Investigation finds abuse of autistic students

Posted at 5:34 PM, Sep 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-16 17:34:08-04
Hickory Elementary School bills itself as a place where all students become successful, yet the parents of 10 autistic students participating in a special program there really had to wonder when they saw signs that they weren't progressing.
They were getting worse.
"Some of them were going home and doing things like taking spray bottles and spraying the family dog or banging on tables or echoing, because they repeat language, they were repeating harsh language that they had heard in school," said Leslie Seid Margolis, the managing attorney of the Maryland Disability Law Center.  
Once allegations of abuse and neglect surfaced, her investigation turned up the basis for their actions.
Some staff members squirted children with water from a spray bottle to get them to behave and there was more.
"To take children who have significant sensory issues and then threaten them with a rolling pin by banging it on the desk, to use strong-odor markers to deliberately do those things to children who aren't able to defend themselves," Margolis said.
At times, the staff also used partitions or furniture to restrain children isolating them from the rest of the class.
It appears the classroom's location, distant from the rest of the school, set the stage for the abuse.
"It's very easy when you have an isolated room to... anything could happen," Margolis said.
Since the allegations came to light, the school system moved quickly to wipe the slate clean, removing the staffers behind the practices, and it has agreed to widespread reforms to restore proper training, practices and oversight to the program.
"It's not going to happen overnight.  You can't fix something that was so structurally broken with a three hour training.  I think we all recognize that, but the good thing is they recognize they needed to take the steps to make this better," Margolis said.
Some of the abuse went on for two or three years.

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