WARNING, WARNING, WARNING: PO'D MAMMA ALERT!
Now that that little disclaimer is out of the way....
I got an email from the Massachusettes Disability Law Center (DLC) yesterday (10/24/08) and just got around to reading it. Since you've already been warned, I'm not going to insult your intelligence, but let's just say, I am NOT a happy camper right now.
No, more than that, I'm seeing red. I'm so...so...LIVID I can barely see straight. And here's why.
On October 18, 2008, I sent an email to the DLC after reading an article about 6 kids who were "allegedly" repeatedly abused by their teacher. For example, she punched one child in the back of the head and then threatened to do it again, telling them, "I'm bigger. I'm badder, and I'm stronger than you." These 6 kids all are on the autism spectrum and are all NON-VERBAL - which, as research supports, make them the perfect targets of abuse, because the kids in question LITERALLY CANNOT TELL ANYONE WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM.
I forwarded the article onto the Massachusettes Disability Law Center, because that's the link the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) listed as their contact for such issues in Massachusettes, as the NDRN (aka Protection and Advocacy (P&A)) has the legal authority to investigate allegations of abuse against people with disabilities, whereas this organization can't.
I'll be honest here, in my dealings with P&A's/DLC's, I've found them to be pretty worthless as far as actually directly helping people who need it. Advoocacy on a larger scale, yeah, they do ok, and when they actually publish their investigations, it's powerful reading and powerful motivation that THINGS NEED TO CHANGE. But those publications are few and far between.
Naively, optimistically, I'd hoped things would be different since so many children were involved and because the witness accounts seemed credible.
But...seemingly, such was not the case.
Here's an excerpt from the response:
"While there seems to be credible evidence of repeated abuse by the teacher, DSS did not substantiate the complaints of abuse and refused to re-consider their decision, despite the advocacy by the attorney representing the families. However, the District Attorney is apparently still considering filing criminal charges.
Because the police did a very thorough investigation, it does not make sense for DLC to initiate a P&A investigation on the same matter. In addition, it appears that these specific students are no longer at risk as Ms. Gibbons is no longer their teacher.
At this time, I don't see a role for DLC, especially in light of our limited resources. However, if we receive any reports that Ms. Gibbons has abused or neglected children during this school year, we would almost certainly want to initiate an investigation."
So, let me get this straight here. There is credible evidence of abuse, but you won't do an independent investigation because Children and Families "found no evidence" and "refused to change their findings." And the police are investigating, so it would be a duplication of efforts. BUT...if this goes to trial, you can bet that the reports "finding no evidence of abuse" are going to be front and center of the defense. And the parents - and their abused children - have nothing to counteract that other than witness accounts, which may have been discredited. YET, you're telling me that THERE IS CREDIBLE EVIDENCE OF ABUSE, yet YOU won't have the P&A investigate because ANOTHER AGENCY - found no evidence of abuse. A P&A report refuting that other report (if findings warrant) would at least give the parents and kids something to fight back with.
And another thing...while in a way, I can understand the reasonings for not doing an investigation - limited resources/duplication of efforts - but to just take the attitude that "so what if the teacher hurt those kids, it doesn't matter because she's not able to hurt them now," but IF she's still teaching and IF further allegations emerge, THEN "we'd ALMOST CERTAINLY" get involved just SICKENS me.
Now, I know all about limited resources because I personally run this blog and provide services at no cost taking no salary. (We're all volunteer here, baby! ) I also know all about how federal monies are funneled into P&A's/DLC's so that they can INVESTIGATE and LITIGATE allegations of abuse. So why aren't they doing what they're legally obligated to do, what they receive GRANT MONEY to do. (Grant money is given with stipulations about how it can and cannot be spent. Yes, there is a limited amount, but does that give them the right to refuse to investigate, if that's what the law established that organization to do?) I'm so sick of seeing this "excuse" (not enough money) for not doing something to protect the most vulnerable of children from abuse. Connect with universities and offer work study or unpaid internship opportunities. Get more volunteers to help man the phones/help process applications. Train volunteers to go into schools to help investigate allegations. There are alternatives that require little to no monetary compensation. USE THEM.
I'll also put up this disclaimer and say that I'm looking at this right now through an emotional perspective, not a rational one, so maybe, just maybe, there's merit to not duplicating investigations.
However, as a researcher, I know that duplication is power in an of itself because if something can be duplicated, it's validity (and therefore truthfulness) increases. And if they investigate and find facts to support these kids were abused...makes the other reports less credible, less believable.
Children with disabilities are NOT disposable and should not be treated like garbage by those who are paid by federal, state, and local - public - monies to care, nurture, and EDUCATE all kids. These kids most likely were abused (I'm convinced they were, but my convictions don't mean anything in the eyes of the law), yet because the abuse is not happening NOW, it's being treated as if it NEVER happened. And the teacher was transferred to other students and got to keep (and may even still be, since the district won't say) teaching.
No, I take that back, it's being treated as if is ALMOST never happened, since the DA's office MIGHT press charges. But then again, maybe the DA won't. And if the DA won't then this teacher will still have access to kids and COULD do this again!
So, there's my rant of the day. THIS is the realities many parents of kids who were abused in public school face. We're pretty sure our kids were abused, we may even have people (staff, family members, other parents, etc) who witnessed abuse come forward, and yet...the very agencies that are supposed to help families with these types of crises turn a blind eye (Yeah, I'm looking at you, too, Dept of Ed and Office for Civil Rights). "Sorry, we can't help you."
Yeah, well maybe they can't (or rather won't), but at least I'll try. So for anyone who has been/is going through something like this, PLEASE EMAIL ME, and I'll do what I can, even if it's only to fruitlessly send emails asking for help on your behalf and publicly blasting them when they won't. But know this, you're not alone.
Note about the author:
Jennifer Searcy is the mother of four daughters, ages seven through 13. Her nine year old daughter was diagnosed with epilespy at 15 months and PDDNOS by age 2 1/2. This daughter was illegally and inappropriately restrained in a public school on October 17, 2006 at age 7. Because of the abuses she suffered in a public school, this daughter was removed from public school and is being homeschooled/cyberschooled.
She is also a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, holding a bachelor of science degree in Human Development and Family Studies with a minor in psychology, and was a co-founder of Families Against Restraint and Seclusion and Pennsylvania Families Against Restraint and Seclusion. She is currently the Founder and Director of Public Policy and Affairs for The Coalition for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.