Saturday, October 18, 2008

Open Letter to MA Disability Law Center regarding Alleged Abuse of 6 Non Verbal Children

Special Note: This email was sent to the MA Disability Law Center (and was CC'd to the National Disability Rights Network) in regards to the article published by BostonChannel.com regarding 6 nonverbal students with autism and other disabilities who witnesses claim were abused by a teacher at South Shore Collaborative School. Although the 6 students in question have been removed from this teacher's classroom, the teacher has been assigned to new students and IS STILL TEACHING!

Unfortunately, The Coalition for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports has no legal authority to investigate allegations of abuse; we can only report about allegations. However, The Disability Rights Network, aka Protection and Advocacy DOES have the legal authority to investigate.

We'll let you know if they respond.



October 18, 2008

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Jennifer Searcy and I am the Founder and Director of Public Policy and Affairs for The Coalition of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. My organization promotes and advocates for the use of positive behavioral interventions in place of aversives such as restraints, seclusions, and other abusive practices in schools and other settings.

I recently came across an article that was published by BostonChannel.com about Ann Gibbons, a teacher who is still teaching at South Shore Collaborative School despite parent and co-worker allegations of abusing 6 different children with autism, cystic fibrosis, and other disabilities and who are also all non-verbal. All 6 of the children have since been removed by their parents from this educator's classroom, however, this educator has been reassigned and is still teaching.

Here is an excerpt from the article, which quotes one of the witnesses to alleged abuse:

"He started to go back into her stomach with his head, and she put her fist up, and when he came back again, she punched him -- the back of his head. Two days later he was doing the same behavior, and she said, 'Be careful, you might find a fist behind his head,'" Grant said.

Granted, if this child was a danger to himself and/or others, the teacher had the right to protect herself and the others in her care. HOWEVER, since when is punching a child in the head even remotely appropriate?

The article states that the Deptartment of Children's Services investigated but did not find any abuse - parents state that they believe this is namely because the children literally cannot speak for themselves to give personal accounts of what may or may not have occurred in that classroom.

Unfortunately, my organization does not have any legal authority to investigate such allegations of abuse - however, your organization does. I am asking you to please perform a formal investigation into this school and these allegations because, while the children in question are no longer under this educator's care, she IS still teaching and other children may be at risk.

I have copied and pasted the article below , along with the link to the story, for your reference.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Searcy
Founder/Director of Public Policy and Affairs
The Coalition for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports

Aides Accuse Teacher Of Abusing Autistic Students
http://www.thebostonchannel.com/education/17740036/detail.html?rss=bos&psp=news
POSTED: 1:57 pm EDT October 17, 2008
UPDATED: 5:22 pm EDT October 17, 2008

Woman Still Teaching Children

BOSTON -- Parents and co-workers said that a teacher was abusing autistic children in her care.

NewsCenter 5's Bianca de la Garza reported exclusively that while no charges have been filed, they wonder why she's still in the classroom.

Classroom aides AnneMarie Grant and Mary Ericson recounted what they saw while working in teacher Ann Gibbons' Randolph classroom last winter.

"I couldn't sleep. I was sick," Grant said.

"I've witnessed it. I know she did these things to children," Ericson said.

The alleged victims are six non-verbal autistic students who attended the South Shore Collaborative School.

"If they were non-compliant, as she says, she would go and grab them. Put them into a restraint. 'I'm bigger. I'm badder, and I'm stronger than you.' Hello? You don't say that to a kid," Ericson said.

"He started to go back into her stomach with his head, and she put her fist up, and when he came back again, she punched him -- the back of his head. Two days later he was doing the same behavior, and she said, 'Be careful, you might find a fist behind his head,'" Grant said.

Besides autism, the students had other special needs, such as cystic fibrosis and obsessive compulsive disorder, which the aides said Gibbons preyed on.

Grant, Ericson and a third aide reported the incidents to the school. The State Department of Child Services and Randolph police began investigating.

"I was alarmed. I was frantic," parent Linda Auger said.

Looking back, parents who spoke with NewsCenter 5 said there were red flags they wish they had documented.

"He had some bruising on his arms," Auger said.

"When we brought him home he was limping on his leg. By the end of his day he couldn't put any weight on it," another parent said.

NewsCenter 5 wanted to ask Gibbons about the allegations, but she did not want to speak when approached at her Middleboro home.

Police have also not spoken about the allegations. Despite repeated phone calls to the detective handling the case and messages to the police chief, they made no comment to NewsCenter 5.

A Department of Children Services investigation did not find reasonable cause to support the abuse.

"We have a bunch of kids who are non verbal. I think if Sean could talk they'd have enough proof to go forward," another parent said

All six parents eventually pulled their children out of Gibbons' class.

Gibbons is still teaching, in a different class, with different children. There was no comment from school administrators, who referred NewsCenter 5 to their lawyers.

"I want her out of classroom. I think someone is going to get hurt," another parent said.

6 comments:

Disheartened said...

From Coach_Dad: (I agree!)
"Please keep in mind that there are 2 sides and there are valid reasons the Police, school and officials have found no harm.

Its sad when people put innocent children in the middle of a personality conflict, via wrongful accusations. The truth will prevail, unfortunately, for every bogus claim, it makes it that much more difficult to win the war against real abuse!"


Even if I didn't know what I know, I would TRUST this person with my life & my children any day, a woman who is truly one of the sweetest people I have ever met, who doesn't swear, NEVER and in 15 years, I have never seen her get mad or angry, even in crisis...as opposed to someone who, while driving the schools van, was reported in a road rage incident where she gestured and called another driver, a man of color a racial slur...someone who has a history of communicating vile comments about her co-workers, calling one other worker (paraphrase)a fat, f%^ng sl_ _, ..and she should be shot...and who also invaded co-workers privacy, hcking her way into their private lives...

Sorry, credibility gone! Unfortunately, a sweet, wonderful person and respected teacher has been ruined and the kids have been thrust into the middle, unneccessarily. What a shame!

The kids are the prime concern, but its a shame when they are used as pawns, as the truth will ultimately reveal.

Disheartened...

Disheartened said...

The facts as reported are overstated and incorrect in many cases. I could tear the article apart for every misrepresented fact, but there's not enough space and some facts are legally under wraps (false accusations) and its not my place to bring them into the public eye. But I know they will be. One such mistatement, is that all 6 sets of parents pulled their kids out...wrong! Being off for the Summer does not constitute being pulled out of the school...they are back, now that Fall is here and school is back in session!

Shoddy reporting, smear campaigns and no offense, the "smearers" getting this Coalition and Jennifer Searcy involved is a disgrace, based on the true facts. Ms Searcy, I hope that you will be first in line to apolgize to the accused and to chastise the wrongful accusers, because they hurt your true efforts.

To quote Dean Tong, Author/Forensic Consultant, 'We will not win the war against child abuse until we first win the battle against false accusations.' (See below for more statistics on false accusations)

According to a reputable, national abuse website, 'In 2003, based on ~2.9 million reports of child abuse and neglect, 57.7% of the same were determined to be unsubstantiated. In 2004, here more than one-half (60.7%) of investigations or assessments led to a finding that the alleged child maltreatment was unsubstantiated.

Disheartened...

tcpbis said...

Disheartened:

Thank you for commenting.

I sincerely hope that truth WILL prevail - and that if these children were abused, this abuse will come to light.

I, too, hope that the article is wrong and that these children were not abused. I sincerely hope, as you say, this teacher's reputation is being maligned for whatever reason, because that would mean that no child was harmed.

But unless you've been in this type of situation, you have no idea what it's like to wonder what might have been done - or, knowing what was done from either seeing it first-hand or from other eyewitness accounts or from documentation that accidentally came to light well after the fact, the frustration of not being able to "prove" it.

As the mother of a child who was abused in a public school by administrators, educators, and aides, I have to err on the side of caution and do what I can on a personal level to try to protect vulnerable children from real or "alleged" harm. Because I know all too well from personal experience, and the experience of thousands of others, that abuse can and does occur in schools, and that there is no limit to what a school might do to "cover up" the fact that a child was harmed - including lying to or withholding evidence from agencies investigating them. I speak from experience, so you'll have to forgive my skepticism with the DCF report.

I also know much about educational laws and school interventions and how easily an outsider can be manipulated into thinking that an intervention like restraint, locked seclusion, or anything else a "normal" person would view as abusive is an appropriate intervention, while CYS would remove a child from a parent's custody should a parent use that same type of intervention on their child. For a more egregious example of "abuse" being masked as "therapy" just look up the Judge Rotenberg Center, which has been approved to use electroshock therapy on kids.

This is why I asked for an investigation. Because if there is any truth to the allegations that this woman threatened to punch or actually punched a child in the back of the head, then she committed abuse.

I fully admit I react from an emotional basis, and maybe that is to my detriment. You're right, I don't know all the facts, and was perhaps projecting my pent-up frustrations and anger about a broken system that perpetuates and covers up abuse on a purely innocent by-stander who is caught up in a nightmarish situation of her own. If that is the case, then it is my mistake and she is lucky to have supporters like you to take people like me to task.

But you'll have to forgive me if I'm more sympathetic to the kids who may have been abused and their families than to the teacher who may have been accused falsely.

Because I've lived it. I know it happens.

But if evidence from the trial indicates that she was accused falsely, I will be one of the first in line to publicly apologize. Because you're right, false accusations make it that much more difficult for those who have legitimate claims.

But if it turns out that those claims weren't false, as you claim, then I hope you will be as willing to offer the same.

Thank you for shedding some light onto the "other side" of the story. I really hope everything works out for everyone.

I intend to keep following this story and will post the outcome on this blog, once it becomes public.

Disheartened said...

Dear tcpbis,

Thank you for your emotional response. I agree, that abuse is horrible for all parties involved and I whole-heartedly feel for anyone who has had to deal with it. I pray that the children in this case were not abused and that something good comes from this, be it better security or more accountability. And yes, I'd be the first to offer my public apology, in the event that the teacher was guilty of the abuse.

The most recent article can be found here:
http://www.patriotledger.com/homepage/x1403420306/Special-education-teacher-cleared-of-abusing-autistic-kids

Thank you for your response and thank you for being there as a voice for those who need it!

Disheartened

ldaug said...

Having read most of the comments regarding the abuse of the 6 children with autism by their teacher, I must admit, I am fed up with this teacher's support staff. If you think you're helping her situation, think again. Most of you come across as very angry people throwing alot of sticks and stones. I am one of the parents of the 6 children and I do know what is going on. All six children were pulled from this program. The teacher was on administrative leave, while all six sets of parents set out to find a new program, which was extremely hard to find an appropriate one that will even take your child. If any of you have children I hope you never have to live this nightmare. My son did come home with rug burns, a long abrasive mark on his collar bone and red marks on his neck. He did come home with bruises on his arms. There are documentations of restraints. We were never informed she was restraining. In the DSS report it clearly states that a "professional" saw Ann put children into a restraint then to a timeout chair and if they got up she would put them back into a restraint. This IS AGAINST THE LAW. A restraint isused for eminent danger to self or someone else, not for corporal punishment. This has turned into one big cat fight. Anyone that dares to side with our families is ridiculed, belittled and made to sound a fool. What purpose does this serve? Does this help Ann or our children? It makes you sound like a bunch of petulant children who are going to insist that they are right, no matter what. All of these inuendos alluding to the aides "getting in big trouble" sounds pathetic and small. I know I saw with my own eyes a teacher bend back a childs hand right in front of me. M.S. was there and she saw it too. I told her right then I couldn't put my child in that classroom and I felt sick at the thought. You all think you know the facts and scream liar liar anytime someone says anything about this ordeal. You don't know anything. I am never going to stop this fight to get some dignity and respect for my child and all children who have special needs. Wake up or shut up or better yet, mind your own business.

tcpbis said...

Ldaug:

Thank you so much for coming for sharing this information with us, but so sorry that you've had to. I've been right where you are now and know some of the anger and frustration you're feeling. It's so hard to know and to have seen what happened to your child and have others not want to believe what happened. Honestly, who WOULD want to believe such a thing were possible? But it has happened to children, it does happen, and it will continue to happen until the system changes and everyone says "enough is enough already."

Would you mind contacting me by email at tcpbis@gmail.com? I have some information that may be helpful to you.

Take care,

Jennifer Searcy