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Abused student to return to class with legal protections

CHICAGO, IL -- A young Ogle County boy who suffered abuse and harassment at the hands of public school staff, under the direction of a superintendent who then lied under oath to protect himself, will soon return to his classroom with legally ordered protections.

In addition, a ruling from a recent Illinois Board of Education due process hearing on behalf of the student -- Alex R. – concluded that teachers and staff at the school were not trained and were ill equipped to fulfill their responsibilities.

One of the most egregious examples of the school district’s violations occurred last October. As huge pieces of dangerous agricultural equipment were swarming local fields to harvest corn, Alex, then nine years old, walked from his school playground into the vast density of an unharvested cornfield in an attempt to find his way home. This occurred as school personnel stood by and watched.

Instead of making it safely home – some 15 miles away – Alex fell into what he described as “quicksand” -- a muddy section of the Leaf River in Ogle County. For three hours, Alex sank lower into the muck, water covering his nose. Alex lost feeling below the neck. He cried out and called for his mother until he had no strength left.

Alex’s mother recalls Alex telling her that he believed he was about to die because an angel came to comfort him.

“Something compelled him to look up to the sky,” said his mother, Beth. “Although it was beginning to get dark and snow flurries blurred the skies, a search helicopter pilot above noticed this movement and saw Alex’s eyes open. Rescuers mobilized quickly and freed him from the riverbank. The county sheriff’s department and the paramedics said he would have died within moments either by drowning or hypothermia.”

Alex, a student at Forrestville Valley school district in northwest Illinois who has been diagnosed with an epileptic disorder with autistic characteristics (Landau Kleffner Syndrome Variant), had become terrified of attending school not long before the cornfield incident, according to Beth.

“He was included in his neighborhood school during kindergarten, first and second grades, and supported by kind and caring teachers and staff,” Beth said.

According to the due process hearing decision and the resulting order, the supportive environment Alex had experienced at school changed when he “entered third grade and began experiencing harassment and abusive treatment by this third grade teacher.”

According to the hearing order, that teacher destroyed artwork Alex had created and cherished, threw away his papers publicly, humiliated him in front of his peers and punished him for involuntary actions that were directly part of his disability. Within weeks of the start of school the teacher’s behavior had escalated to the point where she “kicked the student” leaving a visible contusion.

Alex was relocated to another school in the rural district but staff were again not trained or supported by the administration. Alex became afraid during his first day at the new school and wanted to go home. Under orders from the superintendent the staff assigned to Alex stood by and watched him disappear into the cornfield on that October day of last year.

According to hearing documents, the superintendent proceeded to “lie under oath” during the ensuing due process hearing. The superintendent amassed secret documents, derided Alex to members of the local community, and committed other acts aimed at removing him from the school district.

“The superintendent’s actions humiliated, harassed the student, and breached his right to confidentiality,” the documents stated. “The demeanor of the school staff when testifying with the superintendent present evidenced how they were intimidated by the superintendent into furthering his agenda to rid the district of student’s presence.”

Due to the documented abuse and neglect, Alex now suffers from severe post traumatic stress syndrome, which has “negatively impacted all aspects of his life.” He is receiving intense therapy to return his security and trust in people in general, as well as to alleviate his fear when he returns to school.

The due process hearing officer ordered the superintendent to have no contact with the student -- but a fact that Beth finds astounding is that the local school board has yet to dismiss either the superintendent or the teacher who kicked Alex.

According to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, legally a teacher must be fired if they commit any type of sexual abuse but the same is not true for teachers who commit physical abuse. The state’s attorneys of the two counties involved, Ogle and Stephenson, have been notified and provided with documentation from the hearing and are currently deciding whether or not to press criminal charges.

“The levels of neglect, hostility and outright misrepresentation in this case are utterly shameful,” said Charles Fox, the attorney representing the student. “Alex and his mother are thankful that the hearing officer in this case was able to shine the light of day on the blatant wrong-doings and unprofessional behavior of the school district and its officials. The family will be seeking damages in federal court.”

The ordeal has left Beth and Alex devastated.

“I have a little boy here who last summer went to a five-day overnight camp and had a great time,” Beth said. “He had been participating fully in his regular education class with his non-disabled peers and was working at or near grade level in many subjects. Alex is now terrified of new people and places, and wants desperately to go back to school but is afraid and needs constant reassurance by myself and his sisters just to function everyday. The change in him, the damage, the regression, is tremendous, and devastating to all of us who love him dearly.”

As a result of the due process hearing, the school district is being ordered to train their staff, hire experts to assist in Alex’s re-inclusion and monitor the implementation of positive behavior management and sensory integration therapy. The district also has been ordered to develop a disability sensitivity and awareness curriculum for all district classes K-12, and provide compensatory and other services and other remedies.

“Systemic changes are what this school needed,” Fox said. “It is unfortunate and a true shame that Alex had to go through this humiliation, abuse and personal endangerment for those changes to be put in place. His suffering, however, will help keep this from happening to an innocent student in this district ever again.”

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which is up for reauthorization, was enacted in 1975 and requires states to provide students with disabilities an individualized education program based on their unique needs in the least restrictive environment possible. In spite of this important victory for all children with disabilities, Fox said that some members of Congress are actually “attempting to strip away behavioral protections for kids.” He said such protections are being attacked and the families of children with any form of special need should be alarmed.

Full text of decision: xxx

Summary of decision: http://www.mothersfromhell2.org/august02update.htm

From Wrightslaw: Alex's mother is Beth Randall, president Mothers From Hell 2, an Illinois parent advocacy organization. http://www.mothersfromhell2.org/index1.htm

Mothers From Hell 2 has a website and promotes humor to entertain, relieve stress and isolation, and empower families and individuals:

For humor, go to http://www.mothersfromhell2.org/humor/

MFH2 also publishes The Brimstone Bulletin, a quarterly newsletter.

Learn more about MFH2: http://www.mothersfromhell2.org/aboutmfh2.htm

"The front line is not a pleasant place to be- but if someone doesn't start taking a stand it'll always be this way- why else is it that nearly 30 years after this federal law IDEA was enacted it still isn't being implemented as written?" - Beth Randall, President, Mothers From Hell 2

Contact Info

Charles Fox, Esq
xxx Street
Chicago, IL ZIP
Phone: (312) 606-0221
Email: cfoxatty@earthlink.net

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