Teacher shown dragging autistic student in video is no longer with school district

The teacher shown in a video of two staff members at Tates Creek Middle School dragging a boy with autism in a school hallway is no longer employed by Fayette County Public Schools, district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said Friday.

Deffendall said she could not discuss details of individual personnel matters.

The school health nurse shown in the video has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation, said Kevin Hall, a spokesman for the Lexington Fayette County Health Department.

“We continue to work with Fayette County Public Schools to investigate the matter,” Hall said.

The video was released by Fayette County school officials through the Kentucky Open Records Act.

The child’s mother, Jo Grayson, has said that her son sustained cuts and bruises when a teacher and a school nurse dragged him down a hallway in September. She said she first saw the video two days ago.

“I’m upset,” Grayson said of the video. “There are more questions than answers.”

Deffendall said Friday the incident occurred September 14 and the “date of separation” for the teacher was October 2.

“Incidents of this nature – in which an employee is acting outside of the district’s expectations and out of line with the training provided – are isolated,” said Deffendall. “Our training is very explicit that physical restraint is a last resort only to be used when a student is a danger to themselves or others. The training also shows employees the proper ways to hold or transport students. In this case, neither of those standards were met.

“There is absolutely no tolerance for the conduct of the employee in this incident, and while we cannot discuss specifics, we do want to reassure our families that we take any situations of this nature very seriously,” said Deffendall. “Our protocol in a situation of this nature is to immediately make a report to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and place the employee involved on administrative leave until the investigation is complete.”

What do district officials expect an employee to do if a non-verbal child refuses to move?

“It is difficult to generalize the district’s expectations for responding to a such a situation because every child with special needs has an individual plan outlining the best strategies to support their success,“ said Deffendall.

However, there are recommended strategies that include a student’s individual communication system, she said.

The mother has said police and child protective services have been investigating the incident that began when the child refused to get up off the gym floor. She is calling for more cameras at schools and better training for staff in dealing with children with autism. Grayson said Friday that she had not decided if her son will transfer to another middle school or be homeschooled.

The school district was overruled when it sought to fire a teacher after she dragged a nonverbal 6-year-old special needs student down a Cardinal Valley Elementary School hallway when he wouldn’t comply with her orders in 2015. Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk notified Charlene Looney her contract with the district would be terminated for conduct unbecoming a teacher, and she was placed on unpaid leave. A three-member tribunal heard the teacher’s appeal and reinstated her in 2016.

Caulk strongly criticized the tribunal’s decision and revealed his thinking. “Some will look at this case and say the teacher won. But the reality is that our students lost,” Caulk wrote. “The tribunal unanimously agreed with us that Ms. Looney exhibited conduct unbecoming a teacher in violation of school board policy and the Professional Code of Ethics. It is unfathomable, then, that a majority of the panel would allow her to return to teaching children with special needs.

“This decision is an affront to the thousands of teachers, principals and support employees in the Fayette County Public Schools who go above and beyond every day in the service of students. Members of our community entrust us with the care and education of their children, and the vast majority of our employees rise to that calling.”

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