Is Your Child Safe at School?
Valuable Lessons From a Parent Who Learned the Hard Way
Angela Earls and her husband, Peter, are the parents of a second grader with autism. His name is Matthew. This past year, Matthew experienced a traumatic experience at school – one that left the Earls in anguish and disbelief. When Matthew didn’t pick up a piece of paper on command, he left his classroom and went outside the front door, where he sat on the school steps as he had done many times in the past, as was part of Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP). Subsequently, he was dragged back into the school and down the hallway to his classroom. The Earls, in advocating for their son, encountered a series of unexpected and unbelievable obstacles. You can view news videos of Matthew’s story below.
Angelica writes, “Our hope is to raise awareness of the mistreatment of special-needs children, to give parents the courage to ask the hard questions, and to hold schools and teachers accountable for abuse and bullying of these precious children.” Here, she offers guidelines for parents based on the lessons she and Peter have learned through their ordeal.
Lessons LearnedBy Angelica Earls
- Open your eyes if all of a sudden your child does not want to go to school. Something is wrong. Start investigating what has changed, such as different routines, etc.
- If your child’s behavioral episodes at school are increasing, call an emergency IEP meeting and insist that the school district complete a new Functional Behavioral Assessment and Behavioral Intervention Plan.
- If you achieve a revision of the FBA and BIP, take the ten calendar days and seek expert opinions to ensure that what was created is the best analysis and plan. Never sign these documents the same day they are presented to you. The same goes for the entire IEP.
- Ensure that the use of restraint or seclusion is NOT a line item in the Behavioral Intervention Plan.
- If you become aware of an instance of abuse or any situation in which your child has been traumatized, see the therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or doctor immediately.
- If an incident occurs when your child is in school, hold the school district accountable.
- Meet with school personnel immediately; do not wait for legal support/assistance.
- Record, Record, Record! Keep dated notes of everything, including all discussions with school staff, especially if it involves use of restraint, seclusion, or other disciplinary action.
- If a school incident involves police, meet with the police immediately.
- Insist on reviewing and getting copies of any videos of the incident.
- Do not be afraid of starting a criminal investigation, especially if school will not provide any existing videos.
- Do not involve Child Protective Services, if at all possible. Their investigative capabilities are substandard and often biased towards the school district. If you take pictures of injuries (bruises, scratches, scrapes, etc) two items are very important: (1) Ensure that the pictures include the injury and the face of your child (required if there is a criminal investigation), (2) Use a common object (coin, crayon, etc) in the picture to give a reference to the size of the injury, or use a ruler which can be easily read in the picture.
- Insist on seeing your child’s school records; this is a legal right and the school must provide the documentation within 30 days of notice (a copying fee may be required). Look for evidence to determine whether your child may have been provoked: new behavioral tracking info, increase in the use of restraint and/or seclusion, and/or reasons for any suspensions/disciplinary actions.
- Do not be afraid to file a complaint with the State Education Agency (SEA). School districts do not want the SEA’s involvement and/or oversight.
- Insist on seeing the training and teaching credentials of the individuals who have responsibility for your child’s education. This is a legal right; the request must be made in written form.
- Listen to your child. We are blessed that our son is verbal, but even non-verbal communication can say lots. Always believe your child. If he or she is coming home sad and crying, making statements about peers are laughing at him/her or forcing him/her do things to gain acceptance (our son’s peers made him pull his pants down in the cafeteria so he could sit at their table for lunch), this should be a large, blinking neon sign that something is wrong, especially if your child is supposed to have an adult aide with him all the time.
- If necessary, take your complaints to whoever will listen — local politicians, disability rights groups, members of Congress, the media, online postings, etc. Increasing awareness brings added pressure on the school district, and hopefully one of these groups/entities will step in and offer a helping hand.
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