Wednesday, May 20, 2009

VA: Teacher Involved in Student Restraint Incident

posted 05/20/09 8:38 am

STERLING, Va. - As attention is focused nationwide on the treatment of special education students, a local teacher has landed in the spotlight over an incident that left a student dead. 

The teacher, who has not been identified publicly, taught special education classes in Texas, where the incident occurred. Now, she is in the classroom at Park View High School in Sterling. 

The school system learned about the teacher's history for the first time last Thursday. The next day, the teacher in question was placed on paid leave pending the outcome of an internal probe. 

According to a federal report, that teacher was found by police in Texas to have contributed to the death of a student, yet she nevertheless passed a background check to teach in Northern Virginia. 

"[It's] very frustrating because we just don't know who is teaching our children," said Daniele Duff, a Park View parent. 

On Capitol Hill Tuesday, lawmakers heard heartbreaking testimony from parents whose children were hurt or even killed while being restrained for disciplinary reasons at school. 

Cedric Napoleon suffered so much abuse in his young life that, at age 14, he was already experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, an affliction often associated with soldiers at war. 

By 2002, he was under the care of a foster family and attending middle school in Killeen, Texas, in a class with a special education teacher. That's when his troubled childhood took an even darker turn, lawmakers learned Tuesday in a hearing about school discipline. 

Acting out in class one day, Cedric, 129 pounds, was pinned to the floor by his 230-pound teacher, who lay on him to quiet him down, federal investigators say. When she got off or soon after, he was dead. 

"If that teacher was just doing her job, then something is very wrong with the system," Toni Price, his foster mother, told a congressional committee. 

Government investigators said the death was ruled a homicide, but a grand jury did not indict the teacher. 

A judge found that the teacher used excessive force on the child and was reckless in her actions, the report said. 

"The teacher also ignored pleas and warnings that the child could not breathe and continued to hold him after he became still and quiet, the judge noted," the report said. 

"If I'd treated Cedric that way, I'd be in jail," said Price, who appeared with a framed photo of her son. 

That teacher was hired at Park View in 2007 after passing her background check. 

"Because her case went directly to a grand jury in Texas she was not arrested, she was not indicted. It was not in the crime information system so it turned up blank," said Wayde Byard, a Loudoun County (web | news) schools spokesperson. 

"We take it very, very seriously. Obviously if a candidate came to us with this kind of thing where it was verifiable they would not be a candidate," added Byard. 

School officials say the employee in question is considered a "teacher in good standing," meaning there's nothing to indicate she's done anything wrong at Park View. In the light of the current controversy, though, they are now looking into every aspect of how she became employed, including how she filled out her application. 

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