Wednesday, October 9, 2013

More horrifying proof that authorities can't handle special needs

Months after Robert Ethan Saylor died at the hands of police over a movie theater incident, another story involving shocking violence against a person with special needs is making headlines. This time, it involves an 11-year-old with Down syndrome.

According to news reports, the child has a habit of throwing himself on the floor and refusing to get up. That's what happened September 12 at the New Leaf School in Neptune Beach, Florida. How the principal handled it: "The principal pulled him across the floor, just under 30 feet, some of it unfortunately over concrete and over two door thresholds," reported Lt. Adam Militello of the Neptune Beach Police Department.

Cesar Suarez recalled his reaction when he picked up his grandson from school: "You could imagine, when I saw his hand like that and his rib cage I said, 'Jesus Christ this is criminal. What did you do to my baby?'" The boy (adopted by his grandparents when his parents couldn't care for him) had bruises on his arms and rib cage.

The principal has reportedly apologized several times, sending cards and emails. There's an ongoing investigation; the State Attorney's office will decide whether or not to file charges. The child has been moved to another school.

New Leaf is geared toward kids with learning disabilities. You'd think educators like the principal would have know how to handle all kinds of discipline issues, including those involving kids with special needs. But, no. You'd think the police officers who encountered an agitated Robert Ethan Saylor on that fateful day would have had training in handling individuals with special needs. But, no.

These stories are horrifying and, in Saylor's case, tragic. They're eye-opening, too. We've come a long way from the days when kids and adults with disabilities were shuttled off to institutions, but there is clearly still so much misunderstanding and ignorance about people with special needs.

This week, I also read a story about an Australian mother with cerebral palsy assaulted by a group of kids. Rachel O'Neill has hearing and speech issues and walks unsteadily. When she went in to her local police station to file a complaint, she was told to return when she was sober. Really. "I came back every day for nine days and eventually had to get a letter from my GP to tell them they had to take my statement," she said. O'Neill filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission and won a settlement. But the even bigger win is that O'Neill is in the process of taking a course (one she helped to develop) that will qualify her to train police in handling people with disabilities.

It sure seems like police stations and schools in this country could use similar training programs—and that higher-ups should be making them mandatory.

Image: NBCLatino video/screen-grab


  1. Hi Ellen -- I had seen that story of the boy being dragged by the principal. My son was dragged by an EA across a park and thrown in his wheelchair after she became enraged because he had picked up a cigarette and pretended to smoke it. He had a dislocated hip at the time. The staff reported it and police were called in. After much questioning they said it wasn't worth pressing charges. The EA was supposed to never be in a room with my son again (she had been sent home on leave). The next year Ben moved to a mainstream school and a couple of months in I learned that she was there. I cannot even describe my horror that there was no follow-up in the system after an incident like this.

    1. SO SO SORRY FOR YOU AND YOUR SON- she should have been fired by the school division- but it is all to true -happens all to often-also happened to someone I love, by a few people in the school system. Nothing was done besides a quick shuffle between the schools and the teachers. Going into grade 1 and this year grade2 have been so much better for him. Thanks to better understanding teachers and a great EA

    2. While I am sorry your son was mistreated, what is the point of saying you were shocked to find out the school your son was transferred to was employing the EA? The lady most likely already worked at the school, and had every right to be there, after all, as long as she wasn't in the same room -- she violated nothing. Kids with special needs are a handful, and everyone has their breaking point, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't be allowed to have an income in the field she studied for...

    3. I agree with the statement above if the EA was not fired and your son had moved to a new school where they happen to work this is no fault of the school. As long as the EA is not working directly with your son she is not in violation. As harsh as it sounds the school and school district can't revolve around your son. I have worked with special needs kids and it can be extrermly frustetating as well as rewarding and as stated above breaking points happen. I don't think its right to drag your son but also wasn't there to witness the event.

    4. Louise, I am really sorry for that incident, and the callous remarks above. That EA should have been terminated. Period. There is NO excuse for man-handling a student like that and it's sad the school kept her in the system. This is hardly about the school system "revolving" around Louise's son. Why should abuse be tolerated, especially when committed by a person whose essential job is to CARE for students?! And this was abuse. If the EA was struggling to deal with the situation, or on the verge of acting violently, she should have roped in someone else to help or taken a breather or done ANYTHING but abuse that boy. Stories have made news of EAs being terminated for verbal abuse alone. If you are at the point when you can drag a kid with disabilities across a park (with a dislocated hip no less) and toss him into a wheelchair, it is time to find a new career.

    5. No. Who knows what part of the situation Louise is leaving out to make her and her child seem more a victim and the EA a monster. What the EA did was plan wrong, you should never handle a child like that, but again, you do not know what actually happened. She could have been the only EA around, asked for help, no help given, ect. You do not know what steps she actually tried before hand. To fire the EA after Louise son was transferred, means you are expecting the system to revolve around her son. Homeschool your child if you think he should be the center or focus.

  2. Deep, deep sorrow and anger! Our kiddos deserve a safe place to learn and grow.

  3. The grandparents should put him on a diet so he isn't overweight and can be lifted up easier when he is throwing a fit.

    1. Or that could just be his body type. People come in all shapes and sizes.

    2. Anonymous, really, you think that's the issue here? Whoa. Just, whoa. And of course, you're anonymous.

    3. /The/ issue? No. A issue, hell yes. He is clearly overweight. He is too heavy to be picked out and carried out of the area he is disrupting, the other students who he is probably frightening, who then cause more commotion because they are upset by his behavior.

    4. To all anons- of course you would hide away and not reveal your true name.

      1st anon- the aide did NOT have to hurt- yes it is child abuse Louise's son, she had a choice.

      Guest- this issue is NOT about Louise insisting the system "revolve" around her son. Its about NOT tolerating abuse.

      2nd anon- How do you know she tried everything she could? You have NO proof so stop defending the aide.

      3rd anon- your ridiculous comment made me MAD. Louise does NOT appear to be that sort of person.

      4th anon- exactly what kind of MONSTER would do that to a vulnerable boy?

    5. Last Anon Poster- I'm inclined to agree! Maybe we should homeschool all our children? No no it doesnt matter if they shouldnt be homeschooled because they have severe cognitive disabilities- that shouldnt stop you.

      Of course, we can give up our jobs and homeschool them. Providing food, clothes, that stuff doesnt matter anymore!

      Joking aside-we have a right to expect aides to protect our children. That IS their job. That story had me thinking and scared for Abby. She has severe physical disabilities- will her aide be responsible and caring?

      Or, maybe I should home tutor her like ANON, who is out of touch with the real world, suggested.

  4. Who would do such a thing?

  5. Simply put, if this had happened to a typical child the EA would have been fired. Not sent to another school, not told to stay away from this child. They would have been fired. No one should be treated this way, whether or not they have special needs. There are always better solutions. ALWAYS. And there should not be exceptions to the rule. If this had happened to you you would have sued. If this had happened to your child or grandchild you would be the first in line to make sure this person was fired. If the parent had been the one to inflict this type of damage on the child the child would have been taken away. So if a stranger, who you are trusting to take care of your child, does this they should also be held accountable. At least in the first story the Principal sounds generally remorseful. It sounds like changes will be made to ensure this does not happen again. It's not a weight issue or even necessarily a behavior issue. It's a "how do we act as adults in the situation issue". This attitude is what makes me scared to send any of my children to school, typical or not.

  6. As special educators, there’s no role that we value more than recognizing that parents entrust us with their children every day. It’s true; children with disabilities have complex needs – whether they’re academic, social-emotional, or behavioral or a combination of all three. But it is this very complexity that drives special educators to cherish their role as teachers, role models and advocates for their students.

    We, at the Council for Exceptional Children, were deeply saddened to read your blog posting and listen to the news report about a child with Down Syndrome who was dragged over concrete by his principal.

    It’s stories like this that drive our advocacy efforts to better educate policymakers and practitioners about the misuse of restraint and seclusion practices. There have been far too many stories that involve gruesome practices that run contrary to the motivation for entering into the education field.

    At its core, we believe this is an issue of training for educators that focuses on positive behavioral interventions and supports coupled with de-escalation techniques that quash an issue before it spirals out of control. We know there may be some emergency situations when the physical safety of a child or others is at risk, and through well-researched procedures delivered by well-trained individuals, we can diffuse a situation while upholding human dignity and safety. In 2009, CEC issued a policy on restraint and seclusion which expands upon these ideals. And you can read more about our other advocacy efforts regarding this issue here.

    For years, CEC has been working with members of Congress to bring this issue to the national spotlight. CEC has supported The Keeping All Students Safe Act has been introduced by Congressman George Miller (D-Ca.) and will likely be introduced soon by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Ia.), who led the effort on this legislation in the last Congressional session. We are committed to getting educators, families and policymakers the tools needed to make evidence-based, informed decisions.

    Thank you and your readers for giving us the privilege of working with your children. The educator-parent partnership is critical to achieving academic and lifelong success for children.


Thanks for sharing!

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