other school districts.
"It is an absolute state-of-the-art program," she said.
Pincus also said that based on students' academic performance, the school met federal Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks, a standard many regular schools failed to meet.
But lawyers representing the students say the district is removing students with behavioral disabilities from a normal academic environment, setting off a chain reaction that leaves them years behind academically and with no hopes of earning a regular diploma.
"The kids with the challenging behavior get continually removed farther and farther from the mainstream in programs that aren't focused on education," Briggs said.
Among students with emotional or behavioral disability diagnoses, 13 percent dropped out during the 2006-2007 school year compared with 4 percent of county students as a whole.
The complaint also alleges the district fails to provide counseling services, parent education or referrals to other organizations that could assist the students or their families in controlling the behaviors.
"I'm hoping that this will not be demoralizing for people who work with kids with emotional and behavioral disabilities every day," Briggs said. "There are a whole lot of people who want to do well for these kids. I don't think the district is giving them enough tools or support to do the job well."

EXCLUSIVE: Alleged abuse on special needs student in school

By Melissa Cabral, WINK News  Sep 22, 2008 

LEE COUNTY, Fla. - FIRST ON WINK: Allegations of abuse at a Lee County Elementary School.

A parent claims seeing two teachers laying on top of his 5-year-old special needs child.

WINK News confirms the Department of Children and Families is investigating.

Terry Mattox says he dropped off medication at Gulf Elementary School and when a nurse called his daughters classroom, "I heard my daughter over the phone just screaming her head off. It was pure terror."

He says other children were in the room witnessing it happen.
Mattox says his daughter suffered injuries including run burn, bruising, and scratches.

According to the police report, the little girl began having a violent episode and instructors were trying to restrain her.

Mattox says, "I can see if you're trying to keep a child from hurting themselves and restrain them but that's no way to go about it. Don't lay across her head."

WINK News asked for the Florida Department of Education's policy on restraining children. The recommendations state teachers are allowed to use reasonable force as necessary to maintain a safe and orderly learning environment... and reasonable force cannot be excessive cruel or unusual in nature. It also says it's the school districts responsibility to maintain an orderly, safe environment.

The Lee County School District denied our request for an on camera interview but provided this written statement: "As you are aware, the law prohibits the District from providing information on a specific student or a situation involving a specific student. That being said, when the District was made aware of the situation you've referenced, it followed procedure and conducted a preliminary investigation. After District officials spoke with the parties involved while compiling preliminary information, it was determined that no further action was necessary. Staff responded appropriately and in accordance with the training they received for physically restraining students who are acting out in a physically violent way (e.g. hitting their heads on the ground or against the wall, flailing their arms or kicking wildly, etc.) Restraint is only performed to prevent a student from injuring themselves or others. I believe the Cape Coral Police Department was also involved in some capacity and I am unaware of that outside, independent agency finding any cause for further action. I would refer you to the Cape Coral Police Department for more information on their investigation concerning this matter."


Parents: Special-needs students physically restrained too often
| Sentinel Staff Writer 
Claire Lester's behavior was a challenge. She yelled and repeated phrases from movies. When upset, the 12-year-old girl with autism sometimes shoved papers off her desk or waved her arms and kicked her legs toward approaching teachers.

The staff at her Orange County public school responded to her behavior, her father said, by grabbing his 80-pound daughter, forcing her to the ground and then holding her there. This happened 44 times during the 2006-07 school year, according to school records the family shared with the Orlando Sentinel.

She was held once for an hour and, on average, 22 minutes at a time, the records show. At least one incident in her class for children with autism left her back badly bruised, her father, Steve Lester, said.

Lester of Winter Park is one of many parents who want Florida schools to curtail the practice of restraining students with disabilities.
The issue will be taken up at a statewide autism conference in Orlando that begins Monday and has sparked complaints about a proposed rule by the Florida Department of Education that some fear would give a green light to the wider use of the controversial techniques.

Some parents and advocates think the state's most vulnerable kids are restrained too often and argue the practice is a dangerous one that has led to injury and even death.

Orange County school officials would not comment about the Lester case, citing privacy rules. But they said they restrain students with complex behavioral problems only to stop aggression or injury.

Some of their students engage in dangerous and violent behavior hundreds of times a day, repeatedly slapping themselves in the face, for example, or trying to scratch, bite and kick their classmates and instructors.

Teachers trained in proper restraint techniques step in to stop that behavior only after other strategies have failed, they said. The techniques they use usually involve holding the student firmly.

"It's highly controversial all over the country, and we're very careful," said Jonathan McIntire, director of the autism department for Orange County schools. "We never use restraint unless we need to."

Both Claire Lester and her twin sister have autism, and their father realizes that restraint techniques must be used at times to prevent students from hurting themselves or others.

But he was shocked to learn Claire was restrained, in his opinion, for minor problems or when other techniques would have calmed, rather than escalated, her behavior.

"You step back a step. You don't engage her in a half nelson and put her on the ground," said Lester, an oncologist whose daughters, now 14, are in private school this year. "In this day and age? Didn't we quit treating the mentally disabled like that 60 or 70 years ago?"

DOE's proposed rule on "reasonable force" wasn't meant only for students with disabilities, said Pam Stewart, the department's deputy chancellor for educator quality.

It was supposed to formalize guidelines on what teachers should do to control any unruly student.

The complaints about rule 6A-6.05271, however, opened a public window into a simmering issue in special education: the practice of holding students, sometimes prone on the ground.

Alarmed parents and advocates for people with disabilities spoke against the rule at a hearing last month, fearing it would lead to more instances of students being restrained. As a result, the Education Department withdrew the proposed rule Sept. 5 and is working to revise it, Stewart said.

"We were horrified by it," said Bob Jacobs, education-team manager for the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities. "Where it sets the bar is whenever the teacher feels like it."

More kids with autism

Florida's public schools are required to teach students with a wide range of disabilities and have been grappling with how to handle students with severe behavioral and developmental problems.
The challenge has grown more difficult with the surge in the number of students with autism -- a nearly 60 percent hike since 2003.

Parents and advocates concede restraint is needed in such emergencies, but they think Florida kids are restrained too often simply because they're misbehaving or not following instructions.

The advocacy center, which wants the state to do more to curtail the practice, has a current list of about 25 incidents in which restraint techniques left children with bloody lips, bruised arms and damaged emotions.

The issue took center stage in the case of former Seminole County teacher Kathleen Garrett, charged with abusing several children with autism. Her attorney said she used approved restraint techniques. But she was convicted last year of pinning a 60-pound boy to his desk until his lips turned blue.
The Seminole County School Board has been sued by about a dozen parents upset with Garrett's treatment of their children and has already paid out more than $1.9 million.

Some states have curbed the practice in schools and psychiatric hospitals.

Last month, Pennsylvania banned prone restraints -- when someone is held facedown -- on children in its residential-treatment centers because of the risk of injury. The ban was pushed by a father whose son died after being restrained.

'Problem behavior'

Florida has no statewide rule about restraints in public schools.

But last year, the Education Department, acknowledging concern about the practice, urged districts to review what they were doing and find other ways to reduce "problem behavior."

That 2007 paper recommended that districts limit physical restraint to emergencies, provide more training and make sure parents are informed whenever their child is restrained.

Orange officials said they follow those guidelines and have been doing so for years.

But one expert who has studied the issue said restraint is overused. Classroom observations and teacher interviews show restraint is most often used because students are not doing their work or following directions or because they are damaging school property by kicking a desk or tearing a book, said Joe Ryan, an assistant professor of special education at Clemson University.

"A majority of times they [restraint techniques] are used, they are uncalled for," Ryan said.

Though he does not favor a ban on restraint, he thinks states and schools need to find ways to minimize problem behavior and calm situations to make restraint less necessary.

Restraining children is dangerous and often useless because it does little to change youngsters' behavior, he said. The repeated restraint of the same child should serve as a "red flag" to educators that what they are doing isn't working, he added.

Phyllis Musumeci, a Palm Beach County mother, helped organize some of the parents who spoke against the proposed rule at the hearing.

She is slated to speak about restraints Tuesday at the statewide autism conference, convinced they are used too often and to the detriment of students.

Her son, diagnosed with autism and other disorders, was restrained 89 times in his public middle school, she said.

"A lot of these children don't communicate well," she said. "Let's try to figure out what's going on and what they need," she added.

"I'm not saying the teachers and the aides have an easy job, because I know they don't. But what they're doing to children is not right.",0,3619683.story?page=1

Leslie Postal can be reached at or 407-420-5273.

This is what some Florida teachers think of our children (Unruly? I thought they had disabilities).

Vicki Carr-Rodriguez: Injuries, class disruptions caused by unruly special ed students not isolated incidents


State considers broader use of force in classrooms
By LAURA GREEN Palm Beach Post Staff Writer August 29, 2008
Educators could use physical force to maintain a "safe and orderly learning environment" under a proposed state Board of Education rule.
State law already allows school officials to restrain special education students who are deemed a danger to themselves or others.
The proposed rule would extend the use of force to any student and is drawing criticism from parents across the state.  The 30-line rule does not define the term "force" and leaves open to interpretation the circumstances under which it would be allowed.  It says force can be used to protect students from conditions harmful to their learning, mental health, physical health and safety or in cases of harm, injury or the significant damage of property.The rule would not require that parents be informed if a school staff member has used force on their child.
In a hearing Tuesday, Florida parents, mostly of special education children, testified that the proposed state rule could leave their children open to physical abuse.
Special education parents had hoped the state would use the rule to limit, if not ban, the use of prone restraint, the most restrictive type, in which a child is taken facedown to a mat by two or more adults and held.
"There have been children and adults both that have died from the use of prone restraints," said Palm Beach County parent Phyllis Musumeci, who pulled her autistic son from district schools when she learned he had been restrained 89 times.
"It's a very dangerous restraint," she said. "And I don't understand why schools are even considering using this type of a restraint on a child with a disability when ... mental facilities and psychiatric facilities are trying to get away from this type of restraint."
The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare banned the practice in its youth treatment centers after reports surfaced that prone restraint was blamed for the deaths of more than 70 children across the nation since 1993.
The Palm Beach County School Board was criticized last year for its use of prone restraint, used only on special education children, and its reporting practices. Since then, the board has adopted stricter policies. If a teacher restrains a child, he is required to inform the parent and explain the circumstances surrounding the decision. The proposed state rule would allow only "the minimal force necessary to prevent undue harm or injury to the student(s) or others or significant damage to property." It also states that the force should "not be used as an instrument for the educator's anger or frustration with a situation or student." But the wording was not comfort enough for some parents. "It sounds as though what we are doing is in a sense legitimizing the physical handling and potential abuse of our children," said parent Suzy Girard of Boca Raton. She compared the proposed rule to "throwing grease on a kitchen fire."
The state Board of Education will vote on the rule, its first governing the use of reasonable force, on Oct. 21.

Palm Beach County teacher fired for putting student in closet
June 6, 2008
BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) -- A Palm Beach County teacher has been fired because school officials say she put a student in a closet as punishment -- again.
Rutha Scott was suspended for 71 days without pay in 2006 for placing a misbehaving student in a storage room at a Boca Raton high school. The school board voted unanimously on Wednesday to fire Scott after an investigation showed that she placed a student in a dark storage room in February.
Scott denied the allegations when questioned by a school police officer. Authorities say there wasn't enough evidence to bring criminal charges against the teacher.
Scott's attorney says she plans to appeal the firing.

Child Abuse By Teacher Brushed Aside By Port St. Lucie Public School System

May 2008
On Friday, May 23rd, at Morningside Elementary school in Port St. Lucie, teacher Wendy Portillo, decided to punish her autistic student Alex Barton for his annoying behaviors by parading him in front of the class, instructing every student to tell Alex what they don't like about him and then organizing a student vote to determine whether Alex may continue with the class or should be voted out of the class. Alex listened to his classmates describe him as "disgusting" and "annoying" and then by a 14 to 2 margin, Alex watched his peers vote him out of his class. After the class vote, Alex was asked how he felt, to which he responded, "I feel sad." Alex was then escorted by teacher Portillo to the principals office, however, due to mental anguish he was soon thereafter taken to the school nurse station where he remained for the rest of the day. At no time during the day were his parents notified. In fact, Alex's mother only learned of the incident when Alex spoke of the ordeal in the car on the way home.
Alex is in the process of being diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a type of autism. Alex began the testing process in February at the suggestion of Morningside Principal Marcia Cully. While teacher Wendy Portillo initially did not acknowledge she was aware of Alex's condition, documents have since been recovered showing she attended several of Alex's autistic evaluation sessions.
Ms. Portillo's action of parading Alex in front of his peers was nothing short of an act of pure humiliation to embarrass Alex in front of his peer group, embark every other 5 year old to chastise and disgrace Alex for her purpose and impose pure shame upon Alex for a disease he cannot control. Portillo's acts constitute clear and undeniable abuse.
Alex's mother Melissa Barton filed a complaint with Morningside's school resource officer. However, according to Port St. Lucie Department spokeswoman Michelle Steele, while the teacher did confirm the incident took place, the state attorney's office concluded the matter did not meet the criteria for emotional child abuse, so no criminal charges will be filed. As can be expected, the teachers union sides with and defends teacher Portillo, further continuing the theme of carte blanche placement of teacher interests ahead of student interests.
Alex hasn't been back to school since. His mother indicates he begins screaming when she brings him with her to drop off his sibling at the school and she has heard him repeating the phrase "I'm not special." She believes he is reliving the incident.
St. Lucie School's spokeswoman Janice Karst said the district is investigating the incident, but could not make any further comment. Vern Melvin, Department of Children and Families circuit administrator, confirmed the agency is investigating an allegation of abuse at Morningside but said he could not elaborate.
May 2008

The Florida Department of Education has agreed to a settlement with a Lee County teacher it was investigating on
allegations she had hit at least two disabled students while she worked in Charlotte County.


Police Say Florida Teacher Abused Students
Staff Report
Published Friday, Feb. 22, 2008 at 8:38 a.m.
VENICE, FL — A Venice Elementary School teacher is under arrest this morning, charged with the abuse of mentally handicapped students in her classroom.  Venice police say Diana Z. O'Neill hit students on more than one occasion, kicked a child and twisted a child's arm behind his back. Two teacher aides in O'Neill's classroom came forward because they were concerned that the students were in danger, according to police.  One of the aides gave school officials a written log of the incidents of alleged abuse.
Police documents list four of the five students in O'Neill's classroom as victims in the case.  The school district placed O'Neill on administrative leave last week.  She turned herself in at the Venice Police Department on Thursday. She's charged with four counts of aggravated child abuse.  Police reports say that O’Neill routinely hurt four of the students in her class.
Girl, 7, punished with "body sock"
Parents of a 7-year-old girl, who has the motor skills of an 11- to 14-month-old child, say the teacher’s physical abuse caused their daughter to lose enthusiasm. She had trouble sleeping and became quick-tempered, police reports state.
Aides reported O’Neill had kicked the girl in the legs, hit her in the head with objects, pushed her to the floor and used a “weighted blanket” and a “body sock” — two therapy tools that restrict movement — to punish her.
The aides told police that O’Neill told the girl to get out of a chair on Oct. 12 and gave her “a good push,” causing the girl to trip and hit her head on the floor so hard she started to cry, although she rarely cries.
The girl went to the school nurse, who filled out an incident report based on what O’Neill told her — that the girl “tripped on chair leg — fell backwards on floor,” police records state.
The aides told police O’Neill struck the girl numerous times in December, including three times with a board and with her hand on Dec. 5; with her hand, an arm brace and twice with a binder on Dec. 12; with an arm brace on Dec. 17; and with a water bottle on Jan. 14.
When O’Neill pushed the girl on Jan. 18, she hit her head on a metal door frame and caused a lump, but O’Neill reported the girl “fell into a wall” and had “zero sign of head injury, applied ice,” police said.
A week later, O’Neill got out a blue weighted blanket and wrapped up the girl from head to toe with her hands at her side, and then let her go, one aide told police.
The girl lost her balance and hit her head as she fell to the floor, police reported. As she tried to free herself, she hit the base of a swing, and O’Neill chuckled, the aide told police.
O’Neill also used the body sock to cover the girl, pinning her arms to her sides, then gave her a little push, and the girl fell into a shelf and hit her head, the aide told police.
The girl’s parents told police that since O’Neill was removed from the classroom, the girl has been happier, more verbal, more social, a better sleeper and less aggressive when agitated.
Autistic boy allowed to hit head on wall
A boy in O’Neill’s class who is diagnosed with autism, seizure disorder and developmental delay, has the abilities of a 15- to 24-month-old child, police reports said. His mother says the boy does not know right from wrong in most cases, and has little understanding of consequences.
Aides told police that O’Neill would wheel his chair into the corner when the boy acted up at lunch, leaving him there. The boy would respond by hitting his head on the wall and O’Neill would say sarcastically, “don’t hit your head,” but allowed him to continue.
Once in the corner of the cafeteria, out of sight of most people, O’Neill would also twist his arm behind him or twist fingers until he cried out in pain, the aides said.
There is a chair the boy can be restrained in as an alternative way to control him, the aides said.
The boy has his own nurse with him at all times because of a seizure disorder, but O’Neill would not allow the nurse in the classroom because she said he is a distraction to learning, the aides said.
Girl backhanded in head, reports say
An 11-year-old girl who is in a wheelchair, who had half of her brain removed when she was 11 months old, still has a soft spot in her head where the sections of the skull do not meet. She is also prone to seizures.
O’Neill backhanded the girl in the head, fed her in a rough manner that caused the girl’s lip to bleed and degraded her in front of others, according to police reports.
An aide told police that O’Neill was feeding the girl on Jan. 28 and backhanded her in the head when the girl did not follow prompts to choose between a bite of food or a sip of her drink.
The aide said O’Neill would ram the spoon in the girl’s mouth during meals so hard that her gums bled.
Boy, 8, came home with bruises
An 8-year-old boy in O’Neill’s class has Down syndrome and a seizure disorder. His mother told police he has come home from school with bruises on the back of his thighs.
The aides told police O’Neill has hit him in the head with a variety of objects, kicked him in the buttocks, slapped him and pulled a rag from his mouth so hard that it removed a tooth.
O’Neill also used a gait belt as a leash that left bruises and scratches on the boy’s back and neck.
The boy just learned to walk and gets tired, and one day O’Neill placed a cloth belt across his chest and under his arms when he sat down on the floor to rest, the aides told police.
O’Neill used the belt to yank the boy to his feet several times, telling him, “You’re going to stand,” aides told police.
Another time, the boy bit down on a wash cloth O’Neill was using to clean out his mouth and she yanked it out so hard that a bottom tooth went flying over her right shoulder, the aides told police.
Last modified: Friday, Feb. 22, 2008 at 2:51 p.m.

Florida Web site brings teacher misconduct to light
April 28, 2008  By RON MATUS and DONNA WINCHESTER  St. Petersburg Times
Most are cases Florida parents never heard about.
Pinellas Park Elementary: A third-grade teacher reportedly doesn't notice his students engaged in oral sex. Walsingham Elementary in Largo: A kindergarten teacher is investigated for slamming a door on a girl's hand so hard it severs a tendon. Young Middle Magnet in Tampa: A teacher pleads no contest to voyeurism after watching a woman emerge from a shower.
It goes without saying that teacher misconduct is the exception to the rule. But a new state Web site that contains these cases and 1,200 others suggests it happens more often than parents think.

Teachers' Aides Accused Of Kicking, Choking Autistic Students In Class

May 8, 2008

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A lawsuit has been filed against the Orange County school district and three employees, alleging that teachers' aides choked, kicked, abused and neglected autistic children.
Attorney Mary Lytle filed the federal suit, claiming the civil rights of three children were violated.   "These children were treated by the paraprofessionals in the Orange County school system with abuse (and) neglect," Lytle said. "It's very upsetting. All children deserve to be safe in their schools."

According to the complaint, one incident of the alleged abuse took place at Lake Whitney Elementary School, where a employee's constraint of a child was "atrocious and shocking to the conscience" and included "choking around the neck."
A witness said the worker "flipped (the student) over on his stomach. She straddled him and had his arms pulled up and back behind him," according to the complaint.
Meantime, an aide at Freedom High School is accused of cursing at and severely kicking an autistic student, subjecting the student to "physical injury and severe emotional distress," the complaint said.
"I think these children, who are entitiled to a free public education under the federal laws, were discriminated against and abused," Lytle said.
The students' parents notified school officials of the alleged abuse, and two of the employees were later transferred to other schools but not fired.
"The Orange County school board had knowledge of this abuse and failed to stop it," Lytle said.
Orange County school officials refused to comment about the allegations.
There is no state certification for teachers' aides, who are trained by school employees on how to handle autistic children, school officials told Local 6 News.


Police: Teacher's Aide Attacks Autistic Student
POSTED: 10:11 pm EDT May 30, 2008
UPDATED: 10:28 pm EDT May 30, 2008
COCONUT CREEK, Fla. -- A  Coconut Creek teacher's aide is under investigation after an autistic student was attacked with a metal chair at school earlier this month, police said.
The 17-year-old student's mother, Sandy Teich, said her world has been turned upside down after hearing what happened to her son, Michael.
The incident happened at  Monarch High School on May 6, police said. According to Teich and police, a teacher's aide threw a chair at the boy during a confrontation in the gym.
Teich said her son's injuries were minor, but the incident has taken an emotional toll. She said she has asked the school board to remove Michael from the school.
Police said they have turned the case over to prosecutors and have recommended the aide be charged with child abuse.

Special education teacher charged with child abuse
Feb 22, 2008

VENICE, Florida –Investigators say a special education teacher at an elementary school in Venice is accused of beating several of her students. 
Detectives say Diana O'Neill turned herself in to Venice Police on Thursday.  Witnesses told investigators she hit one student in the head with a catalog, backhanded another student, and twisted the arm of third boy behind his back.  They claimed to have seen O'Neill lash out at students and punish them inappropriately throughout the school year. 
According to police, the students involved were between the ages of 7 and 11, and they attend Venice Elementary School's special education program.  Investigators say some of them are confined to wheelchairs, and others have various mental disabilities.    
Investigators say two of O'Neill's aides confirmed the reports when they were questioned by authorities.  The Department of Children and Families was called in to investigate after the school's principle received reports of the alleged abuse. 
O'Neill is charged with four counts of aggravated child abuse, and she was previously placed on administrative leave from her position at the school while the investigation was ongoing.

Teacher Accused Of Duct-Taping Boy To Desk
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A middle school teacher accused of using duct tape to bind a student to his desk was suspended for more than a week without pay for the alleged incident.
The Duval County School Board voted on Tuesday to suspend Kasey Goodin for 10 days without pay. The school board made its decision after hearing the teacher's version of what happened inside the Kirby-Smith Middle School classroom, WJXT reported.

Student Says a School Employee Broke His Arm
St. Lucie County, Florida
February 12, 2008 - 10:14AM
St. Lucie County Schools are investigating an incident involving possible excessive force used on a student.
The student's mother, Pam Redding, says a school employee restrained her son Devontae and he somehow ended up with a broken arm.
It happened at Dale Cassens School in Fort Pierce, a school for the emotionally, mentally, or physically disabled. The school specialists are trained to handle conflict by restraining upset students.
Pam Redding signed a release to allow restraint, but says she did not expect violence. Devontee says the "specialist" made him pulled his arm back until it made a popping noise. When they finally let him up, he asked twice to go to the nurse's office ,but they wouldn't allow him to leave his desk.
The district says it can't go into the specifics of this case.


School district knew history of teacher

Her application indicated problems involving disabled students in Charlotte County

By Jason Wermers  February 29, 2008
The Lee County School District knew that a finalist for one of the area’s top education awards had been investigated for allegedly hitting at least two disabled students while she was a teacher in Charlotte County.

Catherine Hile, 42, who has been eliminated as a Golden Apple finalist, answered “yes” to Lee district application questions that asked whether she had been disciplined or investigated by any previous employer. She applied for a position to teach autistic students in kindergarten through second grade at Gulf Elementary in Cape Coral. She was hired in August 2006.

The Charlotte school district was taking steps toward firing her over allegations that she hit two students when she resigned in December 2005, Assistant Superintendent Doug Whittaker said, adding that the evidence was overwhelming.
Error! Filename not specified.
The Florida Department of Education is investigating her conduct in Charlotte County.  Depending on the state’s findings, Hile could continue teaching with no consequences, be sanctioned or lose her teaching license.

Greg Adkins, Lee’s director of human resources, said his department didn’t know that the Florida Department of Education was conducting a probe into the allegations during her tenure at Charlotte Harbor Center, a public school for children with disabilities. It’s unclear how long the state has been investigating Hile.

Lee initially was unaware of the investigation because none of the alleged incidents happened in the district, Adkins said. Hile’s application also didn’t specify that the state was investigating her.

The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools, which runs the Golden Apple Teacher Recognition Program, initially named Hile as one of 36 finalists for the honor in January. The six Golden Apple winners receive $3,000 cash and several other awards. The teachers also are honored for their work at a gala in April.

Adkins said that when the district received the foundation’s list of finalists, his department checked to see whether any were being — or had been — investigated by the Lee district. None of the nominees was, Adkins said.

But the district’s Exceptional Student Education office received information after the list of nominees was published in January that the state was investigating Hile. The exceptional student office forwarded the information to human resources, which notified the foundation, Adkins said.

Hile was reprimanded in April 1994 for using inappropriate language and for hitting a student in the face. In November 1994, she was given a memo stating her classroom environment was “unsafe.”

The Charlotte school district suspended her with pay in October 2005 on allegations that she struck an autistic student three times after that child hit an autistic classmate the same number of times.  No criminal charges were filed in Charlotte County.  The district was planning to fire her in December 2005, but she resigned instead, Whittaker said.

In January 2006, Hile was hired as an exceptional student education liaison at DeSoto Middle School in Arcadia. But she was fired two months later under a state rule that allows districts to terminate teachers within 97 days of hiring them for any, or no, reason.  She returned to teaching five months later at Gulf Elementary. During Hile’s job application process, Gulf Elementary administrators contacted Charlotte Harbor Center principal Maureen Watts and a Charlotte district administrator, whose name was not available, Adkins said.

Gulf Elementary and the Lee school district were satisfied with the good recommendations they received from Watts, Adkins said.
Whittaker said he wasn’t aware of anyone from Lee County contacting his district.

Hile is a commodity in a teaching area that’s difficult to staff: She has 15 years experience teaching students with disabilities. And she has more special-education credentials than the average applicant, including the highly sought-after certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Honored teacher accused of striking student
by Amie McLain  3/2/2008                                                                                                     
LEE COUNTY, Florida: A Lee County teacher singled out for one of the highest honors in education has been taken out of the running after the program’s director learned the teacher was accused of hitting a student.
The Golden Apple award is one of the highest honors a Lee County teacher can receive.
But Lee County teacher Catherine Hile off the list because of allegations she hit one of her students while a teacher in Charlotte County.  "Our plan was to terminate her for hitting another student," said Charlotte County Schools spokesman Mike Riley.  Riley says it happened three years ago when Hile taught autistic children at a special needs school. A teacher's aide claims Hile punched a young autistic boy at least three times in the arm after he punched another student.  Charlotte County Schools conducted a lengthy investigation. Riley says the school system found evidence of inappropriate behavior dating back to 1993, including accusations that Hile cut a child's hair and insulted students by calling them names. Riley says the district planned to fire her, but she resigned.  "The security, the well-being, the safety of our children is our priority and we had to act against her," said Riley.
Hile didn't face any criminal charges, but school workers turned the case over to Florida's Department of Education. Their investigation is still active.  Hile left Port Charlotte and soon became a teacher at Gulf Elementary in Cape Coral.  But some wonder with this type of investigation underway how Hile easily jumped from the Charlotte County Public Schools to the Lee County School District.
"I don't think they made contact with our HR because we would have let them know about that," said Riley.  Riley says he's not sure how Hile's record slipped through the cracks, but he admits she's a quality teacher.  Hill could lose her teaching license if the state's investigation finds her guilty.
We tried to get Hile's side of the story, but she has not returned our phone call.  We're also told the Lee County School District can't comment on the case until the state's investigation is over.
Parents want cameras in special-ed classes
March 2, 2008  By Tiffany Lankes 
Abuse charges against a Venice Elementary School teacher have renewed a push among parents for security cameras in special education classrooms.  After police arrested Diana O'Neill last week on charges she hit, slapped and kicked the profoundly mentally handicapped students in her class, parents asked the district to install cameras in the room.  School superintendent Gary Norris said the district is considering it, though the issue raises concerns among teachers who do not relish the idea of having Big Brother watching over their shoulders while they do their jobs.Parents say that since disabled students are more vulnerable, require more physical contact during the school day and often can not speak for themselves, the schools need to add this layer of accountability."Every time you put your children on the bus you just have to trust that the people at school are going to take care of them," said Sharon Boyd, a Charlotte parent and member of the Autism Speaks advocacy group. "That doesn't always happen.  "In the past decade, security cameras have become commonplace in schools, with most having high-tech systems of dozens of cameras that monitor nearly every stretch of campus. Administrators can monitor the cameras via the Internet.  Cameras are also being installed more often on school buses, where drivers cannot see everything that goes on in the back.  But the classroom is one place that continues to stay out of the camera's eye.  School administrators say that is largely because of objections from unions, which argue that teachers' should have the freedom to do their jobs without being monitored.  "Some teachers would feel funny knowing someone is always watching," said Pat Barber, president of the Manatee union.  "It would make many people feel uncomfortable and curtail some of the innovative things people do in the classroom.  "Some officials also say that abuse cases are rare, and a classroom is the safest place on campus because it is where students have the most supervision.  That is why districts have spent money on cameras in more public areas -- like hallways -- where students may go without an adult or teacher.  But that is little comfort to parents like Jim Hatfield, whose daughter was in O'Neill's classroom.  Police say that O'Neill struck his daughter, who had half of her brain removed because of damage, in the head.  Now Hatfield thinks the district should put cameras in all its classrooms -- not just those for special education -- and give parents access to monitor them. As far as he is concerned, that might have prevented the alleged abuse of his daughter.  One thing parents and educators agree on: Cameras would at least provide proof of what really happened.  In the O'Neill case, two of the teacher's aides reported what they thought was abusive behavior.  But O'Neill says she was using accepted techniques for working with disabled children.  Most of the children in her care do not talk, so they will not be able to testify.  Barber, with the Manatee union, said she has had teachers actually want to videotape their own classes because they were having problems with students and wanted a record of their work to show parents and supervisors.  "Unfortunately, cameras aren't always given the credit for what they can do," said Steve Cummings, security supervisor for the Charlotte School District. "It can be a real win-win."

Where Do Teachers Draw the Line When it Comes to Restraining Students?

November 19, 2007 - 6:57PM
Saint Lucie County, Florida

A local mom has reached out to News 12 after she says a school went overboard while restraining her child.
Isaiah Moore came home from Oak Hammock K-8 last April looking like he had just been in a fight. But the autistic boy's injuries didn't come from a scuffle, he was restrained by a school staffer.  Moore's mother obtained a tape from a security camera at the school. She says it shows the 7-year-old being forced into a room, where she believes her son was violently restrained.  A few moments later, the video shows the disabled boy emerging from the room with school staffers and being dragged down the hallway by a behavior analyst. The boy is holding his back, as if he were in pain.  Moore says her son was unjustly restrained.  The forceful action left the 7-year-old with injuries, including many bruises on his arms and a busted lip. The boy's mother says he was restrained for simply walking out of his classroom.  Moore is demanding the school board change it's restraining policy and she's taking it all the way to the State Board of Education.


EXCLUSIVE: Time-Out Rooms

By Melissa Cabral, WINK News

Story Updated: Jan 17, 2008 at 6:14 PM EDT
FORT MYERS, Fla. - It's an Eye on Education Exclusive investigation.

WINK News received several tips from parents about time-out rooms at Lee County Schools.

We found out they're also called Quiet Rooms or Learning Labs", but to parents we spoke with they're jail cells used to torture children.  Our four month investigation uncovered a total of 14 time-out rooms in elementary schools throughout the district.  Kellie Elders tells us she witnessed teachers sitting on her autistic daughter 7 year old Caitlin's back while she was being restrained on the floor of a time out room at Pelican Elementary School.  She says Caitlin was sent to the room multiple times a week and her child isn't the only one.
The district would not comment on these specific allegations, however we have been told teachers are specially trained to restrain children and help them calm down.  Lee County School District Spokesperson Joe Donzelli says, "It's an area where we can isolate them from others because we don't want them to hurt themselves or the staff or other students."  Parent Kellie Elders says, "No child should ever have to go through this."  WINK News found out there isn't a district policy on the use of rooms, instead it's up to the principals.  We asked to see if the principals had a written policy or procedures of using the room, we were told there isn't one.   
According to the Lee County School District these schools have Time-Out Rooms:  Colonial, Franklin Park, Harns Marsh, Pelican, Ray V. Pottorf, Rayma C. Page, Trafalgar, Michigan, Academy, Mirror Lakes, North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts, Gulf, Veterans Park Academy J. Colin English, Pinewoods

Teacher faces up to five years in prison after being convicted of assaulting autistic pupil
SANFORD, Florida, USA: Kathleen Garrett had gambled before and won. When the mother of an autistic child complained seven years ago that Garrett was an abuser, she fought back and kept her teaching job. And earlier this month she rejected a plea deal, gambling that she would beat a second round of child-abuse complaints. But on January 26, the gamble failed. Jurors convicted her of pinning a 60-pound autistic boy to the top of his desk, his head hanging off the edge, and staying on top of him until his lips turned blue.
Garrett, 50, who spent 26 years teaching disabled children in Seminole County public schools, faces up to five years in prison. She is to be sentenced on March 7.

Sat Feb 23, 2008 10:48 am (PST)

Sarasota School District reacts to child abuse charges

VENICE, Florida - Sarasota County School Board releases statement about charges of child abuse at Venice Elementary School:
Venice Elementary School teacher Diana O'Neill surrendered to Venice police Thursday evening in connection with allegations that she may have physically abused students in her class.
Other staff members at the school reported that they had witnessed O'Neill engaging in behavior with students that could be considered abusive. Principal Theresa Baus reported the allegations to the Florida Department of Children and Families in late January. O'Neill was placed on administrative leave immediately, pending further investigation. The Sarasota County School district cooperated fully with the Venice Police and DCF investigations.  The results of the DCF investigation indicated that charges were warranted. A probable cause affidavit was issued Feb. 21 by the Florida State Attorney's office.
Sarasota County Schools Superintendent Gary Norris said the district typically suspends any administrative inquiry during a DCF or police investigation to avoid interfering with those proceedings. Once the police investigation is concluded, the district conducts an investigation to determine if disciplinary action is warranted independent of the resolution of the legal case. "Action may be necessary to respond to professional misconduct even in cases where an individual is not convicted of a crime," Norris said. "Obviously teachers and other school staff must be held to the highest possible standards in matters of student safety and well-being. "Requests for information about criminal charges against O'Neill are being referred to Captain Tom McNulty of the Venice Police Department.

Bus Aide Accused of Hitting Special Needs Child
By TERESA LANEPalm Beach Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 28, 2007

PORT ST. LUCIE — A public school bus aide was arrested on a charge of felony child abuse today after a video onboard the bus shows the woman swatting at a mentally handicapped child and roughly pulling him up by his arm. Belinda "Gail" Daniels, 45, of the St. Lucie County School District was removed from bus duty after the Sept. 12 incident and denied hitting the passive 7-year-old boy. An on-board video shows Daniels becoming frustrated after seeing the boy had dropped his book bag in the floor.She asks loudly, "Boy, what did you do? Get in that seat," before swatting her hand in his direction and pulling him up from the floor by his left arm. Police declined to name the school.


$13.2 million school opens near West Palm to serve special education students 
By Marc Freeman   South Florida Sun-Sentinel
January 10 2007

It may look like any new public school from the outside, but Indian Ridge School is the only one with three
windowless "seclusion rooms" to isolate misbehaving children on padded mats with restraints. 
Elementary school behavior technician fired in Fort Pierce
By Keona Gardner (Contact)
Friday, August 31, 2007
FORT PIERCE, FL — A Garden City Elementary School aide, who allegedly broke the arm of a special education student early this year, is no longer on the district's payroll. Earlier this week, district officials fired Shalonda Smith, who worked as a behavior technician, for using inappropriate discipline. No criminal charges will be filed against Smith, according to school district records. The incident took place Feb. 15, when an 8-year-old male bipolar and autistic student became disorderly and tried to run out of the classroom. Smith, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, restrained the student by "grabbing his arm and taking him to the ground so that he was laying face-down on the floor," according to district records. After the incident, the student later told his classroom teacher and his bus driver that his arm hurt. And after learning about the incident, district officials reassigned Smith to where she would have no contact with students. Later, she was suspended and has not worked with children since the incident. In a 2005 evaluation, Smith received perfect marks in areas that included job knowledge and self management, personnel records show. She started as a special education aide in fall 2000 at Mariposa Elementary in Port St. Lucie and transferred to Garden City in 2004. Smith told the school district her previous work experience included cashier work at Kmart and Toys "R" Us, and a dining room manager position at Captain D's restaurant.
#1 Posted by bonniez on August 31, 2007 at 7:08 a.m.  No criminal charges will be filed against Smith, according to school district records! And why not? What makes this any different than a child being abused by his or her parent? If this lady gets off without any charges then there is something drastically WRONG with the system. This lady does not deserve a slap of the wrist. She broke a students arm, that clearly is abuse. If this was a parent doing the same exact thing you can bet your behind that they would've been reported for child abuse and arrested on the spot! AP Police Arrest 6-Year-Old Girl
#2 Posted by jamoore1 on August 31, 2007 at 2:30 p.m. This is not an isolated incident it's just the only one in the paper. Im a PSL parent and my child on the Autism Spectrum was brutally restrained & injured by a behavior analyst also. I have filed 3 police reports & unless you can prove "intent" they can do whatever they want to your child and not be held accountable.
Autistic students manhandled, parents say Issues aired at school board meeting

By Jason Wermers  August 29, 2007
Caitlyn Elders, an 8-year-old with autism, was placed in a brick-walled time-out room and manhandled several times by staff at Pelican and Trafalgar elementary schools, her parents told the Lee County Florida School Board Tuesday evening. Kellie Elders, held up photographs of her daughter's bruised forehead for board members, district staff and media members to see. She said Caitlyn sustained those bruises after she banged her head against the brick wall, an action that is not unknown for children with autism who feel distressed.
Six-Year-Old Girl Escorted to the Highlands County Jail  in Handcuffs
By Joe Seelig March 31, 2007
AVON PARK Florida — A 6-year-old girl was in the custody of her mother Friday after the Avon Park Police Department escorted the girl in handcuffs from Avon Elementary School to the Highlands County Jail on charges relating to battery of a school employee. It was 10:59 a.m. Wednesday when police officer Tamara L. Neale reported she was called to 705 Winthrop St., on a call about a disruptive student. The child was upset and crying and wailing and would not leave the classroom to let the other students study, causing a disruption of the normal class activities, Neale noted in her report. Lisa Elder, who is an exceptional student education teacher, was called in to help remove the child from the classroom, at which time the child began to hit and kick her. "She had to be carried to the front office, at which time she continued to wail and cry and refused to communicate in any way or to calm down," Neale reported. Avon Elementary School Principal Pam Burnham said she could not talk about the specifics of the case, but could talk about generalities and school policies. Burnham said any time a student is in a crisis situation, the administration tries to get whoever they can – guidance counselors, administrators or in this case an exceptional student educator – to come into the room and get control back of the classroom. "The first thing you try to do is to talk them down and remove them from the room," Burnham said. "There are times when the situation continues to escalate. At the same time we're trying to call family members first. "According to the arrest report, a family member could not be reached. "The very last resort is to call law enforcement," Burnham said. "And the police don't just walk in here and take a child away. If the child can't be calmed down then they take it to the next step." And it usually has to last a long time, Burnham said. Every time a police officer comes to the school doesn't result in an arrest, she said. And there are lots of times when similar situations happen that police are not called. After continuing to struggle, the child was handcuffed to keep her from hitting, running away and from possibly hurting herself, according to the report. An additional officer, Allison Smith had to ride with the child in the back of the police car when she was taken to the police headquarters. She was charged with disruption of a school function, battery on a school employee and resisting a law enforcement officer without violence. The parent continued to be unreachable and the child was taken to the Highlands County Jail. A court date has been set, but the date is listed as confidential, according to the jail central records. A counselor from the school eventually tracked down a relative and the parent was contacted. Avon Park Police Chief Frank Mercurio could not be reached by press time for comment. A number provided for the parent was not in service.

Suit planned over school injury in Fort Pierce

By MARGOT SUSCA   April 5, 2007

FORT PIERCE — A Fort Pierce grandmother has filed a notice of intent to sue the St. Lucie County school district because her bipolar and autistic grandson was found with a fractured right arm after he left school, records show.

Willie Gary's law office issued the notice on behalf of Carmella Palmieri, grandmother of an 8-year-old Garden City Elementary School special education student who one witness described to police as "roughed up" when he arrived at the bus after a February run-in with a classroom aide.

Shalonda Smith, the boy's Garden City behavior technician, "was attempting to restrain" Palmieri's grandson after he tried to run out of the classroom, law enforcement and school records show.

No criminal charges against Smith are planned in the wake of a Fort Pierce Police Department investigation, according to records. Smith is represented by West Palm Beach lawyer Mark Wilensky.
"She didn't break anybody's arm," Wilensky said. "I understand that there is an allegation that the child was injured. He certainly wasn't injured as a result of anything that Shalonda did."
A witness told police Smith used a restraint that lasted for about 30 seconds to stop his running from class. Smith, described in reports as 210 pounds, told police she landed on the 95-pound boy.
The boy suffered a "spiral fracture to the upper right arm," an injury emergency room staff at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center & Heart Institute told police "is caused by a twisting of the arm," the police report says.
A worker at the boy's day care center reported to police that the boy's arm was "red and swollen" and he had abrasions on the right side of his face.
A bus aide told police the boy cried the entire ride from school to his after-care program. But she said: "She didn't take (the boy) seriously because he behaves this way all the time."
In a previous interview, Palmieri said her grandson takes anti-psychotic medication to treat bipolar disorder and is diagnosed as autistic.
On Wednesday, Palmieri referred comment to her lawyer. Two phone calls to her attorney, Michael Lewis, were not returned Wednesday.
A teacher not involved in the incident told police she was asked afterwards to help get the boy to his afternoon bus on time. The report says: "She opened the door, turned on the lights and found (the boy) alone in the classroom, lying on the floor crying."
The boy's classroom teacher and Smith both are on temporary assignment, out of contact with students, while a school district investigation continues, Janice Karst said.
In a 2005 evaluation, Smith received perfect marks in areas including job knowledge and self management, personnel records show.
She started as a special education aide in fall 2000 at Mariposa Elementary in Port St. Lucie and transferred to Garden City in 2004. Smith told the school district her previous work experience included cashier work at KMart and Toys "R" Us and a dining room manager position at Captain D's restaurant.
Mom, Advocacy Agency Demand State Ban School Time-Out Rooms
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
November 6, 2007

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA--Florida's Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities has joined a Leon County mother in an effort to get seclusion rooms banned for students with disabilities.
The protection and advocacy system and the mother, whose name has not been included in news accounts, have filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Education.
The mother claims that her 7-year-old daughter, who has learning disabilities, was placed in a locked "time-out" room at Chaires Elementary School several times within the first couple of days of the school year, for such things as "walking inappropriately" and "pouting".
The mother says she was worried because her daughter suddenly became too frightened to be left alone in the bathroom at home.
School officials defended the use of seclusion to change children's behavior. In fact, the school has three such rooms as "part of our overall behavior plan", Ward Spisso, the school's Director of Exceptional Student Education, told WCTV News.
Principal Christi Moss told the Tallahassee Democrat: "We have to get their behavior under control so we can help them with their academics."
District officials said there is a progression from a chair time-out, to an open door time-out, and then a closed door time-out -- in which the child cannot escape -- after continued misbehavior.

Parent feels intimidated by school board

By WINK News Sep 12, 2007

A Lee County Florida parent claims she was threatened by a School Board member for speaking out against the treatment of her child.

Kellie Elders was clapping in support of a comment when board chair Jeanne Dozier got out of her seat, walked down the podium, called for security and threatened to throw out Elders and another parent sitting in the crowd.

"She said if you have one more outburst I'm going to have you taken out of here and then she had security officer speak to me I said do what you have to do, what are you going to do put me in a time out room," said Elders, who has been outspoken about the alleged mistreatment of her child.

Elders claims her 8-year-old daughter Caitlin was mistreated in a time out room at Pelican Elementary School.

After a WINK News investigation into the rooms, school board member Bob Chilmonik called for an independent investigation of the rooms.

At last night's meeting, Chilmonik was pushing further for an investigation, when Kellie Elders started clapping and Dozier threatened to throw her out of the room.

In response to what happened at last night's meeting, Dozier said, "I have a responsibility to keep everything calm and when someone is blurting out words and phrases I have to put a stop to it."

Board member Bob Chilmonik said other people were clapping before Elders during the meeting and Dozier targeted her because of what she had to say.

Elders said she feels intimidated and can see why other parents might be afraid to come forward.  "I'm there advocating for my child and when I can't there's a problem."


Child Says Cocoa Teacher Duct-Taped Him To DeskFebruary 28, 2007

COCOA, Fla. -- A Brevard County teacher was placed on leave while Cocoa police investigate allegations she duct-taped a kindergarten student to a desk as punishment. "My teacher duct-taped me to that table," 5-year-old Dylan Negron said.  Dylan told his mother that his teacher, Mrs. Maki Monje, at Cambridge Elementary was punishing him because he wouldn't put his head down on the desk on Friday. His mother, Donna Negron, said she immediately reported the incident to the school and police. "I'm very hurt," she said, "Thinking that I was sending him to school and he'd be safe at school and I didn't expect nothing like that to happen." The teacher is on leave until the police investigation is finished.

Eyewitness News went to the teacher's house to get her side of the story, but her husband said she was not available for comment.

Teacher Charged With Abusing Five Severely Autistic Teenagers
Associated Press May 2007
*SANFORD, Florida - *Five severely autistic teenagers must testify against a teacher charged with abusing them, a judge has ruled.

Circuit Judge Clayton Simmons made the ruling at a pretrial hearing Thursday in the case against Kathleen Garrett. Trial is expected to begin next week against the 26-year veteran of Seminole County public schools charged with physically abusing the students, who ranged in age from 12 to 15.

Garrett was arrested in November 2004 on charges that she abused autistic students in her class at South Seminole Middle School in Casselberry, even chipping one boy's teeth by slamming his face into a desk.

Other allegations include beating children, humiliating them, pushing one's face into vomit and disciplining some behind closed bathroom doors, where screaming and sounds of furniture banging around could be heard.

Defense attorney Thomas Egan argued that it is vital for jurors to see the kind of students Garrett supervised.  "One of these kids actually eats his feces," Egan said. "I think the world will see volumes when they see these children."

Assistant State Attorney Donna Goerner said the courtroom setting might traumatize the students and whatever they say cannot be trusted because they are not mentally competent.

The judge said the charges against Garrett are serious and she is entitled to a full defense. If the students wander off or walk out of the courtroom, the judge said, he would not require deputies to retrieve them.

Garrett, 50, rejected a plea deal this week that would have placed her on five years' probation and required her to surrender her teaching certificate.
If convicted, she faces a possible sentence of 75 years in prison.

Body sox used for restraint against Florida 4-year-olds

Posted Dec 14th 2006
School officials in Florida are using a highly unusual -- and now controversial -- method to calm students that are upset. It's called a "body sock," and a teacher in Pinellas County has reportedly been using them to restrain unruly students. According to the device's website, "body sox" are designed to help kids "explore three-dimensional space," but in practice they are being used for therapy, and in some cases, punishment. The device is made of a cloth-like material and zips closed, completely enveloping the child inside. One 4-year-old boy was placed in the sack, while crying, after he had been given verbal warnings to behave. His father thinks the teacher was wrong to place him in the device as a form of punishment. "I don't like it at all," said Patrick Holt, the boy's father. "I don't think it should be used on anybody." His son was the only one who the teacher reported using the device that day in that class.  The school board has opened an investigation, and it did publicly confirm that body sox are approved for use in classrooms but shouldn't be considered restraining devices. "It has been used in some of our exceptional student educational classrooms as a very calming therapeutic and well received type of strategy to calm students down," school board Director of Communications Andrea Zahn said.
FLORIDA Parent Says School Misuses its Timeout Room
Abhi Raghunathan, St. Petersburg Times
October 13, 2005
The punishment is considered so harsh the state urges it be used only as a last resort. It's called "secured seclusion" and allows teachers to confine children, many of whom suffer from severe emotional problems, in tiny, sealed rooms. Just one school in Hernando County currently uses a timeout room for isolating troubled kids. The small space at Deltona Elementary can be shut with an electromagnetic lock. The room is now at the center of a state inquiry into the school's exceptional student education program, which provides for the instruction of kids with learning disabilities. The inquiry was prompted by the complaints of Christine Trueman, 32, who says she has pleaded with instructors at Deltona for at least five years not to put her son, now 9, in the timeout room. She told them he is autistic and suffers seizures. Last month, Trueman said, her son once banged his head on the walls of the timeout room for 28 minutes. But, Trueman says, the instructors keep locking him in the room. She says they do it without her consent, which state guidelines require. And she says they do it for minor infractions, like when he doesn't do his math work. In emergency incident reports, school officials wrote that Trueman's son didn't follow instructions and pushed chairs and tables. When she has complained to school and district officials, Trueman says, they have told her teachers can use the timeout room without her consent. So she recently filed a formal complaint with the state Department of Education, which has begun the inquiry. State education officials said they normally open inquiries into complaints that cannot be resolved right away. "With my son's medical condition, he's not supposed to be in there," Trueman said. "But he's always in there."  While the state allows districts to establish procedures on how to use timeout rooms, it issued a set of guidelines to oversee the practice in a 1992 technical assistance paper.  The guidelines also call for parental consent, and say the practice should be used only in drastic cases, such as "to prevent acute self-mutilative behavior" or "in an emergency when student shows evidence that he or she may injure others." "Parental notification is essential," the guidelines say. "Before secured seclusion can be used with a student, the school should have on file a permission slip signed and dated by the parent/guardian; this should be updated annually."   Deltona principal Beverly Chapin said she could not comment, but stood by the school's teachers.  Deltona is one of the district's "center schools" for ESE, a designation that signifies it has the resources and staff to deal with learning-disabled kids.  About 30 percent of the school's 1,033 students are classified as ESE. "We just have an excellent ESE program.  I really do believe that," Chapin said.  "We do follow the district's safety procedures."   Weber said the timeout room at Deltona meets all state construction requirements, which specify the room be at least 40 square feet and have a window so instructors can observe the kids they put inside.  State rules also require the electromagnetic locks on timeout rooms to engage only when an instructor stands at the door and pushes a button or other device.  The construction rules force instructors to make sure the kids don't hurt themselves while isolated.  But the behavioral problems that force teachers to lock some troubled children in sealed rooms also make the punishment especially hard on kids like Trueman's son.  Her son, whom the Times is not naming because he is a minor, often comes home with soiled clothes.  Even though he's in the fourth grade, he is still academically at a second-grade level, Trueman said. The boy also suffers from autism, a neurological disability that impairs social interaction and communication skills, according to the Autism Society of America. He has other physical problems as well: Trueman has given school officials notes from her son's doctor, who asked them to monitor her son's heart rate during times of stress. "Also, this patient has a seizure disorder.  Please do not allow him to bang his head on a wall," Dr. Russell T.  In recent years, however, many schools have abandoned the practice, believing it does little to change a student's behavior or teach other lessons.  Lise Fox, a University of South Florida professor in the department of child and family studies, said research has produced far better alternatives.  Fox said schools now try to identify the factors in a curriculum or school environment that cause emotionally troubled students to misbehave. Then, she said, schools change those factors so kids can behave and participate in class rather than being confined in isolation. "You should try to understand (why) a child is behaving in such a manner, and figure out a plan," Fox said. But Trueman says Deltona officials have failed to do that.  Instead of making changes to her son's curriculum, she said, district officials are resorting to the timeout room, which she says should never be used because she has refused to give her consent for him to be put in such a room. Trueman has asked, for example, for her son to learn on a computer rather than filling out handouts. She said teachers just don't respond to such requests. Trueman has complained about her son's treatment before, and gotten results. Trueman, who lives in Spring Hill, knows how difficult it is for teachers to educate kids with severe emotional problems.  But she's tired of watching her son regress academically, of watching him come home with bruises, or soiled clothes, or little new knowledge, and of knowing he spends a chunk of many school days locked in the secured seclusion room.  "It's been the same problems for years," she said.  "They keep giving me the runaround."


A grieving mother in Florida wants to know why her disabled 12-year-old son died in a group-home van



She said a caregiver ``told me he was kicking the [van] window and that was the reason they had to sit him down and put his arms behind his back to restrain him so he'll calm down in the van.''
The emergency order, which doesn't name staffers, says at the flea market, three staff and four kids went inside, ``leaving one staff person alone with the remaining children in the van. The driver states that when he came back, [Denis] began yelling, screaming and kicking, so he asked the other staff person if she needed help. Reportedly, she declined it.''
The report says the driver heard Denis talking and thought he was all right, ``then suddenly noticed that D.M. was silent and nonresponsive. They took him out of the van and attempted to revive him and called 911.''
The staffer left in the van ''reported that she laid D.M. down on the seat and restrained his legs,'' the report says, then ``turned him over on his back and noticed he was not breathing. . . . She denied using excessive force.''
Mental Health America is firmly convinced that restraint and seclusion have no therapeutic value, contribute to human suffering and have frequently resulted in severe emotional and physical harm, and even death.




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