A few days after school started in August, Ashley Horton said a state child protective service worker knocked on her door with some unsettling news about how Horton’s 6-year-old autistic son had been injured at Lexington’s Picadome Elementary School.
The details are similar to another recent dragging incident of a Fayette autistic student that drew national attention. A description was included in a Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services investigative report that state officials finished Oct. 19. Horton and her attorney shared the report with the Herald-Leader.
Picadome school staff identified as witnesses told state investigators that a teacher’s aide — found not to have completed re-certification in safe crisis management — dragged the boy by the ankles into a classroom “when he would not cooperate with her,” the report said.
She put him in a room by himself while standing outside and holding the door closed, the report stated. She also picked him up from behind and sat down with him in a rocking chair, causing him to bump his head. The techniques were not appropriate or approved, the report said, and the boy could have hurt himself when placed in isolation.
State officials found enough evidence to support the allegations, which the teacher’s aide denied, the report said.
State officials told her to take her son that night to a hospital emergency room, Horton said. University of Kentucky staff documented several abrasions and contusions, the report said.
The state report said “the reported events were an excess amount of force” and had “created a risk of harm” to the child.
The boy tried to explain what happened to him, saying “hurt, hurt, “ the report said. Horton said her son has been upset at school since the incident.
What was worse, Horton said, was the aide telling the parents that the boy was somehow hurt on the playground.
“The whole problem starts with this family being given repeated lies,” Horton’s attorney Al Grasch said. Another issue, he said is that the aide “was not up to date on her training.”
On Friday night, Fayette district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said the teacher’s aide no longer worked for the district, but she could not elaborate on personnel matters.
She said the incident occurred on the third day of school, August 17, and the principal reported it immediately to the cabinet. The principal was not authorized to contact the family until after the cabinet had talked to them. Once allowed, the school principal and the child’s teacher met with the mother the next week, she said. Horton confirmed that she met with school officials.
The cabinet report said the teacher’s aide was not “current” on her safe crisis management training and re-certification.
Deffendall said the aide completed required annual training on restraint and seclusion on August 13 prior to the beginning of the school year. She also had been previously trained and certified in safe crisis management but at the time of the incident, she had not yet attended the additional re-certification training for this school year.
“All Picadome staff members have completed the mandatory annual training on promoting positive behaviors and understanding restraint and seclusion,” Deffendall said, and are working to provide the best learning experience for all students. Deffendall provided several examples of the district’s efforts to train employees in working with special needs students.
Horton and Grasch said that for now their focus is on increasing awareness in Lexington that there are problems with the way autistic children have been treated in schools.
“I don’t ever want another family to go through what my family has gone through for the last 70 days,” said Horton. “It should never happen to anyone else.”
“There needs to be better training and better resources, including cameras in the classroom, ” said Grasch.
According to Grasch, district officials said that there was no surveillance video of the Picadome Elementary incident.
A video of a teacher and a school nurse dragging a student at Tates Creek Middle School in September was aired on national television networks this month. That teacher is no longer working in the school district and health department officials placed the nurse on leave while they investigated.
Meanwhile, Horton said her hope is that her son will feel safe at school again.
“He should be able to trust the ... adults around him because he can not defend himself,” she said.