I taught students with Autism and disabilities for 30 years. I could not read this story without anger and tears.

As The Washington Post’s Susan Svrluga reported, the complaint cited state statistics that black students with disabilities were nearly 13 times as likely as non-disabled white students to be punished with short-term suspensions in the 2014-2015 school year.

The complaint, filed in August by the Legal Aid Justice Center and the ACLU of Virginia, also alleged that although students with disabilities made up 17.7 percent of the student population, they accounted for 29.8 percent of students who were suspended short-term and 37.4 percent of students who were suspended long-term.

Washington Post, by Lindsey Bever:

John Benjamin Haygood was slouched in a chair with his hand over his eyes, a video shows.

A school resource officer at Okeechobee Achievement Academy in Florida stood over the 10-year-old boy as his mother asked: “Does he have the same rights as an adult?” Then, the officer reached for the young boy’s wrists.

“I don’t want to be touched,” John Benjamin said, throwing his hands in the air. “I don’t like to be touched.”

Luanne Haygood filmed her son being arrested by Okeechobee County deputies at his school on April 12, after she said said they were called in for testing. (Luanne Haygood)

His mother, Luanne Haygood, who was filming the emotional scene, said she and her son had been called into the school for state standardizing testing April 12; while they were there, she said, officers arrested her son for an incident that occurred in October.

He spent the night behind bars at a juvenile facility, Haygood said.

Haygood said John Benjamin, who has been diagnosed with autism, had kicked and scratched his paraprofessional educator (also known as an educational assistant) and, unknown to his own family, had an outstanding warrant for battery on a school board employee, a third-degree felony.

“I didn’t know I was going to get arrested like this,” the boy added, as the officers secured his wrists. “I don’t want to be touched. Please don’t touch me.”

As the officers escorted the boy to the police vehicle, his mother asked them whether she could ride with her son to the jail; one of the officers told her no.

“I don’t know what’s going on, Mama!” he screamed. “I don’t understand.”

“I know, honey,” his mother told him. “He has autism — he doesn’t know what’s going on, he’s scared to death, he’s 10 years old!”

Haygood, from Okeechobee, Fla., said her son, who was diagnosed with autism two years ago, has had an individualized education plan (IEP) since he started school and was assigned a paraprofessional educator last year. But, Haygood said, he had been having issues with his aide, claiming he was hurting him, and the school would not assign a new one.

On Oct. 27, the educator reported, John Benjamin was being disruptive in class, “throwing paper balls around the classroom and hitting other students,” according to a probable cause affidavit.

“When John Benjamin was asked to go to timeout he refused,” according to the court records. The educator “attempted to remove the student and sent him back to the timeout place. At this point, John Benjamin started kicking and scratching and punching” him.

The educator “had to restrain the student, he advised he came around the student and wrapped his arms around the upper chest as to not restrict child’s breathing,” according to the documents.

It was that October incident that led to her son’s arrest, Haygood said.

It was not known why the boy’s family was not informed of his outstanding warrant.

Scott Badesch, president of the Autism Society of America, said the organization has been in contact with Haygood to help provide support services and legal counsel.

“It appears the school’s responses are beyond wrong and evil,” he said. “It is a tremendous failure by two allegedly responsible institutions — the police and the school.”

Badesch said the Autism Society is examining the case to determine whether it should ask the Justice Department and the Education Department to investigate any wrongdoing.

Similar cases have been seen in other states. The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating one in Virginia, following a complaint that Richmond public schools unfairly punish black students and students with disabilities more harshly than others.

As The Washington Post’s Susan Svrluga reported, the complaint cited state statistics that black students with disabilities were nearly 13 times as likely as non-disabled white students to be punished with short-term suspensions in the 2014-2015 school year.

The complaint, filed in August by the Legal Aid Justice Center and the ACLU of Virginia, also alleged that although students with disabilities made up 17.7 percent of the student population, they accounted for 29.8 percent of students who were suspended short-term and 37.4 percent of students who were suspended long-term.

When asked about John Benjamin’s case, Okeechobee County schools spokeswoman Renee Geeting said the district cannot disclose specific information about incidents involving students. But, she noted, the district would not “invite someone to one of our campuses for the sole purpose to arrest.”

“The district routinely assists students by providing services from our board certified behavioral analyst, licensed mental health counselors, school social workers, and psychologists,” she added in a statement. “As a team, these individuals develop interventions, conduct assessments, and offer support both at school and in the home in order to assist students and families.”

Prosecutor Ashley Albright said he is meeting, Wednesday afternoon, with the paraprofessional who pressed charges. Albright said the State Attorney’s Office will take the boy’s special needs into consideration when determining how to proceed with the case and added that juveniles are treated differently by the justice system anyway.

When asked what she hopes to accomplish by going public with the arrest video, Haygood said she just wants her son “to have the same education every other child is entitled to and receives.”

John Benjamin is due in court for his arraignment May 11.

 

8 Replies to “I taught students with Autism and disabilities for 30 years. I could not read this story without anger and tears.”

  1. Deeply disturbing and the kind of thing that deserves very high priority for concerned educators, regardless of how they feel about other issues. I’ll be making a couple of calls about this today. Thanks for posting, Fred.

  2. The police are not trained to handle these kinds of situations (they are by definition “Law enforcement officers” ) The administration in this school district should not have involved them. However, the district DOES have at least some people with the knowledge and resources to help children, but apparently forgot ?
    The result now is an already stressed family being exposed to more stress in the juvenile justice system. In my mind it’s easy to see what the results for this child and his family will be.
    This is what keeps happening when the wrong government agency gets involved in something about which they know very little. It also happens when we elect/appoint incompetent people to lead.

    1. I don’t think it’s an issue of “training”. Just as with the United incident you have people in positions and situations that demand a level of empathy and human understanding that is way beyond their ability in their interaction with another human. A great example of how we are failing as a society. One could say that the election of Trump is another example of such.

  3. Public education. One size fits all – the bureaucratic response to everything.

    Contact Betsy DeVos and tell her you’re ready to get on board with introducing free market forces into education. These kinds of abuses will disappear in a hurry when there is competition to see who can provide the best service.

    Oh – never mind, I know you’re a Commie, who can’t abide any thought but full government ownership of everything. Then we call all be as miserable as this little boy.

  4. The free market for schools would mean anyone can start a school (and receive public money). A basic principle of the free market is creative destruction – so almost 1/2 of all new enterprises FAIL in their first year.

    The free market (although seldom actually practiced due to businesses getting protective laws passed) is not something we want for the education of our children. Constant turmoil, schools opening and closing, and the profit motive leading to providing the least education possible (at the least cost) will harm this country.

    NO other country with high academic achievement has a free market for schools.

    For-profit schools and public taxpayer money can be a toxic mix.

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