Wednesday, October 22, 2008

OH: Mom questions board about alleged physical abuse

Published: Wednesday, October 22, 2008 12:50 PM EDT

As the Pickerington Local School district investigates an act of physical abuse against a special needs student, the mother of that student questions why she was kept in the dark and why staff members are not properly trained.

Kristen Hamilton spoke before the board of education at its Oct. 13 meeting regarding the lack of information the district supplied her following abuse allegations against an educational assistant in her 9-year-old daughter's classroom.

Hamilton's daughter, who is hearing impaired, has a certain degree of mental retardation, behavioral problems and speech delay, attended Violet Elementary School two days per week, spending the remainder of the week at Forest Rose School, a Fairfield County Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities school. The fourth-grader now attends Forest Rose exclusively.

The special education classroom Hamilton's daughter was stationed in at Violet contained two educational assistants, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist and a teacher.

Hamilton said Sept. 23 the physical therapist, Rae Ann Brown, observed one of the educational assistants have an altercation involving the educational assistant pushing the girl with her foot.

Hamilton said she understand the situation began with her daughter sitting on a desk and refusing to get off it when asked.

The girl then threw herself on the ground and the educational assistant took a rolling cart and threatened to hit her in the head with it, Hamilton said.

The educational assistant then put her foot on the girl's back and shoved her hard enough that it turned the 90-pound girl to her stomach, Hamilton said.

When the educational assistant tried to take the girl to the dean's office, she pulled her by the wrist before putting her into a straight jacket hold, Hamilton said.

Hamilton said she knows her daughter made it to the office, but does not know how long it took or where the girl was taken on the way.

Hamilton complained about not being told the allegations, names of those involved or the events of that day by the school district.

She was, however, informed by Child Protective Services, which is conducting an investigation.

"I feel that you as a school district have a responsibility to me her mother" to provide her the details immediately, rather than when the investigation is complete.

"I don't believe this is the first time this happened," Hamilton said.

Hamilton said she learned the educational assistant in question had her Ohio Department of Education license expire six years ago, and a general lack of training among the staff resulted in a delay in reporting the abuse.

Hamilton said it took seven days for the two witnesses in the room to have a conversation with a supervisor about the incident, so the decision to report the abuse was based on feelings not regulations.

Pickerington's Director of Human Resources Larry Mullins said staff members were trained and licensed; however, the educational assistant in question had her license expire.

He said all staff members had a criminal record check and he has no knowlege of a history of abuse on the part of the educational assistant being investigated.

Hamilton said although the staff might be trained, she has spoken with teachers who said they would not know what to do upon witnessing such a situation.

Mullins agreed although teachers are trained, some admitted to not paying attention to that training.

"I will be going to every building and I will personally do an inservice (training program) on the law of reporting child abuse," Mullins said.

He skirted questions, however, if the special training was in response to this incident. "In other districts where I've worked, I've always done this anyway," he said.

Brown, however, denies ever receiving training. "In the 14 years that I've been here I've never received training on child abuse," she said.

Brown said she sent an e-mail to the special education supervisor Sept. 25, two days after the incident.

Brown did not hear back from her supervisor until Sept. 28 and met with her Sept. 30, she said. The educational assistant who is alleged to have assaulted the child did not return to work after Sept. 30, Brown said.

"In my mind, I'm the person that tried to help and was terminated," Brown said.

Superintendent Karen Mantia said none of the five staff members in the room during the alleged incident are in the classroom now.

The educational assistant accused of the assault resigned. The second educational assistant and the teacher are on paid leave pending the conclusion of the investigation, Mullins said.

Brown and the occupational therapist's contracts will soon be revoked for the manner in which the incident was reported, Mullins said.

"It hasn't been officially done, but that's the intent," he said.

"We've investigating the act itself, the incident itself concerning the educational assistant and the child and then, secondly, we've been investigating the reporting issue: why this wasn't reported immediately," Mullins said.

Hamilton said she did not expect other staff members to be fired.

"My feeling is that I expected the three people to get a reprimand; I have concerns about why it took so long for them to come forward," Hamilton said.

Mantia recommended Hamilton keep in contact with her and Mullins. She said once the district was notified of the incident, it acted swiftly.

"We take these issues very, very seriously," she said. "We do need to do a full investigation."

The board of education held a closed-doors meeting prior to the regular meeting concerning "the appointment, employment, dismissal, discipline, promotion, demotion, or compensation of public employee, official or regulated individual and ... conferences with an attorney concerning disputes involving pending or imminent court action," according to the meeting agenda.

Although Board President Wes Monhollen said the activities and discussion from that meeting cannot be shared with the public, he did say, "There was some information shared with the board about an ongoing investigation," but he was not willing to disclose if the matter discussed was the alleged abuse incident.

A representative from Fairfield County Child Protective Services could not be reached for comment.

"We've investigating the act itself, the incident itself concerning the educational assistant and the child and then, secondly, we've been investigating the reporting issue: why this wasn't reported immediately."

--Larry Mullins

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