VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – The mother of a former student at Rosemont Elementary says she is heartbroken and outraged by the way her son with special needs was treated by the principal and a special ed teacher.
Latasha Holloway got surveillance video from the school, showing her son Eric being pulled, dragged and carried through the hallways by principal Cari Ann Hall and teacher Alison Williams.
The school system says the child was disruptive and the staffers acted in the interest of safety. The president of the Rosemont PTA says they have the group’s full support.
“Every time I watch I just get so upset,” Holloway said when she showed the video to 10 On Your Side.
The video is from last June, when Eric was in first grade.
It shows Williams pulling the boy out his room and into the hallway while he is still clinging to his chair.
“I was doing something with my tablet and they came in the room and I was on my chair so they took me off of my chair and lifted me up and they holded me,” Eric said.
Another sequence showed Hall pulling the boy from his class, picking him up and then carrying him off.
Holloway got the school video through the Freedom of Information Act, and when she did, she says there was no room for doubt.
“My son was being assaulted.”
But Virginia Beach City Public Schools told us Eric was an ongoing risk for himself and his classmates, and he would often run from the building.
The administration said in a statement Eric was disciplined eight times last school year for defiance, insubordination, physical abuse and harassment.
Holloway grew even more concerned when she discovered where they were carrying her son.
“They locked me in a room,” Eric said.
It was a seclusion room, the kind we've described in our investigations into seclusion and restraint. Holloway wanted time logs for what's called the "quiet room" to find out when Eric had been secluded and for how long. She says she's still waiting.
VBCPS says Eric would be placed there for no longer than 10 minutes at a time.
We showed the video to Dr. Jeffrey Katz, a Virginia Beach child psychologist who specializes in children with special needs.
“This is not correct. This is not what you do,” Katz said. “How do we deal with a child whose behavior is a problem? It's not carrying them off, it's not seclusion, it's not restraint. All the things it seems to look like here.”
Katz says when a child has special needs and problem behaviors, it’s up to the school to work with the parents and come up with a plan to meet those needs.
But the administration says its efforts to provide services for Eric were hindered because the family was often unreachable by phone. Holloway says she sent ongoing emails.
We also showed the video to one of the leading attorneys in the country for special education law. Andrew Cuddy’s New York-based firm has handled hundreds of special ed cases.
“When they were dragging him by his arm, he's a small kid. A little kid like that and those arms can come out of those sockets pretty quickly,” Cuddy said.
Cuddy says under federal law, teachers can put their hands on a child only when the safety of the teacher, the student, or another student is involved.
We wanted to know what training the two staffers had. The school system's statement says it offers teachers and principals online training in behavioral interventions, but would not tell us whether Hall and Williams had completed it, saying it's part of their personnel record.
Eric's mother says the seclusion has already left him with psychological damage. Katz is not surprised.
“He's afraid of being in rooms by himself,” Holloway said. “All the doors in my house now have to stay open, and he gets really upset if you go to the bathroom and close the door while he's in the bathroom.”
“I’ve seen that with other kids,” Katz said.
Cuddy says when other students witness any staff behavior such as what is seen in the video, they get traumatized, too.
“All of those students are going home and telling their parents what they saw that day, and in a sense it has a traumatic effect on them. “
Holloway went to a magistrate late last month and filed a citizen's complaint for misdemeanor assault against Hall and Williams. They have a court date next week..
The Commonwealth's Attorney office told Holloway Thursday morning they would not pursue charges on her behalf, but she can still pursue them on her own.
A VBCPS Human Resources investigation found that neither Hall nor Williams was trying to hurt Eric. In early October, the school system agreed to investigate whether any discrimination was involved.
Meanwhile, Holloway has taken Eric and her two other children out of Rosemont Elementary.
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