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Group claims disabled students improperly disciplined, school district to react

7:53 AM, Mar 13, 2007   |    comments
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The Legal Center for People with Disabilities and Older People says five students with disabilities who attended Will Rogers Elementary were restrained or secluded on 45 different occasions since 2005.

The students, Kayla Rhuby, Michael Gates, Christopher Spiliotis, Alex Gilliland and A.T., were each 10 to 12 years old at the time of the incidents.

School District 11, to which Will Rogers belongs, planned to have a news conference on the issue on Tuesday morning.

"We just received the press release this afternoon. We contacted our lawyers who received a report today so we were able to get a report from our lawyers and we're in the process right now of reviewing that report," said Eliane Naleski, director of communications for District 11.

The Legal Center says it started investigating the school after it got complaints from parents starting last summer. It focuses on how one Special Education teacher and four paraprofessionals disciplined the disabled students.

The Legal Center says Rhuby was forced into the time out room and left for over an hour, even though she kept asking to use the restroom. Rhuby then urinated in her pants and was forced to sit in her urine to get permission to leave the time out room, according to the Legal Center.

The Legal Center says the four other students were often restrained by the teacher and paraprofessionals and put in the time out room on several occasions for more than 30 minutes.

According to the Legal Center, the students spent more than 11 hours in the time out room.

The Legal Center says the students were physically forced into the room and collectively restrained at least 18 different times.

Gilliland, a student with multiple disabilities, was held down by staff members, facing a wall, or locked in a time out room. He often injured himself while in the room, leaving him bloody. Other students say Gilliland spent most of his time at Will Rogers Elementary in the time out room, according to the Legal Center.

Gilliland's mother conceded he was probably being disruptive.

"He'd probably be doing things like throwing a pencil at the teacher, hitting them, biting them," said Penny Gilliland.

She says he would severely injure himself while he was kept in the room.

"He'd pull out his teeth, head bang, punch himself in the nose. He would just sit in blood," she said.

Penny says it made Alex terrified to go to the school. She was forced to put him in in-patient care at a private facility and he is now considered psychotic.

"He'll probably never be able to come home because of what happened to him," she said. "One child that won't make it."

The Legal Center says A.T. tried to strangle herself with her own clothing two separate times in a two week period after she was put in the time out room. However, the Legal Center says despite those incidents, she was still put back in the time out room another eight times.

Spiliotis was denied food while he was in the time out room, sometimes forced to wait until the end of the day to eat, according to the Legal Center.

"These are huge problems and they're definitely not practices that are tolerated by the education community," said Heidi Van Huysen with the Legal Center. "We're talking about lots of kids that have very sensitive backgrounds. To engage them in physical interventions, locking them in a room, it only increases their exposure to trauma, and causes ongoing problems."

The Legal Center says Gates was often restrained by Will Rogers' staff in response to behaviors caused by his disability. His grandparents and legal guardians think the treatment he received while at Will Rogers contributed to a decline in his behavior, according to the Legal Center.

The Legal Center says their investigation concluded that Will Rogers Elementary was not following the rules for treatment of disabled children from the Colorado Department of Education.

The Legal Center says School District 11 has been very cooperative in its investigation. It now wants the Colorado Department of Education to take action to make sure the school follows through with its rules.

"The schools are mandated to do training on a regular basis, including how to verbally de-escalate the situation. (Teachers) should use restraint as the last resort, meaning evidence of eminent danger to the student, other students or adults," said Ed Steinberg, assistant commissioner for the Colorado Department of Education and state director for Special Education.

Steinberg says they have a responsibility to look into the claims.

"We absolutely need to look at enforcement, what exactly is the department's role in monitoring and investigating situations like that," he said. "We want to work with the Legal Center and District 11 to see where we can go from here."

According to the Legal Center, it's unclear whether the teacher accused of the behavior is still employed at the school. She's a Special Education teacher and according to the Legal Center, still has a license to teach.

The Legal Center says it will file a complaint with the Colorado Department of Education against the teacher.

None of the students involved in the complaint still attend Will Rogers. Some of the families may also take legal action against the school.

To read the Legal Center's entire report, you can click here.

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